What is feminist about UCU strikes?
We, from the Leicester Women’s Strike Assembly (WSA), show our fullest solidarity for the UCU strikes. Not only are we fighting for better working conditions universally. We especially want to highlight the feminist aspects of the strikes.
The UCU strikes will start on 25th November, coinciding with the international day against male violence on women. This day (and the weekend before it) will also see feminist demonstrations taking place in many cities around the world to protest against all sorts of violence perpetrated against women, and represents one of the key events in preparation for the feminist strike of the 8th March 2020. We want to draw parallels between the feminist mobilizations and the UCU strikes.
As stressed by UCU, the strike is over pay, pensions, job security, equality pay gaps and unsustainable workloads. On top of facing pay inequalities, women and black and minority ethnic members of staff are much more likely to be employed precariously. Moreover, they often have higher workloads than their male colleagues. This is in part because administrative and care work (tutoring, supervising, taking care of students in visit days etc, dealing with various other administrative tasks) are unfairly divided along the axes of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity. Duties and roles at work mirror and reproduce the same duties and roles in place in the domestic sphere (at home) and society at large.
From a standpoint of feminist analysis of precarity and casualisation, we want to stress how precarious labour usually involves care-intensive and ‘non-priority’ labour that follows gendered and racialized logics. This is because patriarchy and racism, are systems of oppression historically (and still today) deeply intertwined and intersecting, dividing us and facilitating our manifold exploitation. Also in universities, care work, including teaching (‘reproductive labour’) is not valued as much and becomes inferior to academic research (‘productive labour’). Furthermore, within the conditions of precarity and casualisation, a huge share of care work at university is still unrecognised and unpaid. Care work as reproductive labour historically lies heavy on top of the already overburdened bodies of women, people of colour and ethnic minorities. When seen at all as labour, it is being considered as secondary and supportive, and is naturally conceived as the task of non-privileged bodies. As a result this unfair subdivision of labour deprives women and black and minority ethnic members of staff from time and energy for research related activities and furthers the already unequal pay gaps.
Adding to the unequal workloads at university, academia is ignorant of the gendered workloads beyond and behind it. For example, there is a complete lack of support for mothers with children, still making academia and motherhood nearly incompatible. This has material and psychological dimensions. Not only is there a complete lack of child-inclusivity or childcare support at universities. The competitive system of REF, promotions and publication pressure is ignorant of prevailing social inequalities and hence contributes to reproduce them. For those of us who are migrants, this is especially problematic, as we often lack the social networks and family-structures, that many non-migrants rely on in stressful times. This plays into who gets (to keep) better jobs and who gets burnouts, whose jobs are more lucrative, who stays home and whose citizen status might even be threatened, and eventually, who gets what pension and who is dependent on others.
Besides these gendered issues addressed by the pay and workload- dimension of the strike, we want to highlight that we also strike, because universities are still a hostile environment for women, queers and racialized people. Especially today, on the international day against violence against women, we want to loudly draw attention to the violence in daily life that many are not only experiencing at home, but also in the workplace! Many of us have witnessed sexism, harassment, racism, not being taken seriously and an infinite list of annoying, violent, psychologically tough situations. These happen on individual and structural levels. Moreover, many of us have experienced these situations being played down, ignored, silenced, making us think twice about fighting them each and every time they occur. We want to remind all of you, that everyone who is looking away or silencing us, is being complicit! The still prevalent sexist, racist and queer-hostile climate at universities reinforces our structural vulnerability. But we are not giving up, we are closing ranks, building solidarity and sisterhood and fighting back!
So for all of these reasons, join the strike! To us and for everyone, it is an anti-racist feminist strike!