UCU union members in higher education went on strike across England and Wales today for two hours. This is the third in a series of strikes by university workers.
There were rallies and picket lines at many universities, while others held mass leafleting sessions and meetings for those on strike.
The UCU leadership decided to deescalate the action by calling two hour strikes instead of further full days of action. This decision has sparked anger among union members. Some university managements have responded to the two hour strike call by threatening to dock a whole day’s pay.
University staff have suffered a 13% real cut wages over the last five years. Management have offered workers a 1% rise this year, again far below inflation. Vice chancellors and senior management, in contrast, have been awarded an 8% increase.
Søren at Goldsmiths reports:
Down at New Cross we surprised ourselves by how fun and lively the picket became. Over 150 staff and students came down, and many passers-by stopped to listen to speeches at the main entrance of the building. People began clamouring for a demonstration, so students, staff and their banners marched down the road to picket management offices. Loud and cheeky chants ripped into the warden Pat Loughrey for his 9% pay rise. Taking the demo round the campus and through the main building we made sure it was not another day of business as usual.
Staff in the meeting afterwards expressed a tension between wanting to take part and win the dispute while making cleasr their frustration at what seemed like a ludicrous tactic. They want escalation, but the experience of a fun and lively two hour picket gave them a bit of a buzz nonetheless. The two hour strikes offer an opportunity to build the movement on campus, but they’ll only make sense for people if we know they will lead to a longer strike, or harder tactics such as picketing open days or boycotting marking.
Postal workers showed their solidarity with the strike at Oxford University. Nick reports that “at one point, a postal van came to make a delivery. The pickets managed to persuade the postal worker to respect the picketline and turn round.” A local Green councillor also came and stood with the pickets for the whole two hours of strike action.
Around 130 people joined strike rallies at Liverpool University, 150 at University of Central London, 30 at St Andrews. And SOAS in central London once again had lively picket lines. Today’s action saw a samba band playing:
The mood at University of West of England in Bristol was more sombre. People came dressed as undertakers with bunches of black balloons ready to be set free after a march to the vice chancellor’s residence at “the Farm”.
Michal says “The feeling was largely positive, despite the relatively small turnout. One member explained, ‘Two hour strikes can work, they can help, but we need to mobilise members. It’s all come out of the blue from head office and we need to mobilise.’“
In Leeds, Brian reports that there was “outrage at the treatment of striking staff at the Leeds College of Art who were threatened with the loss of the equivalent of a full days pay – irrespective of whether or not they had been contracted to work the two hours or not – unless they disassociated themselves from the union action. This blatant bullying prompted a total walkout of staff. UCU members at the college are asking supporters to register a protest to the principal’s office.
At University of Leicester, Tom M describes how “bullying tactics, in threatening to dock a full day’s pay for a two hour strike, have created deep resentment and anger among staff. As a result today’s pickets were much more widely supported than they would have been otherwise.” [thanks to ISN for this report]
Strikers at Manchester Met were “incensed at UCU’s instruction to return to work at 1pm even though we’re being docked a full day’s pay” says Pura. “We will face a 100% loss next time. We demand a full day’s strike.”
Management at Essex University also had declared that they would be deducting a full day’s pay for the two hour strike. Pressure from UCU locally and nationally forced them to reverse the decision less than 24 hours later.
Dan says: “UCU activists at the University of Essex were celebrating after forcing our vice chancellor into a U-turn. It shows both how nasty management can be, but also how they can be forced back.”
UCU Left is asking branches to pass motions calling for a special higher education “sector conference” to allow members to determine the strategy for winning this pay campaign and initiating the marking sanction.
There is a petition calling for the original strategy of escalation to be reinstated. UCU members can email in their signatures.
Further two hour strikes are planned for Tuesday 28 January and Monday 10 February. Activists assume that UCU will be joining the one day strike on 6 Februart called by Unison and EIS, though this has yet to be announced officially.
Round-up by Amy Gilligan