Thousands of strikers marched through central London on Wednesday to defend pensions, pay and education.
The protest took place on the first day of a 48-hour strike by several groups of further education lecturers and the final day of a three-day walkout by workers at 61 universities. They are members of the UCU union.
Strikers and students braved freezing conditions and blizzards to join the demonstration. They came from buoyant picket lines across the capital and elsewhere.
Richard had been on strike at Tower Hamlets College in east London. “We had really good picket lines and people are very determined,” he told Socialist Worker. “Strikers from Queen Mary university came to show solidarity, as did students and Unison union members. It was solid.”
Tony had been picketing at University College London (UCL). “We had pickets all over the place,” he told Socialist Worker. “I was a bit late because of the snow but I wasn’t worried because I knew so many other people were organising the pickets.”
Margot struck at Croydon College in south London. “Our union is establishing itself at the forefront of a fight for education for all,” she told the crowd as protesters gathered on Malet Street.
Marchers chanted, “Students and workers – unite and fight!” as the protest wound through central London. At King’s College London a big group of strikers and students joined the demonstration to big cheers.
Student Maria told Socialist Worker why so many students back the strikes. “They don’t just cut pensions, they’ll be cutting other things too if they get away with this,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Some say the strikes disrupt education. But this is disrupting it for a few weeks – if the pension changes go ahead it will disrupt it forever.”
Workers who aren’t involved in the strikes came to show support too. Dominic came with a group of UCU members from the London School of Economics.
“They’ve tried to pull a fast one with the way they’ve valued the pension scheme,” he told Socialist Worker. “We need to stand in solidarity with the strikes.”
UCU union members at 15 colleges were out on strike today. They are fighting a below-inflation 1 percent pay deal – and say a three-day strike will follow if bosses don’t back down.
It was the fifth day of strikes in universities, where workers are set to join a four-day walkout from Monday. The action has pushed the bosses’ Universities UK into talks at conciliation service Acas on Monday.
So far they have refused to negotiate on a plan to impose a defined contribution pension scheme on workers. But workers are determined to keep striking to protect their defined benefit scheme. And the union has rightly refused to call off the strikes.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt spoke to a rally of strikers after the march. She said UUK had asked if UCU members would consider going back to work.
“They asked again, if we go to Acas do you think your members would consider going back to work?” To shouts of, “No!” from the floor she replied, “That’s what I said.”
She added, “The sacrifices that you have undertaken so far can only be worth it if we commit together to prosecuting this dispute until the end. I hope that will be soon. But if it isn’t, we will have to commit to further days of action.
“This dispute goes on into the summer and will continue until we get a solution that we think is acceptable. You will win.”
Workers should keep on fighting until they get a guarantee that their scheme will stay untouched. And college strikers should keep going until they win over pay.
The action has shown the power that workers have when they get organised. It’s also shown that it is possible to win wider support for strikes and use resistance to build unions.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell spoke at the London rally as did TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and NUS president Shakira Martin.
“Jeremy Corbyn sends his solidarity and 100 percent support for this dispute,” McDonnell told the crowd. “Labour MP after Labour MP are back out on picket lines. We know how tough disputes can be. But when you have a just cause, you have to see things through.
“We will be with you until you win.”
The strikes can beat the bosses – and they can lay the basis for future victories too. Thousands have joined the UCU to be part of the strikes and they are playing an active role in organising them.
As UCL striker Jen said, “A lot of people are involved in strikes for the first time. Younger people are learning what strikes are about and that’s important for the future.”