Pickets were out in force on Friday for the second day of a two-day university strike. UCU union members are out in a battle to stop a vicious attack on their pensions. Their action is having a huge impact.
The right wing Times newspaper reported on its front page that the strike had caused “chaos” in universities. Lectures and seminars were cancelled in 57 universities across Britain and big groups of students joined strikers on the picket lines.
At University College London (UCL) today there were more new people picketing. Groups of pickets had covered dozens of entrances before 9am. IT manager Joanne said she had “never been on strike before and never done anything like this”.
“If they do this to our pensions, the best academics will leave and institutions will be destroyed,” she told Socialist Worker.
One striker addressed a national CWU union meeting in London on Friday. CWU members asked how they could show support and how they could donate to the hardship fund.
Several post workers have already refused to cross UCU picket lines - strikers should feel confident to ask them to respect the pickets.
At UCL students have provided hot food for strikers on each day of the strike. The student union last week passed a motion of no confidence in the governance of the university.
College lecturer Sean Vernell addressed a strike meeting at UCL today. “We will be joining you on strike next Wednesday,” he said. “You are an inspiration and you’ve given us more confidence to fight.”
Strikers have received international messages of support along with donations from other colleges.
Journalists Gary Younge and Paul Mason addressed a teach out at Goldsmiths College, while rapper Lowkey spoke at one at UCL.
He said of the strikers, “The only bargaining chip these people have left is their labour. What they’re doing now is for people in the future.”
There was an impromptu demonstration in Manchester against universities minister Sam Gyamfi, who was speaking at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Student Conor Cooley helped set up the Save Our Staff group at Manchester university to show solidarity with workers facing job cuts last year. Now the group is organising solidarity for the strike. “Lecturers were extremely pleased to see us visiting all the pickets,” he said.
He added that pickets this time around were bigger than during a two-day strike over job cuts last year. “It’s clear that staff are angry and want to get active,” he said.
The scale of the action has surprised many longstanding activists. Some 250 people picketed on the first day of the strike at Cambridge university. Striker Anne Alexander said, “Hundreds of students marched and rallied in support of strikers.
“Lively pickets gathered across five different sites. Cambridge University Students Union president Daisy Eyre led chants of, ‘Students and workers, unite and fight’.”
Ben, an international graduate student and postgraduate UCU member. “Students and staff that I spoke to generally think the pension cuts are disgraceful,” he said.
“There was a great turnout and a lot of enthusiasm. Our collective creation of a programme of teach outs is trying to create a more caring and inclusive university.”
Some 15 vice chancellors called for talks to end the strikes after the first day of action.
On Friday afternoon the Universities UK (UUK) bosses' group said it was ready to talk on Tuesday.
In response the UCU said it would join talks but that the strikes planned for next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were still on.
UCU added that unless the employers were prepared to talk about the January decision to slash pensions then it did not see how the dispute could be resolved. In its statement UUK said "talks would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January".
That decision is the very reason staff are on strike.
Bosses have had months to negotiate and so far have refused to move. Workers shouldn’t let them derail their action with a vague promise of talks that will come to nothing.
The UCU plans a three-day walkout from Monday followed by a four-day and a five-day strike in the subsequent weeks.
UCL striker Josh said, “We’ve had absolutely brilliant support. In my department a third of the staff have been out to picket.
“And we’ve got a massive level of support from students. We’re shutting down the university and people are joining on the picket line.”
He said the action had started to transform the combativity of workers. “Anger is coming out over other things now, such as workload,” he said. “The genie is out of the bottle.
“We have a real opportunity to win a serious victory. We can’t settle for anything less than a guarantee that our pension won’t be touched.”
Joanne agreed. “Everyone has to negotiate, but this strike will continue until this is resolved,” she said.
Branch secretary Tony Brown told Socialist Worker, “Today we’ll have a discussion about what we consider ‘meaningful negotiation’ to be.
“The strikes have to continue if negotiations begin. We have to keep the pressure on.”