On Monday 19th February, the Students’ Union Council will vote on whether or not to support the national Univerity and College Union (UCU) strike action that is going to occur on 14 dates from the 22nd February to 16th March.
Originally, the Students’ Union’s Executive, which is made up of six full time and five part time officers, met to discuss and cement their collective view on the strikes. They decided to pass the decision to a student referendum, ensuring a representation of the majority view and secure a mandate from the 17,000 students at the University of Sussex.
Despite being briefly advertised on the Students’ Union official webpage, as well as being confirmed for publication on the front page of the last edition of The Badger, this idea was also scrapped soon after its inception in favour of reducing it to a vote from just the Students’ Union Council.
This issue has been divisive amongst the six full time elected officers, and it remains unclear why a concrete decision wasn’t reached amongst them alone, especially as five of the six full time elected officers have publicly stated their support of the strikes announced by Sussex lecturers and the UCU as a whole.
Undergraduate Education Officer Lulah Strathearn Brady publicly supports the upcoming industrial action set to take place in late February. Ms Brady “will be voting in favour of supporting” the upcoming action, and also emphasised in a Facebook post that she is: “personally delighted to see how many students have come out in support of their academics, and pressuring UUK to renter negotiations with UCU, so that a fair deal can be reached without strike actions having to go ahead.’
Activities Officer Lucy Williams, also told The Badger “I whole heartedly support our lecturers right to take industrial action. My experience at University was a very positive one, and I believe the lecturers who invested so much time, energy and passion into teaching and building a curriculum at Sussex are entitled – just like any other worker – to a decent and fair pension, working conditions and pay.”
These positions were further reinforced by Aisling Murray (Societies & Citzenship Officer), Sarah McIntosh (Postgraduate Education Officer), and Gráinne Gahan (Welfare Officer) who have all come out in support of the upcoming strikes.
The Badger understands that Students’ Union President Frida Gustafsson has taken an actively neutral stance on her position on the upcoming lecturer strikes. Responding to The Badger’s request for comment on the upcoming proceedings, as well as her own opinions on the strike, Ms Gustafsson commented: ‘I hope to see Council take a nuanced stance that reflects the various way that the industrial action impacts our students, both current and future. I am and will continue to work to represent the interests of our students, by listening to your worries, lobbying the university and supporting our Student Reps. The Officers are currently working to ensure a range of views on this issue is heard. We have been talking to students, organising student meetings, working closely with Student Reps, and gathering your thoughts on the industrial action via a short survey. We also encourage anyone with questions or worries about the industrial action to contact the Union Officers.’
The Students’ Union Council, which will house the vote later today, is the largest committee of the Students’ Union, being made up of 54 student representatives from across the University. The outcome of the vote, expected Monday evening, will thus be decided by the 54 individual representatives (despite 53 votes only being cast, as one member is elected Chair and can only vote in the event of a tie).
Commenting on the final decision to allow the Union Council to cast the binding vote on overall support of the strike instead of a referendum, President Gustafsson told The Badger that: ‘the elected students that form Union Council would be better placed to distill this complex situation into a nuanced position that can be adapted if the situation changes rather than a binding position based on a simple yes/no question.’
However, in Council a quorum can be set at half the total amount, meaning the votes of 27 representatives of Sussex’s 17,000 students could determine the official stance of the Students’ Union towards the industrial action of the UCU.
The current levels of support for or against the strikes from the student body are hard to predict in the run-up to the final vote, with one Union spokesperson dubbing the opinions of students as ‘completely polarised.’ Of 50 students The Badger polled in Library Square, 62% supported the upcoming strike action.
However, this is not without considerations for the negative aspects the strikes will cause, with one second year history student telling The Badger that “it’s good that they are doing it for themselves because it’s necessary for them, but as the same time it’s extremely frustrating because we are losing out on teaching and money”.
When asked if they were happy with the decision to take the matter to a final vote via Union Council, the student responded: ‘I think it’s unfair because it’s not enough of a sample – it’s a small amount of the student voice’.