UCU union members at the Open University (OU) struck across Britain today, Wednesday, against cuts and closures.
Bosses want to close down seven regional OU centres—Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford. The plan puts around 500 jobs at risk, along with students’ education.
Alison Higgs was picketing at the OU centre in Camden, central London. She told Socialist Worker, “People are really angry. Management wants to go more towards online only courses. It is vandalising the structure and the purpose of the OU.”
Alison pointed out that the cuts would hit vulnerable students, such as those without internet access or with health problems, the hardest. “We need the OU now more than ever,” she said.
“That may be why loads of new people have been taking action. People who haven’t struck before are not only on strike but coming on the picket line.”
Pickets in London were boosted by supportive hoots from passing cars. UCU members working outside the OU, as well as local Unison and NUT union members, came to show their support.
Anne Martin, who’s worked at the OU for 15 years, said the cuts had left workers “devastated”. “There are about 100 staff here who could all lose their jobs,” she said. “It’s very stressful. The centre is oversubscribed because students value the OU.”
Anne said she would “definitely support more action” to stop the cuts. “I’ll do anything it takes,” she said.
The UCU has called a series of rolling strikes in different areas, starting with Birmingham on Monday of next week. OU workers in London were set strike again on Tuesday of next week.
Workers are also set to begin a work to rule tomorrow, Thursday. UCU rep Isabella said this would have a big impact. “People’s commitment to their jobs means that we are always working more than our contracted hours,” she explained.
“People put everything into this, just to see it being destroyed now. And that’s why we are getting support from students too.”
Pickets pointed out that OU vice chancellor (VC) Peter Horrocks is one of the highest paid VCs in England.
The OU has suffered funding cuts from the Tory government. But workers said the real reason for the cuts isn’t lack of money—it’s a privatisation drive.
They criticised the OU for pushing its firm Future Learn—a website offering free online courses. As striker Frank put it, “This is a private company owned entirely by the OU. It aims to provide a cheaper model of education, increasingly online.
“This will see academics become more and more employed as authors. The OU will become a publishing house rather than an educational organisation.”