UCU strikes: a fighting start

Strikes began across sixty Higher Education institutions today (Monday 25 November). Workers are taking action over pay, casualisation, workload and equality, as well as taking up unfinished business from the 2018 pensions strike. 

More solidarity less precarity
Edinburgh 25 November 2019. Photo: Pete Cannell

There will be eight days of strikes, including this Friday (29 November), when striking workers will join with the youth strikers for the climate. We will be bringing reports from around the country during the strike. Today we begin with reports from Manchester, Cambridge, Scotland and the Institute of Education in London. Please send in your photos, videos and reports to rs21editorial@gmail.com.

Many places did not hit the ballot threshold under new anti-union legislation. See below for a guide on what you can do if you’re in that situation. 

Manchester

Ian Allinson reports: Despite drizzle there were decent numbers on multiple pickets at the University of Manchester (UoM) before 8am, and numbers kept growing. People felt the numbers were up on last time, and the organisation seemed better too. The Manchester Student Strike Support Network played an important role in mobilising students to support the strike. Strikers staged an impromptu march around the campus, pausing to sing Solidarity Forever by the side of the main road before heading to a high-energy indoor rally.

Speakers at the rally included Angela Raynor MP, described as the Shadow (for now!) Education Secretary.

While she was received very warmly, a Liberal Democrat struggled to complete his speech after heckling and boos. NUS President Zamzam Ibrahim brought student solidarity and was one of several speakers who attacked border regimes and Prevent in Universities to loud applause. Lucy Burke, the Labour candidate in Bury South, is also on the UCU National Executive Committee and works at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), one of the Universities that failed to pass the ballot turnout threshold in the most recent Tory anti-union laws and so was not on strike. In a show of hands quite a lot of University of Manchester strikers volunteered to help MMU with phone calls and door knocking if they wanted to re-ballot.

After the rally strikers marched to the John Owens building, where students have been in occupation for a week to show their support. The occupiers are demanding that the University of Manchester divests from fossil fuel investments. The university had promised the occupiers a meeting today, but at the last minute informed them that this was conditional on them ending the occupation. The occupiers say that the University of Manchester:

…left us here all weekend with limited food supplies, no heating, no internet, refused us a change of clothes, and locked the gates around the building so our friends couldn’t come and wave up to us.

Four of the occupiers plan to start a hunger strike at midnight tonight and other escalations are planned.

Student support
Photo: Ian Allinson

Teach-outs are happening in the student union each day after the pickets. Today’s theme was decolonising education.

Cambridge

Clément Mouhot and Nick Evans report: There were large numbers on picket lines across Cambridge, comparing favourably with the numbers at the beginning of the 2018 strikes. The mood was upbeat, but it remains a challenge to persuade people not to cross.

Strike to win
Photo: Clement Mouhot

There was a large strike rally, which was very well supported by students, followed by a strike meeting. During the strike meeting, members discussed how to increase the effectiveness of picketing, as well as what victory would look like on both a local and national level. Two of the major local challenges include gaining formal recognition for the union from the University, and finding a way to organise within the colleges. College employees are currently not balloted for strike action: this prevents a significant number of staff from taking part, and also weakens the effectiveness of the action as a whole locally.

Teach-outs have been organised throughout the week. Today’s teach-out was on gendered violence. On Friday 29 November, to coincide with the climate strike, the branch is organising a citizens’ assembly on climate justice and the university.

London (Institute of Education)

A Unison worker, who is taking strike action in solidarity with her comrades in UCU reports: Approximately 80 people joined the pickets at the Institute of Education today: more than at the start of the 2018 strikes. There was a really good atmosphere. Many strikers remarked that there was a sense that this was building on ad developing from the previous strikes. The teach-out included students from Chile, talking about the struggles there and building solidarity.

A couple of Unison workers joined the picket, although more were striking, without taking part in picketing. There’s a real sense of collectivity and strength that comes from being on the picket line: we’re hoping we can persuade more to join us.

Scotland

Pete Cannell reports: There were strong pickets at all Edinburgh Higher Education institutions.

UCU Heriot-Watt University
Photo: Pete Cannell

The central rally at lunchtime was the biggest that I can remember.

Edinburgh strike rally
Photo: Pete Cannell

Amy Gilligan reports: Strikers at St Andrews and Dundee took part in a well-attended rally.

St Andrews Dundee strike rally
Photo: Amy Gilligan

Missed the ballot threshold? Download this guide to achieving a high participation union!

Since the Trade Union Act 2016 came in, unions have succeeded in increasing turnout significantly, despite all the hurdles created by the cumbersome postal ballot system. But there is still huge unevenness. To achieve a really high turnout requires a high participation local union with an effective union structure.

This guide from the Ella Baker school of organising will show you how to use a ‘solidarity petition’ supporting these strikes to organise toward such a high participation local union, able to win future ballots and making future industrial action stronger.

Collect money for the UCU strike fund

You can show solidarity with the strikers and get some useful discussions about strikes, solidarity and Tory education policy by taking a collection amongst your workmates, friends or neighbours. Details of how to pay money into the strike fund are here.

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