As a new union member I now find myself on strike. It’s terrible to have to inconvenience students but what can I do? You can’t ask the union to stand up for you if you don’t stand up for the union.
Going on strike during exam time is of course our only opportunity to exert any pressure. At what other time of the year would anyone miss our services? A striking tube train driver would be missed in a minute but if it wasn’t for the exams striking academics wouldn’t be missed for 500 years.
There is a wide-spread perception in this country that academics are lazy, that they are perpetual students who can’t give up their self-indulgent life-style. The oppressive seriousness of an institution like the LSE is clearly designed to counter this vicious rumour.
But I don’t know any lazy academics. Like people in other creative occupations, we are always working and never working. I get up at 4 every morning to write; most of the time I’m stressed out about some obstruse argument I can’t get my head around; there are emails to respond to 24/7. How do you measure such activities and how do you remunerate someone for them?
Routledge clearly think they know. I just got the first royalties for a book — The Mechanics of Modernity — which I worked on for some six years. Routledge is paying me exactly 345 pounds! And royalties will decrease sharply after this. That’s less than a penny per hour.
But in contrast to other authors I have a regular salary. I used to make 22,000 pounds per year when I first got to the LSE ten years ago. With a PhD student wife and lot’s of little kids it was very difficult to make ends meet. Our first daughter slept in a heap of clothes for months since we couldn’t afford to buy her a cot; we always felt ashamed of our shabby buggies when we went back to Sweden (even kids drive Volvos over there).
I now make more than double my original salary — �50,650, including my Summer School course — and I’m probably not worth much more. I’m paid in time rather than money. I’m the only father I know who will look back on his life and regret he spent such a lot of time with his children when they were young.
The real problem is not that established academics are underpaid, it’s that young academics are seriously underpaid and that the London allowance is far too low. If a strike can do something about that it’s a just cause.