woinactie

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Trade unions call for nation-wide educators’ strike

Among other things, the trade unions demand that budget cuts will be cancelled and that…

On Monday, WOinActie representatives from each of the Dutch universities – some 60 people in total according to the initiators – travelled to Utrecht. Most of them felt that WOinActie needed to join the national education strike organised by the General Union of Educational Personnel (AOb) and the Education and Research department of the FNV trade union.

“No one rejected the proposal,” says initiator Rens Bod of WOinActie. “Although some people were worried that there may not be enough support within their university for a strike. Some institutions are more sympathetic than others.”

Deaf ears

According to Bod, two things clinched the representatives’ decision to join the strike. “The first was that during a meeting with our representatives earlier this month, Minister Van Engelshoven indicated that she wasn’t prepared to defend the interests of the higher education sector in the event of a new round of budget cuts. Our demands fell on deaf ears. The second is that this strike is actually sector-wide, and that we share a number of important demands with the other groups.”

These joint demands include an extra EUR 4 billion of investments in the entire education sector and scrapping the so-called efficiency abatement, a government-ordained cut that will structurally reduce the sector’s budget by as much as EUR 183 million from 2021 on.

In other words, this March, universities throughout the Netherlands will be doing something for the protest week, with the grand finale of the strike planned for 15 March. “We’ll be organising various remarkable actions during the days leading up to this,” says Bod. “Special lectures by hot shots, for example, who will be talking about remarkable scientific accomplishments in their field but who will also talk about things that aren’t possible due to a lack of funds.”

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Supportive

While the academic union VAWO is also supportive of the strike’s goals, it has called in its members to refrain from taking part – for the time being. “We completely agree with the demands, but we’d like to extensively consult with our members before taking any further action,” says spokesperson Marijtje Jongsma.

According to Jongsma, there are a number of reasons why the outcome of this consultation cannot be predicted beforehand. “Right now, we are sharing our demands with national politicians rather than our respective executive boards. What’s more, we aren’t actually authorised to simply call a strike: this needs to be preceded by a formal procedure. And finally, there’s a risk with strikes, they can become a goal in themselves. You can gain a lot of media attention with a strike, and everyone’s talking about it. But we believe our demands should be the top priority, rather than the strike itself.”

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Understanding

Bart Pierik, spokesperson for the university umbrella organisation VSNU, understands why academic staff across the country would choose to lay down their work. “University employees are under a lot of pressure and there’s less and less money to go around.” According to Pierik, this may also put a pinch on the quality of the provided education.

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) sympathises with the strike, according to the university news site Folia. UvA won’t be requiring lecturers and students to attend on the 13th. The buildings will remain open for those who choose to and are able to attend their lectures. According to Rens Bod, Groningen University has made a similar pledge of support. As of Tuesday morning, this could not be confirmed by the university spokesperson.

The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (AOb) has refrained to comment on the announced strike for the time being. The Dutch universities of applied sciences do not have a separate team for protest actions, since they are represented by the trade unions. “We join the staff of the research universities in demanding that the efficiency abatement is thrown out. In addition, we would like an increase in our workforces and salaries,” said AOb board member Douwe Dirk van der Zweep in a previous interview. Nowadays, new lecturers actually have a master degree. AOb believes their pay grade should be increased from 10 to 11.

Erosion

WOinActie has been protesting the ‘erosion’ of academic education since 2017. According to the movement, this has been caused by a lack of funding for the higher education sector. In December 2018, some 2,000 students and scholars held a demo in The Hague. Earlier that year, various universities organised open-air lectures during a protest week to show how bad things have got at the Netherlands’ universities in the view of the activists.

Alessandra-Arcuri

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Why this researcher became the driving force behind the academic protest

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