Disputes

Ajay cleared his throat. “Martin.” He began, uncertainly

Martin looked up. He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. Ajay never started conversations.

“What’s up, young’un?”

Ajay grimaced. He hated being called ‘young’un’. True, Martin had once been his lecturer, but now they were colleagues, surely a more professional nickname would be in order?

“Have you seen this email from HR?” He sat back, in anticipation of an explosion.

To his surprise, Martin looked slightly taken aback. “From HR? No.” He looked at his screen and tapped frantically at the keyboard. “When did it arrive?”

“About ten minutes ago. I was just thinking about it…”

Martin wasn’t paying attention. He was still searching his email. “So fuckin’ slow.” He muttered.

As he always did, Ajay mouthed “you should clear your inbox out a bit, then”. He smiled innocently when Martin looked up again.

“I definitely haven’t got it. What does it say? No, forward it to me instead.”

Ajay did as he was told. There was a short silence before the previously-anticipated explosion.

“For fuck’s sake! Who do they fuckin’ think they fuckin’ are? Bunch of bullying, obnoxious, bastarding…” He ran out of adjectives, or steam.

“Well, anyway,” Ajay tried again. “I was just wondering…”

“Hang on, young’un, I need to see if anyone else has got this.” Martin reached for the phone and jabbed furiously at the keys.

“Claire? Martin.”

“Have you had an email from HR about the marking boycott?”

“Me neither – looks as though they’ve not sent it to everyone.”

“Yeah, maybe. I’ll check with the other committee members after.”

“Oh, even for them, fuckin’ shockin’. I’ll read you a bit. ‘We regret to inform you that refusing to mark students’ work will be considered as complete withdrawal of your labour. You will not be paid at all if you refuse to mark students’ work. Every day that you refuse to mark work after April 28th, your pay will be docked at 100%.’ What d’ya think of that, Claire?”

Claire evidently thought quite a lot about it. Ajay sighed. He had something he wanted to suggest to Martin.

Eventually, Martin spoke again.

“Right. We need an action plan. Emergency union meeting tomorrow, 2pm. I don’t care if people still have class. Cancel it. This is a crisis. If you send out the invitation, I’ll draft a response to HR.”

“Yes, ok, I’ll contact the other elected members, too.”

“Bye.”

Martin put the phone down and returned to his computer screen.

Ajay tried again. “Martin.”

Martin didn’t look up. “Not just now, young’un, bit of an emergency. Thanks for the heads up, though”.

“Martin. I had an idea. About the strike.”

“Really? ” Martin did make eye contact this time.

“Yes. Why do we always do things which affect students directly?”

“They’re the customers, aren’t they? Management wants to keep them happy.” Martin thought for a minute. “Not that I think of them as customers, obviously, they’re comrades in the union movement, of course, but that’s how management sees them.”

“Well, ok, but it doesn’t really hurt management if we don’t do the marking, does it?”

“Course it does. Marks will be late, exam boards will be late,  won’t be able to have graduation in July, everyone will be pissed off.”

“Exactly. Everyone. And there are lots of staff who would take action if it didn’t hurt students, but won’t, because it does.”

Martin looked confused as he tried to disentangle the negatives in that sentence.

Ajay pressed on. “I don’t want to join the marking boycott, because it will stress my students. But why don’t we take action which only hurts management?”

Martin snorted. “Like what? That lot only care about their six figure pay packets.”

“Well, we could refuse to attend any committees or working groups. The whole place would soon grind to a halt if there was no Senate meetings.”

Martin looked skeptical. “Nobody would care.”

“They would, Martin, because it would mean that there was no effective governance, and they’d be in breach of their charter. And suppose we all refused to go to any meetings about the QAA review? Or, I don’t know, health and safety working group, or disability support? The university would be breaking the law before the end of the month. And I doubt that stuff is in anyone’s contract, so they wouldn’t be able to withhold pay.”

Ajay paused.

Martin was staring at him. “Bloody hell, young’un. You might be on to something.”

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