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‘Students were not being used as pawns’: The key take-aways from the UCU open meeting

The fight back against casual, insecure working conditions continues

The UCU hosted an open meeting on the evening of Thursday 12th October, arranged with the purpose of facilitating communication and building solidarity between Union members and Cambridge students after the end of the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB). The open meeting extended this conversation to the recent decision to end the proposed supervision boycott by the Justice for College Supervisors campaign (J4CS).

Hosted by Anne Alexander (CUCU Communications Officer) and Matthew Lloyd Roberts (UCU Postgrad Rep), the meeting gave an overview of the motivation behind the latest industrial action.

Here are the key take-aways from the meeting.

How did the Marking and Assessment Boycott constitute action short of a strike?

While for all intents and purposes, the boycott might have felt like a strike to students, Alexander clarified that “boycotting” members continued with certain duties, such as research and marking dissertations, and so it fell short of strike action.

Why were members boycotting in the first place?

Alexander said that UCU members were boycotting due to the intensity of pressure placed on them by the university, especially in the current cost of living crisis. Lloyd Roberts believed that those working for the university are “not paid at all well”, and are working under casual and insecure conditions. The recent Justice for College Supervisors campaign has been part of an attempt to fight back against the casualisation of higher education-sector jobs.

Does the UCU consider that the effects of the MAB, especially on finalists and international students, were proportionate to the motivation behind the strike?

This was a question which both Alexander and Lloyd Roberts were keen to answer. Alexander said that the blame for the MAB “dragging on” for so long lies solely with the employer, and emphasised that for a long time, the UCEA “absolutely stonewalled” the UCU and refused to make “any meaningful progress”. Alexander claimed that the UCEA consistently made decisions to maximise the damage that the MAB would have on students, and that UCU members were “enormously grateful” and “very humbled” for all the support they have received from students.