For the third time during my tenure as an Imperial student, staff in the University and College Union (UCU) have voted to go on strike over pensions. These strikes, which were supported by 71.9% of voting UCU members, will initially take place on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of December. Many students will be affected over this period by cancelled lectures/teaching, and delays in feedback and assessment.
You might expect that the Students’ Union would be opposed to such strikes, given their immediate negative impact on student learning. However, for previous strikes Imperial College Union has repeatedly taken a supportive position, on the basis that “staff working conditions are student learning conditions,” and action that would lead to better working conditions and satisfaction for College staff would in the long run pay dividends in terms of student experience.
In past years, the Union’s position has been deliberated on, and decided by, the Union Council – a body of elected student representatives. However, it is my strong view that this time, we should do things differently. This is a contentious issue which will potentially affect all students in the College, and which all students may have a view on. It is only right that wide student consultation should be integral to the Union’s formulation of a decision. This is why I, in my role as Union President, have called an all-student referendum on the question:
“Should Imperial College Union support the strike action due to be carried out by the UCU during the 2021/22 academic year?”
This is the first referendum at Imperial College since students voted to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2008. Students may rightly wonder – why are we now having a referendum after so long without one? Why is a referendum now justified on this issue, when one was not needed the previous two times that ICU supported the UCU strikes?
Imperial College Union has undergone some significant changes over the last two years. As part of our broader transformation we have a new strategy, and a new outlook – one that centres students and recognises the essential importance of direct engagement of students in our decision-making. Democracy is one of our values as a Union. We are, fundamentally, a representative democracy – and our Union Council will continue to discuss and decide on key matters affecting students. But every so often an issue comes up that is so broad in its impact on students, that it would feel like an abdication of our values not to seek the widest possible consultation and the strongest possible mandate. To me, this feels like such an issue.
For more information about the strikes and our referendum, see our FAQs page: https://www.imperialcollegeunion.org/news/referendum-faq
Voting in the referendum opens at 12 noon on 24 November and closes at 12 noon on 26 November.