UCU members staged big picket lines and rallies on Monday, on the sixth day of an eight-day strike. Many workers feel emboldened after a week of action that has seen new people join picket lines and solidarity from other trade unionists and students.
Josh, a UCU rep at University College London, said the strikes have been “inspiring”. “It has been growing in strength through the week,” he told Socialist Worker.
“And people are really up for continuing the action.”
Workers at Queen Mary University of London agreed. “We’re in it for the long haul,” striker Rick told Socialist Worker on the picket line on Monday morning. “It’s good that we have started the strikes in the autumn, as we have more time next term to exert more pressure.”
Striker Martin agreed. “It feels like this is the opening salvo,” he told Socialist Worker. “We’ve got to change the conversation in higher education.”
Anger at attacks on workers’ conditions, especially casual contracts and gender and race pay gaps, is driving the action. Rick said, “They’re making universities pretty horrible places to work in. Casual contracts are a recipe for really high levels of stress and anxiety.”
The strength of the action pushed the bosses’ UUK group to agree to meet with the union on Monday afternoon. UCU vice president Vicky Blake tweeted, “With thanks to every single striker and picketer, our action is effective!”
Strikers from Brighton and Sussex universities held a joint march and rally on Monday. In Kent, workers kept warm by doing a collective Zumba class on the picket line. A group of students began an occupation in Nottingham university in solidarity with strikers.
At City University in London, students led a strike rally and chanted, “Students stand with UCU.” Labour MP Hilary Benn spoke to a rally in Leeds, where strikers had been boosted by hot sandwiches brought by Unison union members in the morning.
Huge crowds rallied in Glasgow on Monday lunchtime. Strikers came from Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, Dundee and St Andrews universities.
Others came from as far as the University of Highlands and Islands in Oban. And other trade unionists, including a big group of Unison union members, joined the rally in solidarity.
Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of the STUC, told strikers that they are “an inspiration”.
He spoke about recent successful struggles in Glasgow such as the council workers’ equal pay strike.
“We are on the front foot when it comes to winning disputes,” he said. “Gone are the days when we were taking one day of action. That’s not the way you win industrial disputes.”
Liam McCabe, president of NUS Scotland, offered “full, unequivocal, unwavering support from the National Union of Students in Scotland”.
Carlo Morelli, a UCU rep at Dundee university, spoke about how the crisis in higher education is piling stress onto workers and students.
“That is why this strike has been so popular,” he said. “It’s not just because we want a pay rise or a better pension. It’s everything. We don’t want a settlement on one of these issues without a settlement on them all.”
The strikes have shown workers’ power. It was right to start with a hard-hitting eight-day strike. Now the union must build on the momentum and name more dates now for walkouts in the New Year, to keep the pressure on the bosses.
As Queen Mary striker Darryn told Socialist Worker, “We expect to be back out again in January. The employers don’t have much of an argument. We’ve had 15 years of real terms pay cuts while the sector has the highest income it’s had in years.”
Rick added, “One of the reasons we are on strike now is that bosses reneged on a promise they made during our last dispute. Strikes last year forced them to come to the negotiating table and make concessions.
“But some turned out to be not worth the paper they were written on. This time we have to make sure we get some kind of guarantee that they can’t walk away from.”