Sarah Keenan: The UCU Strike and the New Academic Embrace of Twitter

Protest sign: 'What The FUUK? #NoCapitulation'
Photo by Akanksha Mehta

The amazing momentum UK academics have built up during our recent University and Colleges Union (UCU) strike against attacks on our pensions has been significantly facilitated by Twitter.

Twitter enabled us to mobilise and physically get down to the UCU office for a 10am meeting to protest a draft agreement made late the previous afternoon:

The #NoCapitulation hashtag provided striking academics with the information we needed about the draft agreement and the protest, and to quickly collectivise and embolden member-led dissent against union leadership:

But even before that, the critiques of the flawed calculations used to justify attacks on our pensions had been published mainly on Twitter (click/tap Tweet to see full thread):

Throughout the strike, academics have used Twitter to connect with each other and with student and other political groups, share ideas and information, build momentum, and publicly articulate their grievances directly to Universities UK (which represents the Vice Chancellors who are imposing the pension cuts) and UCU leadership:

The next phase of action began this week with UCU members resigning their positions as external examiners in USS universities. The impact of these resignations has been hugely amplified by being self-published and shared on Twitter:

Prior to this political moment, I have come across countless academics who dismiss Twitter as ‘the realm of angry women’ / a cacophony of ‘call-out culture’ / ‘the devil’s work’. Perhaps now, those academics who are just discovering the political power of Twitter can understand that the reason many Twitter users are angry is that they have been lied to, ignored and mistreated, and have no other outlet through which to publicise their grievances. This is why Twitter has been so important for many women of colour in particular, enabling them to call out power publicly and demand a response with a force and directness that cannot be achieved through any other medium.

As someone who has used Twitter for political purposes for a long time, I can attest that it also happens to be the medium through which anti-racist activists in London, for example, can communicate directly with refugees imprisoned on Manus and Nauru. So I welcome the new academic embrace of the political power of Twitter, and hope I can also look forward to fewer patronising dismissals of this social network as a den of trivial bickering and self-promotion, beneath serious thinkers.

Sarah Keenan is a Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck Law School.

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