UCU union members at Leeds University began a three-day strike on Wednesday. Management wants to bring in a new clause, Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR), for dismissing staff.
Workers say this will make it much easier for bosses to get rid of workers—and puts academic freedom under threat.
Deep anger at the attack saw big picket lines at the university as the strike began. Vicky Blake, president of Leeds University UCU, told Socialist Worker that the mood among strikers was “absolutely brilliant”.
“We’ve had so many people turn up to picket that we’re running out of places to send them to,” she said. “People know that this university has run for 100 years or more without the need for a catch-all redundancy clause.
“They are really worried about the impact it would have.”
Steve Lax, a UCU branch committee member, was also picketing. “There’s a genuine fear for jobs,” he said. “But there are also concerns about academic freedom.
“Management would be able to get rid of people for saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong research. For instance, if someone said something that was critical of a key funder of the university.
“It would have a pernicious effect. People would end up self-censoring and changing the way they do research and teach.”
Vicky said free thinking and the right to be critical were “fundamental” to universities. But she stressed that the attack can be stopped.
“In other universities, including Sheffield, UCL in London and Warwick, have rejected SOSR. Management have been telling people not to worry as it’s not a significant change. But then they say it’s really important.
“We have had no answers as to why this is happening now.”
The strike seemed solid. “There are lots of new people picketing,” said Steve. “We’re getting a lot of support compared with previous strikes. A delegation from the NEU teachers’ union visited to show solidarity.”
The UCU has made the fight at Leeds a dispute of national significance. UCU congress this year also voted to allow the branch to trigger a process of censuring the university, previously known as greylisting.
This would see other academics encouraged to boycott the university.
Vicky said, “We’ve never held a three-day strike before and I hope that will be enough to make management listen. I hope we don’t need to escalate. But they should be under no illusions about how strongly our members feel about this.”