Socialist Worker

Reports on lecturers' strike across the country on Thursday 24 March

More than 100,000 lecturers across Britain and Northern Ireland are striking today (Thursday). Students have also joined pickets at colleges including the London School of Economics and King's College London. The lecturers in the UCU union have walked

Issue No. 2244

Lecturers at Tower Hamlets college

Lecturers at Tower Hamlets college



Institute of Education

Seven National Union of Teachers executive members visited UCU picket lines at the Institute of Education in central London to show their support.

One of them, Nick Wigmore, told Socialist Worker , 'We've all struck together in the past. I'd love to see that unity again. I think we're closer to a general strike now than we've ever been. The words general strike are entering into people's vocabulary more and more. There's an appetite for strikes among lots of workers.'


Soas

At the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), in central London, many Unison members have refused to cross the picket line. About 35 students have occupied the Faber building. Bernard Goyder, told Socialist Worker, 'We went into occupation last night in solidarity with the lecturers and to have an organising space for Saturday's anti-cuts demo. We need to politicise people who were not previously political. We want to see everyone from children to grannies marching on the street.'

Annie, a lecturer who teaches English for Academic Purposes at Soas. She said, 'I've lost two of my students as they couldn’t get their visas renewed to stay. They were in the middle of doing degrees. I don't know what the government is playing at. The cuts mean that smaller language schools will collapse. We're showing we’re not going to lie down and take it.'


Birkbeck

There were lively picket lines at Birkbeck. The student union is giving free tea, coffee and sandwiches to pickets.


Hackney College

More than 40 lecturers and students picketed Hackney College in east London, as their anger broke out over the national and local attacks they face.

“It’s a full frontal assault,” John Barber, the UCU branch secretary, said. “The college has got rid of its entire management and is now looking to recruit people on worse conditions with fewer holidays and lower pay.

“This is an attack on the provision of education in one of the poorest boroughs in London. We intend to declare a dispute and move to a ballot for action.”

Rose Veitch, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) teacher and UCU rep, said, “We believe that 80 percent of current Esol students will be priced out of education because of the way that the government is changing who can get access to Esol.”

Access student Dawn Reynolds told Socialist Worker about why she backed the strikes: “I’ve been in the benefit system all my life and now I’m trying to support myself and do better and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel that the government’s telling me to stay down and it’s got no right to do that to me or anyone.”

Email messages of support to Hackney College UCU at mcarman@hackney.ac.uk


ESOL protest

Hundreds of Esol students and lecturers gathered outside parliament today to protest at cuts to Esol funding. The government is going to withdraw funding for Esol from anyone not on Jobseekers Allowance from September.

Sivapalan said, “I want to learn more English to communicate with my children and have a future in Britain. I want to be able to mix more with English people.” He had a banner that said, “No Esol, no life.”

Olivia, who is studying Esol at Lambeth college, said, “I need to learn how to speak English as I’m paying too much for a translator. I need to speak English for my work, which is cleaning. And I need it for when I go to the doctor and when I fill out forms. I’m very angry about the cuts.”

Dawn Stafford, an Esol teacher at Waltham Forest College, said, “I teach in a children’s centre and most of my students are mothers. Most of my students are on income support and they would have to pay for Esol. They won’t be able to afford it.

“People are learning English to help their children so the cuts harm the children as well. By learning English people become more confident to be involved in society. If Esol’s taken away that confidence is gone.”


Tower Hamlets College

Mark, who works in teacher training at the college and is UCU joint branch secretary told Socialist Worker, “The cuts we’re facing are massive and we need a united response—today is the start of that.

“This college offers a chance to young people from poor backgrounds in the area. But the cuts already mean that the things they rely on—EMA, student support and counselling—are being taken away.

“We want to get every public sector worker out, all across the country, That’s what it’s going to take to stop the cuts and the government.”

Local teachers who will be striking next week, health workers and students came to show solidarity.


Queen Mary’s University

At the east London colleges, lecturers were in good spirits and students had come out to join them on the picket lines.

Tilly, a first year student was out on the picket line and leafleting for the TUC demonstration this Saturday.

She told Socialist Worker, “The lecturers are striking to save their pensions, but the strikes are also against the cuts. Some students think that the government’s plans won’t affect them, but the cuts are hitting us now.”


London Metropolitan University

Rob Murthwaite, a lecturer at the university told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had students and staff leafleting all week for the 26 March demonstration. This strike is part of that resistance—to the Tory cuts and the attacks on education. We need to build up rank and file organisation throughout the unions so that people have the confidence to fight back on an even bigger scale.”

Max Watson, the chair of the Unison branch was there in support. Max said, “If we’re going to shut down the education system, we need to have all the unions striking together. In many universities and colleges now there are as many support staff as teaching staff. We need coordinated strikes.”


Bradford College

UCU members at Bradford College formed solid picket lines outside all college buildings. Some ten sites were picketed this morning. They report that the strike has been solid, with very few workers or students crossing the picket lines. Many are joining UCU on the picket lines this morning.

“Just on our picket line we gave out eight applications to join UCU, with two people joining,” said Laura Miles of the UCU national executive.


Chesterfield College

Around 30 UCU members at Chesterfield College picketed their two college sites this morning. “We’ve had good support from students,” James Eaden told Socialist Worker from the picket line. “We’ve also had visits by delegations from the GMB union and the local trades council.” One person joined the UCU on the picket line.


Leeds University

Malcolm Povey reports: Leeds University is pretty well shut down. We have lots of new people on the picket lines. Union members are walking around with huge grins. This is a step forward.” Some 20 picket lines were formed at the university, with every entrance covered.

Student support has been fantastic. The students’ union is backing us and are due to speak at our rally. They have put out a statement supporting the action and condemning the attacks on pensions.

It’s getting boring being a picket—there’s no one to stop coming in!


Leeds Met University

“All the entrances are closed. We’ve closed the place down, effectively,” reports Paul Blackledge, branch secretary of Leeds Met. Over 80 UCU members came to picket lines.

“Everyone’s in a good mood,” said Paul. “There’s a great atmosphere. Everyone’s beaming.” Members of the students’ union and Unison members provided strikers with tea and coffee.

Council workers are not on strike, but many are angry and supportive of the strike. “They have been taking the leaflets and saying ‘too right’. You really get a sense of what’s possible,” said Paul.

Some 30 people have joined UCU at the university in the past few weeks.


Rotherham College of Arts and Technology

Phil Turner reports that 46 jobs are threatened at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology. UCU chair Tom Donaldson said, “This is a fight we can win”.


Lambeth College, Brixton Hill

Over 20 UCU members picketed outside Lambeth College in Brixton Hill, South London. Many teach English for Speakers of Other Languages. A visit by 11 lecturers from Brixton Prison bolstered the picket.

Both the Brixton Hill and Clapham campuses of the college were like ghost towns. Very few people crossed the picket lines and few classes went ahead. UCU activists in Lambeth are keen to take joint action with other unions, such as NUT, PCS and Unison, whose pensions are also under attack.

Xanthe Whittaker


Central Bedfordshire College

Central Bedfordshire College in Dunstable had pickets on both gates this morning. We had a lot of support from students. Many staff chose not to go in. The staff car park was sparsely populated.

As the morning progressed, some students were just wandering around without anyone to teach them. Luton Trade Council and NUT members also brought their banners to the picket line.

Ged Peck


Dundee University

UCU members at Dundee University struck for the third time in three weeks today. Carlo Morelli, UCU president at Dundee University, told Socialist Worker, “It’s been great. The strikes are getting bigger and better each week. Even the principal spoke to the picket line.”

Thirty people picketed on three picket lines at the university. Some 40 people joined the union branch in the run up to the strike.

The strikes received support from all sections of the university. “There is little polarisation,” said Carlo. “Now people are discussing what to do next.”

Members discussed their enthusiasm for striking during the upcoming May elections. There is also a growing mood for coordinated action with other unions.

Strikers are organising a delegation to the TUC demonstration on Saturday.


Croydon college

Over 30 pickets were at Croydon college's main building. The branch secretaries of the PCS and GMB visited us. Support workers were very supportive! People see the strike as part of a general fightback against cuts and closures. A group of pickets and students went to the Esol protest at parliament and others went to join a march from the LSE to parliament.

Margot Hill


Swansea University

Around 25 people attended picket lines at Swansea University today. Many strikers have only recently joined the UCU union. There were also pickets of local further education colleges.


Kingston University

Around 70 students and staff joined picket lines across three campuses followed by a lunchtime rally. UCU officials say that 80 percent of teaching staff were not at work. Many students took solidarity action, refusing to cross picket lines.


Brighton

Tom Hickey, UCU executive member, “Today saw the most successful strike in the history of the University of Brighton.”

The Falmer campus was deserted as two large pickets blocked both the main road and railway station entrances.

The Grand Parade campus was devoid of most staff, and all but one classroom at the Moulsecoomb campus were empty.

Eastbourne campus also had a successful picket

The University of Sussex saw very large pickets of lectures.

At City College Brighton management suspended all courses, with the exception of hairdressing. Management put up a notice outside reading “classes disrupted”.

Pickets also took place at Northbrook College, Chichester College and the University of Chichester.


London Metropolitan University

Students at London Met came out in support of striking lecturers.

Claire Locke, Campaigns and Communications officer for London Met students’ union, told Socialist Worker:

“I support my lecturers. Our student council has voted in support of the lecturers today because we understand how important united action is.

“Before Christmas students nearly brought the government to its knees, and the UCU stood beside students. An attack on one is an attack on all.

“After yesterday’s budget the government says that Britain is ‘open for business’. On this Saturday’s TUC demonstration we will say ‘Britain is closed for business’ until we get what we paid for.”


North West

Over 200 UCU members, students and supporters rallied today in All Saints Park, Manchester.

Martyn Moss of the UCU told the rally that support for the strike was outstanding. “The north west is the largest region with 16,000 members out on strike,” he said.

He told the rally that strikes were solid at the universities of Salford, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Edge Hill, Chester, Liverpool John Moores, Preston and Lancaster.

UCU members at Liverpool Hope University face over 100 redundancies. They voted by 83 percent to strike. Moss said that today’s strike at the university was “the most solid in history. Not a single university lecturer went into work.”

He warned employers, “We mean business.”

UCU regional chair Phillipa Whittaker, from Salford University, also spoke at the rally. She said that her great grandmother was illiterate and brought up in the workhouse. Her grandfather learnt to read and got a trade. She was the first to go to university from her family, and education was fundamental to her family moving forward.

She ended by saying that education is a right: “It’s about advancing knowledge, not about merely gaining employability.”


Cardiff

Strong pickets are reported across Cardiff. Thirty people picketed at Gower College Swansea in Gorseinon. There were also solid pickets at the University of Glamorgan and University of Wales Institute Cardiff.

An angry rally outside the Welsh Assembly attracted 250 people. A student ended his speech to a loud cheer as he called for “a general strike to bring down the government”.

He was followed by the UCU Wales further education president, Guy Stoate, who told the rally, “We need to bring down the Tories.”


London march to Downing Street

Striking lecturers and students gathered at the London School of Economics (LSE) in central London at 1pm today, Thursday, for a march to Downing Street.

LSE students had organised a “strike festival” for the day. They ran stalls providing free food, tea and coffee. Other stalls focused on banner and badge making, while student musicians performed in the sunlight.

One LSE student told Socialist Worker, “We want to show solidarity with the lecturers. The point is to stand together – students and workers.”

Strikers had come from across London to join the march, organised by the London region of the UCU union.

UCU union banners from City University, City and Islington College, King’s College, Goldsmiths College, London Met University, University College London and the University of Westminster were just some of those being carried on the protest.

Philip Hager, a UCU member at Goldsmiths College in south east London, said the highlight of his picket line had been “the support of the students”.

“Pickets convinced lots of people not to enter the main building and it was more or less empty today,” he told Socialist Worker. “Many students came to support us.

“In terms of what happens next, I would like to see a general strike. I don’t know how feasible that is. But this strike isn’t just about lecturers – it’s about what the Tories want to do to public services. That affects everyone.”

Strikers won support from other workers as they marched to Downing Street. At one point, construction workers stopped to watch and take pictures of the demonstration.

One tower crane driver told Socialist Worker, gesturing towards the UCU march, “We’re all in the same boat. They’re having their pay and jobs attacked and we are as well.

“Our bosses want us to take a 13 percent pay cut. We’re refusing. Why should we take a cut? We’re helping to build posh hotels and flats – how much money will the people who own them make?

“The people who should really pay are the bankers. They’re still getting their bonuses. It’s sickening.”


Southampton

Southampton High Street rang to the shouts, chants and whistles of 500 trade unionists on Thursday. The Unison and Unite unions had called the march and rally, to protest at the Tory council’s plans to impose pay cuts.

Striking lecturers in the UCU union from City College, the University of Southampton and Solent University joined the protest.

The council has sent out letters asking all employees to sign to accept the pay cut—but over 2,000 of a total workforce of about 6,000 have refused to do so.

The unions will now be organising a ballot for industrial action.

The march and rally was lively and noisy with chants of “Cut my pay, no way” and “Same old story, lying Tories”. The council has accused the unions of intimidating workers into taking action—which angered workers even more.

Unison’s national officer for local government spoke to the rally, along with the deputy general secretary of Unite, a local Labour councilor and a UCU member.

Union members are determined to continue the fight and to march in London this Saturday.

Lecturers reported a good turnout on all picket lines at the college and both universities, and said they expect to take further action in the future.

Bobby Noyes


West Thames College

There was a wonderful picket line at West Thames College in London. It was big, loud, angry—and yet humorous. Pickets were confident about their case and this had brought out many teachers in a far from traditionally militant workplace.

Martin Pitt


Nelson and Colne College

The strike was very well supported at Nelson and Colne College, with 40 percent of the membership turning out on the picket line.

There was solid support from more than 100 students, including adult ESOL students, who walked out in support of the lecturers. It was a lively, colourful demonstration of solidarity over pensions and against the cuts.

The students’ placards reflected their anger at the axing of provision, particularly in music and the performing arts. Over 100 people signed up for the Pendle Stop the Cuts Campaign, and several students also signed up for transport to the TUC demo on Saturday.

Alison Gander


Open University, Milton Keynes

At the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes around a dozen pickets at each gate caused long tailbacks of traffic. Some workers from the OU warehouse, who were not on strike, joined them.

Representatives from the Milton Keynes trades council visited the pickets.

The mood was upbeat, though UCU pickets did express frustration at the failure of the Unison union to ballot over the same issues. The OU is an odd set-up: it’s a campus with no undergraduates but many hundreds of Unison admin workers.


Truro College

There were around 15 people on the UCU picket line at Truro College in Truro, Cornwall. There was a good mood as lecturers leafleted passers-by about their strike and students leafleted in support.

Members of the local group Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance visited the strikers. UCU members agreed to submit a motion to get their branch to affiliate to the anti-cuts group.

Around 30 people later joined a rally in Lemon Quay, Truro. They marched to Barclays Bank to highlight the fact that bankers, who caused the crisis, are still getting their bonuses while public sector workers, who did not, are attacked.

Keith Shilson


Newcastle University

The strike at Newcastle University was fantastic—big lively pickets with music and banners. There was brilliant support from the students. Following a vibrant and noisy march, strikers held a rally. All the local colleges and universities were there as well as speakers and delegations from PCS, NUT and GMB unions. Then the students occupied the admin building—a good day!

Geoff Abbott


Manchester Metropolitan University

There were solid picket lines at every site at Manchester Metropolitan University. Some 600 people packed into a rally—with an electric atmosphere. The mood from every speaker and every person present was to fight back.

Christine Vie


London South Bank University

There was four hours of lively picketing where around 50 pickets successfully turned away both students and staff.

Adrian Budd, secretary of the UCU branch, said, “I have never known a strike this cheerful and upbeat.”

To loud applause he added, “This is down to the fighting spirit shown by our students since November. They have spearheaded the struggle for education and we have to follow them.”

Strikers unanimously agreed to call on the UCU national executive to sanction a ballot of members at South Bank University for strikes to force the university to re-enter the national pay bargaining structure.

Chris Kelly


The strike provided a huge filip for the 40 to 50 people who picketed. Students, admin staff and people from the nearby International Transport Federation of trade unions supported them.

Lecturers mounted lively pickets at all buildings. Virtually nobody, save for managers, crossed the picket lines.

Pickets rallied before moving off to join the march from the London School of Economics.

It was a brilliant day that exceeded our original expectations. We are already working to build a lobby of governors next week.

There was one particularly amusing incident. I spotted police outriders and a large limousine and chased after it holding a copy of Socialist Worker to my chest. I assumed it was a minister, as we are one mile from parliament.

It turns out it was the queen! Her response to my fist-waving was a traditional wave. The pickets were unsure whether this was a simple robotic response to anyone who approaches her, a gesture of support to a lively, colourful and well-decorated picket line, or a sign to me that she already has a copy of this week’s Socialist Worker.

Adrian Budd


Petroc College

I was welcomed at the large picket line at Petroc College in Barnstaple, Devon, this morning as I brought solidarity greetings from Devon NUT.

60 jobs have been cut already cut. There are at least another 60 planned for the coming year and more to follow.

Pete, a lecturer said, 'I'm here because I'm making a stand against education being ground down. It's about choices – where the money is spent. Is it war in Afghanistan, bankers bleeding us dry or is it education?

Students Sabine and Angus added, 'We are here to support our lecturers, who seem to have less and less time to work with us. It's just a business not an education establishment. Management is more concerned about profit.'

There was live music from students and staff and lashings of tea made by one of the students!

Dave Clinch


York University

There were lots of pickets at York University. We held a protest and had an impromptu protest and strike meeting, with about 20 people. We had a good discussion about the way forward.

James Cussens

The occupation of the Faber building at London

The occupation of the Faber building at London's Soas



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