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Will you stand up for Sarah?

Published: 17th February, 2019

Dear UCU Friends,

Many of you may not know me well, but this is a personal plea.

I am the co-chair of Leicester UCU, a 30-something-year-old Research Associate who is a woman. During the USS strike this time last year I stood next to you every day in the snow and cold, the rain and wind. I have stood next to you on picket lines on every strike before that. The nature of my job meant that, for 14 days, my work just piled up. None of it disappeared. It was all waiting for me on my return to work. No teaching was cancelled, no marking was missed, I just made my own life harder by missing deadlines. It’s likely that in the 30+ years before I receive my pension, it’ll be further eroded. Who knows… maybe I’ll never be able to retire. But, I stood on those picket lines, because it was the right thing to do.

I spent last summer fighting for your jobs. I sat in on business cases, I crunched numbers, I read piles of paperwork, I argued and negotiated with senior management. I helped save your jobs, because it was absolutely the right thing to do.

As an externally-funded researcher who has been here some years, I am technically employed on an open-ended contract. But this contract contains an all-important clause: my work and my livelihood are secure only ‘subject to funding’. I love my job – and I am good at it and I make a real contribution to society – but I am precariously employed. Many people do not stick it out on contracts like mine – we regularly hear of amazing talent leaving higher education for more stable work. When I received my first fixed-term contract, I took it to the bank and tried to get a mortgage: they took one look and sneered. As far as financial security goes, it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. In my late twenties, I was refused a loan to rebuild my kitchen for similar reasons, and my parents had to take out a loan on my behalf. I was mortified.

The world is a horribly uncertain place right now. I know that. Some people have told me that balloting for strike action whilst Brexit is going on feels like too much to cope with. I understand those feelings. But Brexit and the issues we face within our workplaces will not be going away come 29th March. The fight for our rights has to continue regardless.

This current dispute is about more than a pay rise, which yes we all deserve. This is about the fight to eradicate casualisation, remove the gender pay gap, and reduce workloads – to make higher education a better place of work. This is very much a struggle for me and people like me – a struggle for our futures. Many of these issues affect those of us at the start of our careers more than senior colleagues. Some of you – senior colleagues – have told me that you aren’t interested, that this dispute doesn’t affect you. I have even been told this by someone whose job I had helped save. That really upsets me: surely once you were in this position too. I am asking those of you in relatively secure, senior positions to stand alongside me, just as I stood alongside you during the USS dispute. I ask you to stand alongside the many junior, casualised staff who have stood with you in the past. I ask you to stand up and help defend the future of higher education.

Please dig out that ballot paper and vote.

In solidarity,

Sarah Seaton
Co-chair, University of Leicester UCU