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Political Geography and the UCU Strike

As editor-in-chief of Political Geography, I have had to make some difficult decisions concerning the relationship between the ongoing strike in UK academia, my position as a member of an international scholarly community, and my specific responsibilities with the journal.

Even in the best of circumstances, deciding what it means to be an academic on strike is difficult. As I considered in a blogpost during the 2013 strike, it is not at all clear where ‘work’ ends and the reflective everyday life of the academic begins. Should one not read, not write, not think during a strike….or should one just refrain from work that directly aids one’s employer? One of my colleagues has urged us all to do nothing even remotely scholarly when on strike. He suggested preparing the garden for spring planting. This sounded like a great idea…until we were hit with a blizzard!

But there are also issues of responsibility. If I refuse to write a letter for a colleague in North America seeking tenure, is her promotion fair collateral damage, even though it is difficult to see how her hardship will in any way cause Universities UK to scrap their plans for gutting the UK university pension scheme?

Even in teaching (where clearly academic staff have leverage) the decisions are complicated. For instance, I am scheduled to lead a week-long field trip to Jerusalem in two weeks, during a week when a strike has not been called. But the date that had been scheduled for the compulsory Health & Safety briefing, required by the university’s insurer, is a strike date. In this case, we have compromised, moving the Health & Safety briefing to a non-strike date. This is not really best practice, since it goes against the spirit of the strike. But it preserves our ability to have the field trip without explicitly crossing a picket line.

These questions become even more complicated with Political Geography, since there are conflicting legal obligations. On the one hand, I have a contract with Elsevier to edit the journal, so a refusal to work on the journal during strike days would be a breach of that contract. Of course, in most cases I can go individual days without doing journal work and no one will notice. But crises sometimes pop up that I need to deal with immediately, and certainly if I stopped doing journal work for the duration of the strike it would interfere with journal production schedules, authors’ expectations for speedy review, etc. On the other hand, my journal editing work does count in my university workload model, so as a striker I should refrain from doing this work.

My own policy — and this is not official journal policy since we are an international journal and our non-UK editors have different concerns and interests — is to keep doing journal work. I continue to assign articles to associate editors (including those in the UK) and I continue to recruit peer reviewers. At the same time, I am not really expecting responses from UK reviewers until the strike is over. Certainly, I will not be conducting peer reviews for other journals during this time, as in such cases the only employer is the one against whom I am striking. When the strike ends, the system will still send them the standard reminder notices, and the review process will continue as before. In some cases, reviewers may need to be re-invited because their initial invitation expired during the course of the strike, but that should not be a problem.

It would be time-consuming to ‘hack’ the automatic reminder system to adjust due dates for every review, but I will certainly be forgiving to any UK-based reviewer (or author) who seeks an extension because, for them, peer reviewing (or revising) an article was part of their work for their university employer. This may cause some delay for some authors, and I apologise for that. However, given the situation, I think it is the best solution possible.


One comment on “Political Geography and the UCU Strike

  1. […] of what it means, as an academic, to temporarily not work) – see this reflection from 2013 and this one from 2018. Drawing these lines is a never-ending process, and their locations will change as one develops […]

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