An eight-day strike across 60 universities got off to a fantastic start on Monday.
UCU union members, and students, staged big picket lines across Britain.
Many reported bigger turnouts than ever before. Lesley, UCU campaigns officer at Leeds university, said picketing had been “fantastic”.
“We signed up 180 people for picketing, which is the most we’ve ever had,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We always get others who turn up without signing up.”
Umit was picketing at Manchester university. “The picket lines have been absolutely brilliant,” he said.
“Hundreds of pickets were everywhere. Everybody says it was bigger than last time.”
At Newcastle university, at least 175 people picketed on the first day.
“The first day has been bigger than the first day of our strike last year,” said Bruce, a UCU rep there.
UCU union members are engaged in two disputes—one over pensions and another over pay, workloads, insecure contracts and pay inequality.
Workers at over 60 universities struck for 14 days last year to defend their USS pension scheme. That action brought new members into activity—and this strike is doing the same.
The UCU said on Monday that 3,500 people had joined the union in the three weeks since the eight-day strike was announced.
Sheffield university reported its highest ever membership on Monday.
Carlo, a Dundee university lecturer, said, “A number of new members have come out to picket.
“People are very upbeat and we’ve had more support from outside than previously, including from Labour.”
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner spoke at a strike rally in Manchester on Monday, while Jeremy Corbyn tweeted his support.
Several strikers felt that it was good to be taking action in an election period.
University College London (UCL) striker Ciaran told Socialist Worker, “When there’s an election people tend to be a bit more switched on to what’s happening.
“It was nice to hear we have been in the headlines—our strike can get more attention.”
Workers are furious that bosses have gone back on a pledge to negotiate meaningfully over the future of their USS pension scheme.
And years of real-terms pay cuts, casual contracts and a gender pay gap have fuelled the push to fight back.
Mary Jane, a striker at University College London, told Socialist Worker, “I was on fixed term contracts for years.
“When I got a permanent one I felt like I’d won the lottery. It shouldn’t be like that.
“This is for the future of education.”
Hundreds join rallies at campuses on the first day of universities’ strike
Huge rallies and protests marked the beginning of the action.
Around 300 people marched through the centre of Bristol while up to 400 joined a strike rally in Manchester.
Other big rallies took place in Leeds, Edinburgh and Oxford among other places.
Some 100 strikers and students marched around the Strathclyde campus chanting,
“Bosses we won’t work for less—you can kiss our USS!”
A local cafe gave out free hot rolls and drinks to strikers. Behind the big rallies are reinvigorated branches with different people taking a lead.
Mike is one of the UCU contacts for the Edinburgh university branch. “It’s definitely different this time,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Last year people were learning on the hoof.
“This time people were having video-conferences weeks in advance of the strikes.
“This time the union office was absolutely full of people collecting materials, whereas last time it was the branch officers.” Linda is branch chair of the UCU at Roehampton university.
“There are lots of new people involved,” she said.
“We used to have a committee that was a little bit staid, but now newer people are taking responsibilities.
“The branch is changing.”
At UCL a steady stream of strikers arrived for “duty” as they put it, collecting leaflets and going to cover different entrances.
Branch secretary Tony told Socialist Worker, “There’s a lot of self-organising. Last time there was a lot of explaining about what to do and about picketing.
“But now people are just grabbing bunches of placards and going off.”
Workers are organising regular strike meetings, to bring union members together to discuss the action, hammer out any problems and talk about where next.
This kind of organisation is critical to involving more people, strengthening the strikes and giving more control to ordinary members.