Please support the University and College Union (UCU)’s ongoing strike action! This relates to my Archaeodeath blog directly, and so deserves a dedicated post.

Recently, UCU called a vote on strike across the UK on interconnected disputes over ‘4 fights’ and pensions. The action which was supported by a majority at 58 UK HE institutions, representing around 50,000 staff. See UCU news from 1 December. Meanwhile, 42 further institutions are being reballoted having narrowly missed the threshold.

For my institution, the pensions dispute does not apply, so our strike action related to the aforementioned ‘Four Fights’. So, the aim of the 3 days of industrial action (Wednesday 1st-Friday 3rd December) and ongoing Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) is to seek improvements on 4 key areas relating to gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps; precarious employment, unsafe workloads and falling pay. UCU are demanding employers:

  • address the scandal of the gender, ethnic, and disability pay gap;
  • end contract casualisation and job insecurity;
  • tackle the rising workloads driving our members to breaking point;
  • increase to all spine points on the national pay scale of £2,500

More details can be found on the UCU website.

For my University of Chester UCU branch, each day, there have been pickets at University of Chester campuses, and on Wednesday 1st December there was a rally with many prominent speakers, including our branch secretary and UCU General Secretary Dr Jo Grady.

This comes after a year of upset and stress, increasing workload and uncertainty. This has extended from a traumatic near 3-month redundancy process from 1 April 2021 in which my position was identified as ‘at risk’. I only learned my position was ‘no longer at risk’ in mid-June. Stress and upset was furthered by direct attacks against me by colleagues within UK archaeology for trying to support multiple campaigns , including the very body appointed to represent UK Archaeology in the university sector (more on that in a future blog-post).

Since then, it has been difficult to locate any morale or direction with my academic work although I have put in every effort to not only continue with my many teaching, administrative and research responsibilities and commitments, but claw back some of the work delayed and disrupted by this process and its aftermath.

So, 2021 has seen disruption built on disruption, demoralisation upon demoralisation, and work upon work. Set against this background, it is especially sad and frustrating, but also with incredible reluctance, that I join my union and participate in the industrial action. Not only could I have done without the pay-cut my employers will impose for participating, but also, I didn’t want to see my students face further dislocations and disruptions to their learning.

On the positive side, it was great to stand beside colleagues across the institution on the picket at the Exton Park campus across the three days, and at the rally at the Chester Cross on the first day of industrial action. The students were also incredibly sympathetic and understanding, both Master’s and undergraduate students turning up to show their support.

In celebration of all my colleagues’ efforts and solidarity, and for the students for their support and understanding, I post here is a gallery of images from the 3 days.

If you hadn’t guessed it, in this images I am the #SoldarityTRex! I first appeared in this garb at the Reclaim our University rally in the summer. Given that archaeologists ‘don’t do dinosaurs‘, what better way to protest in a fun and memorable way!

Anyway, here are the images of me going dino across the three days, as well as group shots of those turning up to the Exton Park picket line! Great fun but exhausting in the wind, rain and cold! The dog supporters got very excited and concerned at the presence of the #SolidarityTRex at first, but they got to know his moves and his smell, and dogs and dinos soon became firm friends! The human company was great too! It was especially a privilege to get a photo op with the awesome Dr Jo Grady!

And if that isn’t enough for you in terms of UCU dino protest action, here are some of my TikTok videos from each day!

Finally, I must turn to how this affects Archaeodeath. I say this because industrial action in terms of ASOS creates a dilemma for my ongoing Archaeodeath blog, which is simultaneously a medium for academic research outputs as well as a form of marketing, promotion and networking. At the very same time Archaeodeath has become a key dimension of my public engagement and outreach for my ongoing research and teaching interests. The same applies to my Archaeodeath YouTube channel and TikTok account. What should I do?

My provisional decision will be to continue to produce 10 blog-posts within ASOS for December 2021. After that, I will need to reflect on how many I can produce for January 2022 within ASOS and thereafter each month through to May. It might be that I have to commit to producing fewer and shorter posts if industrial action proceeds. This would be a shame but it will be another inevitable result of the unpaid additional work I commit to as part of my academic career and my desire to show solidarity with colleagues across the UK HE sector. I will keep you posted regarding my decision in due course.