It’s nearly impossible to avoid the implications of the UCU strike. Beginning on 22 February, 61 universities have been taking part in the action. Academics are striking due to a proposed pension change, which could see pensions being cut by up to 40%. Out of the 463 members of the UCU that participated in the vote to strike, 421 (91.3%) voted for strike action.
Picketing has become a sight across campus life in recent days. Staff and students have united in standing in solidarity for members of the UCU, supporting the strike. What with a recent All Student Motion from Warwick SU detailing the support of Warwick students for the strike, it’s unsurprising that the UCU strike has become the main topic of conversation for students and staff alike.
When researching the strike on campus, I came across an Instagram account called ‘politics.in.style’. Its biography states it is ‘exploring the politics of style in Warwick University’. Looking for different ways to approach the strike, I sat down with Mara Duer, the creator of the account to talk about the strike and the relationship between politics and style.
Clothing can portray a meaningful sense of identity for how people display public belonging to a political ideology or framework
Mara Duer is an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Warwick. She also teaches in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, where she submitted a PhD in September 2017. Having also studied in Tokyo, as well as working in Argentina and New York City, it’s fair to say that Mara is a woman who has experience of many different cultures.
When asking her opinion on the strike so far, she talked about her experiences being at an English university for the last 4 years. She made it clear that normally, there is a sense of a lack of activism across campus, however the UCU strike has been extraordinary for getting students and staff to talk to each other with a political mindset. The strike has brought up questions that were not asked previously, which has large implications for the ideas that circulate around university. Mara made it clear this ‘idea of solidarity’ has strengthened all those who are striking, regardless of age or how people identify themselves.
Discussing how people identify themselves led me to ask about her reasonings for creating the Instagram account. Mara discussed how her side project is to “look at style” and how “clothing should not been as vain”. Instead, clothing can portray a meaningful sense of identity for how people display public belonging to a political ideology or framework.
Those with social media are carrying the story of the strike forward
Take the importance of pins. The Instagram account shows a variety of pins, reading ‘make some noise’, ‘kick out the Tories’ and ‘I love data’. In focusing on pins, Mara’s account is focusing on the messages that individuals at the picket line are proclaiming. Whether or not they directly relate to the strike is not necessarily important, however the political implication of pins show a sense of belonging towards an idea. Participating on the politics.in.style represents a sense of solidarity towards the strike, in which people want to convey a message on a social platform.
Discussions of the strikes on social platforms has been, in one word for Mara, “massive”. It is clear from talking to Mara that the strikes have not received as much attention from the mainstream media as previously expected, due to bigger topics such as Brexit taking up air-time. Speaking from experience in working at a newsroom, smaller news stories may not garner as much attention in the public eye as stories that may encompass everyone, as the amount of people that a localised story can attract is smaller.
Yet, the strikes are not a localised story. They are a national affair. In talking to Mara, it was clear that those with social media are carrying the story of the strike forward; they are doing the main job in explicating individual stories of the strike to the public. The role of social media is primary to the strike, as it is shedding light on daily events.
The strikes have not just been vocalised by elite, white males, but males and females of all political identities
The strikes are not the only political event happening. March 8 sees International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. On a post advertising when the pickets in week 9 would be happening, it states that those picketing on March 8 should wear red in solidarity.
When speaking to Mara about the choice to wear red, it was clear that she was extremely passionate about this. Mara was unsure as to whether this would be happening across other campuses nationwide, yet the political consciousness of wearing red demarcates the female protagonism of the strikes.
Mara made it clear that the strikes have not just been vocalised by elite, white males, but males and females of all political identities. With this, there has been a great show in exploring the transparency and solidarity of gender unification, encouraging men and women to work together.
Stylistic choices of representation within politics are important to assessing the strike
There is also a feminist fundraiser party for the Women’s Strike and the Warwick UCU Strike Hardship Fund. All money collected will be divided equally between the Warwick Strike Fund and the Women’s Strike. Mara hopes this feminist auction will help to create solidarity with women in academia.
From speaking to Mara, it’s obvious that her passion for politics.in.style and how the relationship between politics and style can be explored in a way that is not conducive to vanity. Stylistic choices of representation within politics are important to assessing the strike, and it’ll be interesting to see where this account goes.