Hundreds of striking university workers and students held a noisy rally outside Universities UK (UUK) offices in central London on Monday.
The bosses’ group wants to push through savage attacks on the workers’ pension scheme.
Protesters chanted, “Say hey, say ho – UUK has got to go,” and students let off flares during the demonstration. One banner read, “Pensions not pornstars” – a reference to a vice chancellor’s expense claim for a “pornstar martini”.
The action marked the third strike day for workers across 57 universities. And UCU union members at four more – King’s College, Queen Mary, Edinburgh and Stirling – joined the action on Monday.
Alex, a striker at King’s, told Socialist Worker, “The atmosphere on the picket lines was tremendous. In the past it’s been easy for the employers to split students and staff. But now that’s shifted and we’ve got lots of student support.”
Talat was on the picket lines in Edinburgh. “It’s brilliant,” she told Socialist Worker. “We’ve got picket lines at most of the schools of the university. This morning someone had written, ‘Support the strikes – don’t cross the picket lines’ on one of our buildings.
“There’s a really good mood.”
UUK called for talks after just two days of strikes last week. They will take place on Tuesday from 2pm. Yet it has ruled out negotiating on the issue that sparked the dispute. Bosses want to shift the scheme from a defined benefit one to a defined contribution scheme.
Bruce is president of the UCU at Newcastle university. “I don’t think the talks will get anywhere because UUK isn’t willing to revisit the decision to impose the changes,” he told Socialist Worker.
“My suspicion is that they hoped we would suspend strikes for talks and then they can derail us and drag out the dispute. But UCU has the momentum.”
Carlo is on the UCU’s national executive committee and is on strike in Dundee. He told Socialist Worker, “People are pleased there are talks, but they don’t trust the bosses. Some see it as quite a cynical move.”
The union plans a four-day strike from next Monday and a five-day strike the following week. Strikers are determined to keep up the fight.
Mike is vice president of the UCU at the University of Hull. He told Socialist Worker, “We’re at day three of 14 and we’ll stick it out and do all of it. During talks we’ll keep the pressure up organising pickets and we have a programme of daily teachouts.
“Strikes are criticised for not making a difference but you only have to be on the picket line for five minutes to see the solidarity. It took only two days of strikes to bring employers to the table. The mood is strong and positive.”
The strikes have shown the power that workers have when they get organised. They have the power to beat the bosses – and inspire workers everywhere to fight back too.
As Cambridge striker Anne put it, “UUK hasn’t budged from its position that caused the strike. So we shouldn’t budge from ours. We aren’t on strike just to reopen negotiations. We are on strike to win.”
On Wednesday workers at 15 further education colleges will strike over pay, and there is a joint demonstration in London with university strikers and students.