Workers at Leeds University are buoyant after holding their first ever three-day strike last week.
Bosses want to bring in a new clause, Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR), for dismissing staff. UCU union members say this will make it easier to get rid of workers—and puts academic freedom at risk.
Deep anger at the attack saw big picket lines at the university. Andy Stafford, a UCU rep in the French department, told Socialist Worker, “We had enough pickets to cover every entrance at the university for three days.
“John McDonnell tweeted his support for us during the strike. We’re in good spirits.”
Vicky Blake, Leeds University UCU president, spoke to Socialist Worker on the first day of the strike. “We’ve had so many people turn up to picket that we’re running out of places to send them to,” she said.
She said the mood among strikers was “absolutely brilliant”.
Along with McDonnell, Leeds North West Labour MP Alex Sobel and Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn have also backed strikers. Other groups of workers and students came to offer support.
The editor of the Leeds student newspaper, the Gryphon, delivered a bundle of their papers to pickets with a front page story backing the strike. And a delegation of teachers in the NEU union visited to show their support.
UCU branch committee member Steve Lax explained what’s at stake. “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. It would have a pernicious effect—people would end up self-censoring.”
Union members were considering their next steps as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday. One option is to begin a “censure” of the university, previously known as greylisting. This would see other academics encouraged to boycott the university.
The UCU agreed this could be done at its annual congress this year. It also made the fight at Leeds a dispute of national significance.
Andy said, “People have also been discussing pushing the union to call action during the exam period in January.
“We may have to ballot again. The Tories’ 50 percent turnout requirement means we have to get round our membership and talk to people. But in a way that’s a good thing that can make us stronger.
“We had new people out during the strike but there’s also a lot of passive support. So there are more people who can become active in the future.”
Vicky stressed that the attack can be stopped. “Other universities, including Sheffield, UCL in London and Warwick have rejected SOSR.
“I hope we don’t need to escalate. But management should be under no illusions about how strongly our members feel about this.”