Manaal Rehman, London
As Muslims we believe and try to practice in our daily lives what the Holy Qur’an teaches in chapter 2, verse 12: ‘Create not disorder on the earth…’. Consequently, any strike action goes against the teachings of Islam as it causes disruption and is essentially an act of revolt.
His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, leader of the world wide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stated in his address at the Military Headquarters in Koblenz, Germany in 2012, ‘It should be remembered that even where protests or strikes are conducted peacefully, without recourse to criminal damage or violence, it still can have a very negative effect. This is because even peaceful protests often result in a loss of millions to the economy of the nation.’
On the 26th of February, on my way to a lecture, I was stopped by a lecturer from entering university. As baffling as this was, they had something to say and I had time to listen. They said, ‘Please support us by not crossing the picket line.’ This was a shared experience for many students across the country.
Hundreds of university workers and lecturers, alongside students, are gathering at the main entrances of major universities including SOAS, The London School Economics and King’s College London, to prevent students from entering the buildings. Academic staff have gone on strike from teaching. From what I gather the reason for this commotion is complex.
In a nutshell, members of the UCU (University and College Union) are going on strike because their pensions are being ‘axed’. Staff from 61 universities across the country are being affected and 15 of those have gone on strike.
The UCU have stated ‘University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all’[i]. This means that university staff will face up to a 40% reduction in their pensions (this is depending on their grade and length of service). They hope that as a result of the strikes that Universities UK (the representative body for University Managements) will resume talks with the UCU and take further and fair action.
It is mostly Academics from the Humanities department who have been affected the most. One such academic from the history department of King’s College London said, ‘I cannot wait to get back to teaching…but I am frustrated that my work is not valued enough…and in order to do my job, I need to have the proper conditions,’ adding ‘fundamentally student’s university fees are being spent on perks and luxurious building, as opposed to their actual learning’. Opinions escalated to the point that the staff claimed the ‘University management are treating university students as consumers’.
Slogans like ‘Whose University! Our University’. ‘When they say cut back! We say fight back!’, were being shouted and bus drivers were beeping their horns in support. The national president of the UCU said ‘the learning conditions of students are the working conditions of staff’. If it can be universally agreed that the working conditions of teaching staff across the board are unsatisfactory, then what can be said about the learning conditions of the students.
From primary school through to university, I have found that the people that build the foundations of our society, seem themselves to be overworked and perhaps neglected. It is a fact that an academic or a primary school teacher (both vital to the education of hundreds) with 10 years of experience can earn less than a graduate at Goldman Sacs. One may ask, why is that the case?
That said, fact remains owing to the strike action hundreds of students are being deprived of an education for which they are paying hefty tuition fees. They are also are not being taught parts of the curriculum. This is impacting on their studies and possibly even their educational experience and future endeavours. Thus, it is worth considering if the outcomes of the strikes are worth the losses.
The UCU say that ‘Striking is always the last resort’… It goes without saying that no sincere educator would willingly stand in the way of any student getting their education. Hence, we must consider, how desperate must they be to do so? And how have the governing bodies let this happen?
Of course according to Islam, being an educator is the noblest profession. After parents, teachers are the most deserving of our respect. I hope and pray that educators (and people working in educational institutions to make them better) get the working conditions they hope for and deserve.
Note: Strikes were also in support of the university cleaning staff, where about 100 cleaners are hired for the daily cleanliness of a building used by 30,000 + people. They also feel that they are being unfairly treated and have unsatisfactory working conditions.