Email on Tuesday 4th February 2020

Dear SOASians,

As you may know, the two unions on campus have been successful in their ballot for strike action; this means they now have a mandate to potentially go on strike and we think this is likely to happen. The SU sent out an email last week detailing what the dispute is about and what is likely to happen next, you can read it here for more context. 

The SOAS Students’ Union currently has policy to support the strikes, as it was passed at our last UGM (also detailed in the link above). However, the motion also called for the Union to open up spaces to talk and decide what ‘support’ would look like. This email outlines how the Students’ Union plans to go about facilitating those discussions, engaging students in the conversation and making sure that we know what the expectations and concerns of our student body are. It is essential for us to best keep students up to date about what is happening on campus and beyond, by collecting resources about how to support the strikes at the same time as facilitating access to learning experiences for students during this time. 

Therefore, we are holding four open meetings over the next two weeks where we invite ALL students to come join the conversation. Whatever your approach to the strikes is, whether you know absolutely every single detail of the dispute or have no idea what is happening, we want to hear from you.

These meetings will have some continuity of discussion but can also stand alone so come to as many meetings as you please or can. The dates of the meetings are as follows and they will take place in the JCR:

  • 5th February 4-6pm
  • 7th February, 11am-1pm
  • 12th February, TBC
  • 17th February , TBC

Keep an eye on your emails and our social media (@soassu) to get final details!

Each session will begin with a Q&A about the strike dispute so everyone hopefully has the same information. Then we will invite people to share their concerns and expectations for the coming weeks. We encourage everyone to do some background reading beforehand, and we have facilitated some resources on our website.

However, we know that speaking in this kind of space can be difficult, and not everyone may feel comfortable raising their questions and concerns. For that reason, we will be using Slido (Event Code: SOASstrikes2020) where you can anonymously post any question and comments - the SOAS Exec team will be monitoring it to help us shape the structure and topics of our discussion. The Slido is already open so you can also use it if you are unable to attend a meeting but still have topics you want to be discussed. Additionally, we will be uploading notes from each meeting to the UCU Strikes 2020 tab on the SOAS SU website (under the ‘campaigns’ tab). 

Some of the topics that we will cover are:

  • Closure of the SU (offices, shop and bar)
  • Access to Advice and  Support Services
  • Access to Space and Resources 
  • Fee Reimbursements
  • Additional Learning Spaces and Opportunities
  • Engagement with the Picket Line 

Once again, we would like these meetings to be truly representative of all the views of the SOAS student body so please come along and/or use the Slido to engage with this discussion. We would like to ensure healthy debate and discussion take place, and facilitate for all concerns to be raised, heard and addressed.

Finally, if you have any concerns or worries, please get in touch with Youssra, our Co-President for Equality and Liberation. Please write “Strikes” in the subject of your email. 

In love and solidarity, 

Valeria, Maxine, Peadar and Youssra

 

Email on Wednesday 29th January 2020

Dear students,

This email is to give you initial information about potential upcoming strike action, some context to the dispute, what may be happening in the coming weeks and the current SU position. We understand that this news might be distressing or confusing and so we encourage you to do some research and engage in conversations around the strikes. We will also be facilitating as much information as possible in the weeks to come. In the meantime, if you have any concerns or worries, please get in touch with Youssra, our Co-President for Equality and Liberation. Please write “Strikes” in the subject of your email. 

As you may have known, the UCU (University and Colleges Union), the union that represents most of our academic staff members, have been balloting for strike action during the past month. Some members of UNISON, the other major trade union on campus, also participated in the ballot as they were affected by the national dispute the ballot was about. 

For background, this ballot to strike was centred around four issues seeking a national agreement with universities to provide fair working conditions and a fair reward. Below we have paraphrased these disputes. 

  1. Pay Inequality: We need a comprehensive plan to tackle the gender pay gap, the disability pay gap and the race pay gap and to tackle pay structures
  2. Job Insecurity: The running of universities would be impossible without the 100,00+ staff on fixed term contracts. This insecurity must end
  3. Rising Workloads: Work overload has intensified, with academic staff working over 50 hours a week. “The onerous teaching and research targets, administrative burdens, and cut and cover approach to work must go”
  4. Pay Devaluation: The value of university salaries has fallen against inflation by over 20% since 2009. 

The results the trade unions shared with us today are the following: 

1. The SOAS branch of the UCU balloted 401 of their members on both the USS dispute and on the 2019/20 pay dispute with the following result:

UCU USS Ballot

  •         Turnout - 50.12 %
  •         Yes to strike action: 164 - 82%
  •         Yes to action short of a strike: 183 - 91.04%

UCU Pay Ballot

  •         Turnout - 55.11 %
  •         Yes to strike action: 186 - 84.16%
  •         Yes to action short of a strike: 202 - 91.82%

2. The SOAS branch of UNISON balloted 33 members who belong to the USS pension scheme on taking strike action to oppose the recent changes being imposed that would see significant increases to employee contributions.

UNISON USS Ballot

  • Turnout - 75.8%
  • Yes to strike action: 76%

Therefore, members of staff at SOAS can now engage in strike action. 14 days of strikes over 4 weeks have been called by UCU national from 20th of February until the 13th of March. The specific days are Thursday 20th February, Friday 21st February, Monday 24th February, Tuesday 25th February, Wednesday 26th February, Monday 2nd March, Tuesday 3rd March, Wednesday 4th March, Thursday 5th March, Monday 9th March, Tuesday 10th March, Wednesday 11th March, Thursday 12th March and Friday 13th March. Members of UNISON and UCU will meet soon to discuss what actions they will be taken. 

An emergency UGM (please read motion #3 for further context) was passed on Monday 20th January 2020 which resolved for the SOAS Students’ Union: 

3.1 To support and show solidarity to the UCU strikes at SOAS and other institutions 

3.2 To keep students informed about the negotiations and how students can take action to influence these negotiations to a fair resolution for UCU members; 

3.3 To lobby SOAS Director, as a member of the UUK Board, to support the UCU’s demands and put pressure on the UUK Board to reach a resolution as soon as possible, 

3.4 If strikes are called by the SOAS UCU branch: 

  1. a) To gain assurances from SOAS Senior Management Team that no student will be adversely impacted by the strike when it comes to graduation and continuation in their studies; 
  2. b) To call an Emergency Union General Meeting in which the Student Union will decide how to collaborate and support the strikes, including how to coordinate a student solidarity presence on UCU official picket lines at SOAS and at UCU-called protests; how to respect the picket line and encourage students to not come into SOAS premises on official strike days; and how to develop, in coordination with SOAS UCU, Unison and others, any other forms of solidarity action that students can take, including providing student support at the picket line.

Taking into account the above information, the SOAS SU Executive Committee and Trustees Board are now looking at further steps to take. We will be calling an emergency meeting and UGM soon. Please look out for more information on this in the days to come (most likely early next week). We will also be keeping you updated on the situation but again, in the meantime, if you have any concerns or worries, please get in touch with Youssra, our Co-President for Equality and Liberation. Please write “Strikes” in the subject of your email. 

In solidarity,

SOAS Students’ Union

This webpage was last updated on: 05 Feb 2020 12:03