Counterfire reports on the first day of UCU strikes from university picket lines around the country
London School of Economics and King’s College London – John McGrath
University staff and members of UCU joined students and activists this morning on the picket line at the London School of Economics and King’s College London. Morale and turnout was high on the first day of a planned three day action.
UCU member Pat McGovern, a sociology lecturer at LSE, explained:
“Last winter we worked long hours, weekends, evenings trying to prepare a possible online teaching during the pandemic. And we turn around and find our employers turned the pandemic against us by taking the lowest possible evaluation of the pension fund to justify a new set of cuts.”
Since 2011, university staff’s pensions has effectively been cut by £240,000. The most recent cuts being disputed would diminish pension funds by an additional 35%. The UCU has linked the pension cuts with the ongoing “four fights campaign”. These fights include addressing the gender, ethnic, disability pay gap; putting an end to contract casualisation, reducing rising workloads, and increasing the membership’s pay scale.
“There’s a whole bunch of disputes around casualisation as we have a higher proportion of our teaching done by people on short term, fixed term contracts, which is no way run a sustainable education system. And there’s other issues around gender and race equality and pay, and these are long running sores.”
The educators are being supported by their students who have passed resolutions supporting the teaching staff. One sign being held by a striker on the picket line at King’s College read “Our working conditions are their learning conditions”.
University of Brighton – Michael Huggett
A good horn honking solidarity from passing cars and one “get a job” heckle that made everyone laugh here at the Brighton University Moulsecoomb campus picket line. Spirits were good although the anxiety and anger around pay and conditions was evident. Live link ups to picket lines at other university campuses and a march linking them will take place on Thursday at 11am.
University of Exeter – Pete Stevenson
Lecturers at the University of Exeter campaigned today in support of the UCU “Four Fights” campaign against pay and pension erosion, an emerging ethic and gender pay gap and an end to fractional, casual contracts to give their members job security.
Sadly, they were 40 votes short of the required number to take strike action so the union will campaign throughout January and re-ballot to secure the required number to join a future national strike.
There was good support from students passing the campaigning UCU members and anger at the outrageously large salary paid to the university’s vice chancellor.
University of Northampton – Rachel Moss
University of Glasgow – Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
The first day of industrial action at the University of Glasgow saw a mass, confident turnout of 200 at picket at the historic Main Gate. This is on a par with turnout in previous years, despite pandemic conditions. Most of those attending were staff, but there were also students, well-wishers from other unions, and socialist campaigners. We had an early speech from STUC President Mary Senior to kick us off. Other notable figures like former Scottish Labour leader and leftwinger Richard Leonard MSP visited the picket line.
Overall, there is overwhelming support for strike action because people say they feel exhausted, stressed and angry at work. Talking to different groups in the picket line, it became noticeable that everyone is aware that we will have to take long and sustained action nationally to win our dispute. There were many discussions about the way forward, the importance of students, the role of the media, and wider issues like the pandemic, inflation and the viciousness of the government in recent months.
Around 10.30 am, we held a rally. The first speaker was Anthony O’Hanlon from Liverpool University, who spoke about the effects of the market on higher education and the sustained and mass action that got UCU Liverpool their tremendous win in their fight for jobs earlier this year. We then heard solidarity speeches from Sheffield UCU and a student, as well as impromptu speeches from staff. This kind of mass, democratic and radical action builds confidence and solidarity, which are key preconditions for victory.
University of Manchester – Lucy Nichols
SOAS, Birkbeck University and UCL – Shabbir Lakha
UCU members at SOAS rallied on a lively picket line for the first day of their strike action. Lots of students turned up to show solidarity and hardly anyone crossed the picket line, following a Student Union vote to support the strike that was won by 350-11. The picket line was also boosted by management erecting fences in front of the building entrances creating an almost de facto hard picket line in a massive self-own.
There were similar high spirits among strikers at loud and energetic picket lines outside Birkbeck University and UCL. UCL Student Union took the shameful decision to not support the strike, but there was nonetheless a cohort of students on the picket lines besides a banner that read “Students support the strike”, speaking to their peers and asking them not to cross.
At all three universities, UCU members put the strike into a context of a long-running battle to save higher education and their determination to keep fighting until they win.
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