Thousands of strikers, students and supporters marched through central London on Wednesday to defend education, pensions and workers’ action.
Queen Mary University striker Eleni told Socialist Worker, “I was very worried about that deal. They shouldn’t have brought it back to us—it was terrible.
“It’s good it was withdrawn and I think we can win.”
Marie, an Essex university striker, added, “The deal that was thrown out was a bad deal. It was very provisional, shaky and vague.”
UCU members at more than 60 universities are striking to stop a savage attack on their pensions. Bosses want to impose a defined contribution scheme, which would slash the value of workers’ pensions.
A provisional deal would have kept a defined benefit element—but would still have seen workers pay more for less in retirement. It also would have seen strikers expected to reschedule lectures that were cancelled due to the walkouts.
University College London (UCL) striker Ioanna told the protest, “I’m so pleased we are still on strike. Let’s win this. But let’s also then fight on other things, such as precarious contracts.
“We have to have universities where you don’t feel threatened every month, every year. We have to stand together.”
Children’s author Michael Rosen also spoke to the protest before it marched. “It’s fantastic that the rank and file would not accept the deal that was offered,” he said.
And PCS union rep Candy told strikers, “You have started a ball rolling that is much more important than your own dispute. You’ve given us confidence.
“It’s time that we didn’t just accept things and show we can fight and win.”
Strikers chanted, “No deal, no way—we’re striking all the way,” and, “When we strike, we can win.” As well as London strikers and students, protesters also came from outside London, including Oxford, Essex and Sussex.
There was applause and cheers when the march passed King’s College, where a big group of strikers and students joined it.
Far from the prospect of a rotten deal demoralising people, some strikers said the action was getting stronger.
“We had more people on our picket line today than we’ve ever had before,” said Renata from the Archaeology department at UCL.
Carina added, “We had a brilliant teach out this morning—on the archaeology of strikes. It went right back to Ancient Egypt.”
Student Diana explained why she is backing the strikers. “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right,” she told Socialist Worker.
“And this isn’t not only about pensions—it’s about cuts to departments and services for students too. They need to stop treating students like consumers and treating education like it’s a service. We can be better than that.”
Diana said that some students were “worried about exams and how this will affect them in the future”.
She added, “They want to support the strike but they’re afraid. But the union is giving out information dealing with the issues. I’ve had lots of positive conversations. We’re getting a first-class education here on the picket lines.”
At a strike meeting after the march, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sent a message of solidarity. Labour MP Catherine West said, “We’re 100 percent behind you.”
UCU president Joanna de Groot told the meeting, “We’re committed to continuing this dispute.”
But there was understandably some anger and confusion from the floor.
The union had reached an “agreement” following talks at Acas that could have suspended action on very bad terms for strikers. It’s the pressure from ordinary union members that has so far piled pressure on the bosses and made the strikes such a success.
The UCU has sanctioned 14 further days of strikes after Easter if no agreement is reached. Some in the meeting said workers wanted to know the days so they could organise. Eleni said, “It’s important that we strike at a time when it will cause the most disruption.”
This dispute is her first strike. And there are many more first-time strikers who are determined that their efforts will not have been in vain.
The action has helped recruit thousands of new union members and has transformed the UCU. Strikers have the power to win—they have to keep the pressure on and keep organising.