Marches, demonstrations and student walkouts marked the first day of a university workers’ strike today.
At Imperial College London up to 100 students walked out in solidarity with the strikers. Up to 650 people marched in Leeds, led by a noisy student contingent.
Students at Goldsmiths college in south east London led an impromptu march to Deptford town hall following a rally addressed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell. They laid siege to university management offices there.
Elsewhere, strikers held big strike rallies and meetings.
Lesley McGorrigan was striking at Leeds university. “Never before have we had students marching behind our banner,” she told Socialist Worker.
Lesley said there were between 150 and 200 people picketing at Leeds today. Like many strikers, she said that today’s walkout felt very different to previous strikes. “People I haven’t seen for decades were on the picket line,” she said. “One man had been in a different union that had a no-strike policy.
“Now he’s joined the UCU union and was on the picket line.”
At Imperial College, the student walkout gave strikers a big boost. As Vijay Tymms, a physics teaching fellow, told Socialist Worker, “Students supporting us has been the critical thing for me.
“When the student union came out to support, I felt more able to tell students about why we were striking.”
Roddy Slorach, a UCU rep at Imperial, told Socialist Worker the response from workers was “well in excess of my expectations”.
“We’ve already had three people join on the picket line and they’re out with their picket arm bands on,” he said. Union membership there is up by nearly 100 in just two months.
Over 300 strikers and students joined a strike rally in Manchester, where students had handed over a collection of £200 to pickets. Up to 600 students and strikers rallied in Cambridge and hundreds more in Newcastle and Dundee. Around 300 rallied in Cardiff.
Strikers from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities held a huge joint rally. Around 200 workers and students joined the picket line at the University of Glasgow. UCU branch president Jeanette told Socialist Worker, “The depth of anger here is immense.
“It’s not just that our pensions are being plundered. It’s also about the attack on publicly funded higher education.”
This motivated many of the students who joined the picket line in solidarity. Student Thomas said, “If management succeed here, what comes next? It’s all about the profit they want to make. I think it should be about the values we want.”
Lecturer Matthew called the action “unprecedented”.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” he told Socialist Worker. “Many of us have never been on strike. But we’ve been pushed into it.”
The pension changes would be a massive hit of as much as £10,000—and would hurt many low-paid and young workers. Mike told Socialist Worker, “I work on a research contract, I’ve got no savings and will have to rely on my pensions.”
Many of those on strike are on short-term or part time contracts.
Striker Ioanna has worked as a researcher at University College London for seven years—but her contract ends in July. “My research department says there’s no more money to carry on,” she said.
“I’ve had so many different contracts—one-month contracts, three-month contracts. It’s a life of misery.”
These attacks on workers’ conditions has fed anger and driven up union membership. Many pickets were first-time strikers who hadn’t been in a union before.
Rebecca and Suzanne are administrators at UCL and joined the union yesterday. Today they were on the picket line.
“I’m really happy to be here,” said Rebecca. “A lot of people have stopped us to say they support us.”
Suzanne added, “It’s the first time we’ve done anything like this and it’s been a really good experience.”
Some union members had felt nervous about striking for the first time. But the strength of the action and the solidarity strikers received has strengthened their resolve.
As Julie, a UCU rep at Lancaster university, put it, “Some first-time picketers said they were wary of being on the picket line. But now they say they’re coming back tomorrow.
“They’ve had an amazing experience of solidarity.”
At Lancaster, Unite and Unison union members at the university brought tea and coffee to strikers to show solidarity. And Julie said “loads” of students joined the pickets.
A clear lead from the union—with 14 days of planned strikes—has also given workers confidence.
Joel said, “It is long, but it’s cleverly designed to be two days this week, three days the next, cranking up disruption.
“The longer we’re here, the more people we can talk to, the more pressure there is on them.”
Many other trade unionists, trades councils, Labour members and other campaigners turned out to support the strikers today.
Further education workers joined strikers in Nottingham, and workers from Brighton university, who aren’t on strike, organised to show solidarity with strikers at Sussex.
Workers will be out again tomorrow, and the union plans a three-day strike from Monday. Many students and strikers held teach-outs today and have a programme of events planned throughout the next strike days.
At UCL workers packed into a strike meeting at lunchtime to discuss the day. It was an upbeat meeting and also serious about how to maximise the impact of the action.
The meeting agreed to extend picketing times in order to reach more people.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said today’s strike had shut down universities across Britain. It’s clear that today’s strike caused huge disruption and strikers are determined to keep up the pressure. With people still joining on picket lines today, the action has the potential to grow.
As Julie put it, “I don’t think it will be a problem keeping the strikes solid. I think it’s got a momentum behind it.”