Support for #FairpayinHE: a state-of-the-art report

You can take the academic out of the office…

Today marked the second in a set of two hour strikes called by UCU, as part of ongoing industrial action for fair pay in HE (To find out more, click here). I, along with comrades from the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes, was on the picket line on what was quite a cold day (insert positive remarks about the commitment and resolve of the burgeoning labour movement…) As UCU is made up of academics, I thought it only right to use the strike as a chance to undertake some ad-hoc fieldwork.

The strike took place between 2pm and 4pm, and I was stationed on the picket line outside the main entrance. The ‘research’ consisted of noting what kind of, and how much, support we received from passers-by. In general, considering this was only a two hour strike I think we did pretty well!

The results in the table below were compiled by myself and a colleague. We used two people to verify whether or not we could count the action of the passers-by as support or not (e.g. an incidental wave didn’t count as support). You can find out more about the various categories after the table, shown below:

Record of the various types of support Brookes UCU Gipsy Lane picket received from passers-by on 28/01/2014
Record of the various types of support Brookes UCU Gipsy Lane picket received from passers-by on 28/01/2014

As the table shows, we didn’t receive all the responses we thought we might (or would like to!). We received no winks, no flashes of headlights and (perhaps surprisingly) no swearing. These absences can be accounted for: regards the winking, this would be fairly hard to spot if the winker was in a vehicle, so we might have missed one. Furthermore the intent of any winks recorded could have been debatable – we’re a handsome lot. The absence of flashing lights is likely due to us being positioned on a busy road, near Brookes’ main entrance, in daylight hours. Cars flashing their headlights could have caused confusion both to other drivers and to us (we’re also an enthusiastic lot).

Regarding the ‘disgust’ category, there were some potential incidences that we decided to not count. This is for two main reasons: 1) the incidence was not clear-cut enough, so as to make us think we may have misinterpreted the gesture, and 2) some looked more like ridicule (particularly the student who gave us a raised fist then laughed…) – by the point we got this reaction, I had run out of room on my pad (I’m a poor PhD student).

Here’s a pie chart omitting the empty categories, and displaying the responses in per cent (I didn’t – i.e. forgot to – count the decimals, so the pie adds up to 96%):


The data hasn’t been analysed fully yet, but preliminary analysis suggests that those who gave the raised fist as a response were the strongest supporters, and also the coolest. The honks came a close second, with at least five of the honkers also offering the fist gesture. The thumbers came next. The wavers may have been confused as to the purpose of the strike, or may have seen someone they thought they knew, but fair play to them for the effort. A special note of gratitude goes to two people. Firstly, thank you to the sole nodder. This man was a taxi driver who gave a very emphatic multiple nod of the head. I will not mention the taxi company, in case word gets back that they have a revolutionary in their (taxi) ranks. Second goes to the gentleman who asked us what the hell we were doing, and after reading a leaflet proclaimed that ‘they were with us’. To whoever your people are, we thank you!

Finally, it would only be fair to show the raw data. Here is two photos: one from near the beginning of the ‘study’, and one when I got home back in the warm:

At the beginning, obviously
At the beginning, obviously
The end...
The end…

To make a somewhat serious point, what this does show is that there does seem to be a fairly good level of support for our strikes, at least between 2 and 4 on a Tuesday afternoon! We have another 2 hour strike next week, followed by a full day, where will be standing side by side with our comrades in UNISON.

Also, ‘comrade’ is such an underrated word.

If you are on Twitter and want to keep up to date with the industrial action, follow @ucu and the hashtag #fairpayinhe.


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