Ahead of the university strikes, a number of institutions wrote to students trying to dissuade them from showing solidarity with the UCU.
Some went further.Sheffield Hallam University apparently created a “record of activities not taking place” form for students to report absent teachers.
Student Lauren denounced this as “a surveillance tool, pure and simple”.
She wrote to one professor, “Ever since the strike was called I along with every other student I have spoken to have been disgusted by the response from Sheffield Hallam.
“We are furious at being used in this way.”
A letter from Liverpool university told students, “It is unlawful for students to join pickets.”
It added, “Any international students who choose not to cross picket lines risk jeopardising their visa.”
The disgraceful threats show how worried university bosses are about the potential for unity between university workers and students. They were right to be worried.
Big numbers of students have joined picket lines and encouraged other students not to cross.
Omer at UCL was one of them. “I am from Sudan,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We have many strikes there and I always support strikes about wages.
My professor is on strike so who am I to argue?”
Student Fabio also refused to cross. “I don’t know much about the specifics of this dispute,” he said.
“But I think supporting whatever is coming from the ground, from us, is very important.”
NUS representatives spoke at several rallies at the start of the week, while students are part of teach-outs and rallies. At Manchester, students organised the teach-outs on the first two days of the strike.
In Cambridge, students organised a “solidarity bike ride” with the strike. They cycled to the picket line and gave biscuits to strikers.
Students in Oxford baked cakes to sell and had raised around £300 for the strikes by Tuesday. Strikers also won solidarity from other trade unionists.
Royal Mail workers refused to cross picket lines to deliver mail at many institutions.
And the FBU firefighters’ union brought a truck to deliver a solidarity speech to a strike rally in Sussex.
Effective picket lines at UCL in London
University College London (UCL) began the strikes with a real effort to picket.
Many students were persuaded not to cross picket lines.
And many new strikers, such as Helen, joined the picket lines. “I’m striking because of the increased casualisation in universities,” she told Socialist Worker.
Nicola added, “I’m getting towards middle age. I’m starting to think about my pension and how I will afford to live in London.”
Strikers are also angry about wider attacks on education, such as tuition fees.
Paul Gilroy said, “I’m of a generation that was paid to go to university.
“I feel ashamed of what universities are turning into. I don’t want to be complicit.”
After the union suspended last year’s USS strikes, UCL UCU president Sean said the fact strikes are back on is a sign of strength.
“We’ve done what pretty much everyone felt was impossible,” he said.
“We’ve got everything back on the road—and we’ve broadened it out beyond pensions.”
Branch secretary Tony said there was a “raw determination” to see the dispute through among strikers.
“Reballoting branches that missed the turnout threshold has to be the number one priority,” he said.
Several branches voted overwhelmingly for strikes but missed the 50 percent turnout threshold for legal strikes by just a few votes.
But the union has put back reballots until the new year.
Striker Colin told Socialist Worker, “It would be ideal to be reballoting now.
“Then if we have to take more action after Christmas, it will add to the numbers.”
It’s USS versus the bosses
UCU union members staged 14 days of strikes at over 60 universities in February and March last year to defend the USS pension scheme.
Union leaders suspended the action after bosses withdrew plans to change the scheme from a defined benefit one to a defined contribution one, and promised negotiations.
The move sparked anger from activists who argued that bosses still wanted to attack the scheme, and that suspending strikes took the pressure off them.
A Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was set up involving the UCU, bosses and USS to look at the scheme’s future.
Its initial report recommended that workers do not pay more or get less in retirement.
Bosses and USS are ignoring this—and imposing contribution rises. Workers are furious.
UCL UCU rep Matthew told Socialist Worker, “It’s really frustrating that they rode back on compromises that were already mealy-mouthed to begin with. There’s a real sense that we are undervalued.”
Striker Ciaran agreed. “A lot of effort went into the JEP and for one side to just disregard the findings shows contempt. It’s exactly the same kind of tone deaf response that we saw during the last strike.”
The bosses can’t be trusted. Bosses’ group Ucea held talks with the UCU on Tuesday morning in central London. Ucea said the talks were taking place without preconditions. Yet they had ruled out discussing pay.
UCL strikers protested outside the talks.