Workers at the University of Manchester began a two-day strike on Monday. Over 1,800 UCU union members are fighting bosses’ plans to impose 140 job cuts.
There were big picket lines at the university’s entrances on the first day of the strike.
Students brought food for pickets before strikers and their supporters rallied in the student union.
UCU president Joanna de Groot told the rally there was “serious national concern” in the union about the situation at the university.
“Decently treated staff are key to high quality of teaching and research,” she said. “When they injure staff, they injure students, they injure research.”
Union members backed strikes by 87 percent on a turnout of nearly 58 percent. Over 93 percent backed action short of a strike too and UCU members were set to begin a work to rule from Wednesday.
Joanna said the strike was “massively supported” and added, “We can mobilise members. We can show our strength.”
Michael McKrell from the University of Central Lancashire spoke about a similar struggle of UCU members there.
“Our branch three years ago was facing compulsory redundancies and the imposition of new contracts,” he said. “We successfully fought and we did so only with the threat of taking strike action.”
Michael added that UCU members at the University of Manchester had done an “amazing job” in meeting the ballot threshold in the Trade Union Act.
“That was designed to keep the workers’ voice silent,” he said. “You are living proof that that strategy has failed.”
Deej Malik-Johnson, campaigns officer at the students union, told the rally, “Students will always stand behind you. We know what the job market is like out there. If we don’t fight with you now, what are we going to face?”
Shadow education secretary and MP for Ashton-under-Lyne Angela Rayner sent a message of support calling on bosses to “get their house in order”.
There is no need for cuts. The university recorded a £36 million recorded surplus last year and has £1.5 billion in reserves. More strikes can force the bosses to back down.
Big vote for USS action
UCU union members in older universities have voted overwhelmingly to back industrial action over pensions in a consultation.
Some 87 percent of those voting said they would be prepared to take industrial action to defend their USS pension scheme. The turnout was 55 percent—which may be the biggest ever turnout for a UCU national consultation.
It shows the potential for exceeding the new thresholds in the Trade Union Act. And it shows that union members can be mobilised.
The USS defined benefits scheme could be replaced with a defined contributions scheme. This would slash the value of pensions by half or more. And it wouldn’t just affect new members, existing members would be hit too.
That’s why there is so much anger.
Now we are preparing for a special conference to discuss pay and pensions on 9 November. UCU branches should meet and put motions to the conference, which is almost certain to vote for a national ballot.
If that goes ahead, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see one of the most well-supported strikes in higher education.
Download motions to discuss in your UCU branch at uculeft.org and watch Carlo explain the USS dispute at uculeft.org/2017/10/uss-crisis-explained/