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Art School Workers Across United Kingdom Organize Fourteen-Day Strike

Above:   The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Photo: kitmasterbloke/Flickr.
Above:   The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Photo: kitmasterbloke/Flickr.

LONDON, ENGLAND—Thousands of workers, including lecturers, technicians, and members of the academic support staff at seventy-four universities throughout the United Kingdom are participating in a national strike that will last for fourteen consecutive days, from February 20 to March 13. Among those striking in an attempt to achieve higher pay, better pensions, and improved working conditions are staff members at prominent art schools including the Royal College of Art (RCA), the University of the Arts London, and the Courtauld Institute of Art.

“Fourteen days of strikes across the country is unprecedented, and the collaboration between striking London art schools only shows how embedded improper employment practices are in the art and design sectors in the capital,” Ajay Hothi, a lecturer at the Kingston School of Art and the secretary of RCA’s union, told the Art Newspaper.

The University and College Union (UCU) is demanding that the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA)—which represents higher education bodies in union negotiations—address excessive workloads, a 15 percent gender pay gap, and changes to pension plans. “We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK,” said Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU. “That support sends a clear message to universities that, instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run up to the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out.”

In a statement published on Thursday, the UCEA said that the “UCU’s demand for more than a 5 percent pay increase remains unaffordable with several universities reporting deficits in their latest accounts. UCEA has consulted all of its members in presenting new positive proposals addressing the important issues around employment in universities, focusing on casual employment, workload/mental health, and gender pay gap/ethnicity pay. UCU is urged to consult all of its members, including the vast majority not taking strike action, and present these positive proposals to them.”

While the UCEA maintains that the strikes will cause minimal disruptions, according to The Guardian, an estimated 1.2 million students will be affected. While many students have expressed understanding and support for the action, some are concerned about the loss of their tuition. As a result, the Students’ Union at the Courtauld is among groups asking management at various institutions to grant students compensation for the two weeks of suspended lessons.

The strike marks the third action organized by UK higher education institutions since 2018, the most recent being in December 2019, when forty-thousand employees went on strike for eight days.

February 21, 2020