Interview with a first-time striker

 

This morning, on the picket line in West Cambridge, Mo from the Cambridge Marxist society interviewed Rob Bricheno, Senior Network Systems Specialist for the University Information Services, University of Cambridge – a striking UCU member.

Why are you on strike?

This is a bridge too far for academic related professional staff (which is what I am). Lecturers are over a barrel to a certain extent, but I can only relate that professional staff have always been working for the university under the assumption that we will be well rewarded – as well rewarded as we would be in the private sector – and that those rewards will come through things like defined benefit pensions schemes. But these changes mean that it’s going to be really difficult for staff like us to be able to work for this university in such a competitive climate when we don’t know that our futures are secure.

Is this your first time on strike?

Yes. I even crossed the picket lines last time!

What’s made the difference for you this time?

For me the differences are two things: The extent of the cuts, and how needless they are. We’ve already had austerity cuts, and we were promised that those would be the last ones we’d see. These new cuts appear to be purely for the purpose of marketization of education, the way that they’ve decided that university employees should be taking on the risk that the university has previously taken on as an employer. It’s an employers first change, and we don’t want it.

Why do you think the changes are happening now?

I would love to know what’s behind it – I can only assume, conspiracy theories notwithstanding – that the amount of risk on the university portfolio dictate how much they can borrow. But I really don’t know, and it doesn’t really make any sense to me, it seems like everyone is a loser.

What do you think the prospects for the strike are?

I think they’re good. I see huge amounts of support from the students, they came and supported us on Friday and they were absolute angels.

What does student support mean to you then?

Student support means that we… you know, we’re not just doing this for ourselves. Students coming out shows that what we’re doing is actually supporting education generally in the UK, and that students understand that. To see them rallying behind us – when actually it’s their education that fundamentally is suffering – has been really supportive.

Would you like to see staff in the other TUs that work in the university be balloted for strike action as well? I’m thinking Unite, Unison etc.

It would be nice, but of course it’s difficult because they’re all in different pension schemes. So I understand why they haven’t been balloted. But I actually think that we have such a strong showing amongst academic and academic-related staff like myself that we’re going to win this even without their support. For me, the only sticking point now is UUK itself.

Worst case scenario, in 4 weeks time UUK refuse to give you back your pensions. What do you think is the next stage if this happens?

Well, the UCU ballot on strike action gave us a mandate to strike any time in 6 months after that ballot was taken, and I would support another strike if they’re not offering us defined benefit schemes like we were promised. I absolutely think we should continue the strike and if necessary have targeted strikes to disrupt exams.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I support the university and I support education in the UK, and I want a good pension but I also want quality university education to continue. I work for the university because I value education and I think it’s a good place to be, and I want it to carry on being a good place to be.