Socialist Worker

University strikers ready for round two

Lecturers and other higher education staff are back to work but the fight over pensions and conditions goes on, writes Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2684


There's a clear mood to fight (Pic: Lesley McGorrigan)

Workers in universities across Britain are organising following a fantastic eight-day strike.

UCU union members at 60 ­universities struck in a battle to transform higher education. They are engaged in two disputes—one over pensions, and another over pay, inequality and conditions.

UCU members met at a conference to discuss the next steps in their pensions dispute on Friday of last week.

Union members on the picket lines told Socialist Worker that many workers expected to be back out on strike in the New Year.

There is a clear mood to keep up the fight and people have been buoyed by the first walkout.

Peter, a striker at University College London (UCL), told Socialist Worker, “The strikes were consistently strong throughout the eight days.

“I’ve been really impressed by the level of support from staff and also students.”

Carlo is a UCU rep at Dundee ­university and a member of the union’s national executive committee.


He told Socialist Worker that a picket line meeting there had ­discussed even more radical action.

“We had a unanimous vote in favour of taking 15 more days of escalating strikes,” he said.

“There wasn’t any opposition to that. But what’s interesting is that some people said we should replicate what the RMT union is doing on South Western Trains and go for 27 days. The idea didn’t get laughed at.”

Workers won’t be sitting back before the next walkouts get ­underway. Action short of a strike will see UCU members work to contract.

And UCU members at 13 universities that backed strikes but missed the 50 percent ­turnout threshold in the ballots are ­reballoting for action. UCU members stressed the need to keep active between strikes.

Josh is a union rep at University College London. “We need to keep the momentum up and keep our campaigns visible,” he told Socialist Worker.

“What’s been really exciting is that rank and file members have launched their own actions during the strike.

“For instance, strikers found out that postgraduate teaching assistants are paid different rates in different departments.

“So we will use the period between strikes to have weeks of action over these kind of issues.”

Carlo added, “Between strikes we have to focus on making the action short of strikes stick. We want people to take their weekends, have a lunch break, regain control over their work.

“Branches have to organise ­meetings and union lunches to keep members engaged. We need ­lobbies of court and senate meetings to keep the pressure on.

“There are still some casualised staff who think they can’t join the union.

“So we have to have a drive to recruit these people. Our branch is discussing funding the union subs of PhD students who are doing research.”

The union should name dates for escalating strikes. Workers can win.

Eight-day strike wins huge solidarity—and puts fear into the bosses

The eight-day strike showed workers’ willingness to resist, and the widespread support that exists for their struggle. Union members raised over £100,000 in donations for strikers during the action.

Students and other workers joined big protests, rallies and demonstrations last week to mark the end of the strike.

“Pickets on the last day of the strike seemed bigger in lots of places and involved new people,” said Carlo. “Being on a picket line has made everyone smile.”

Strikers are fighting the gender and race pay gap, real terms pay cuts, casual contracts, rocketing workloads and attacks on pensions. Winning workers’ demands could start to transform higher education.

Rick was on strike at Queen Mary University of London. “Ultimately this is about government policy—the fees regime and marketisation,” he told Socialist Worker.

“People on low pay and casual contracts are teaching first years—the most important job—but they’re not valued. That’s just wrong.” Striker Darryn said that “the market is failing” in education.

Many workers feel the strike has opened up the possibility of pushing all that back.

“In a way our demands now are too mild,” said Carlo. “People want more. They don’t want to go back to work with the old way of working.

“They want things to change in the sector. They’re fed up of being overworked and unable to do what they came into higher education to do.”


Anne, a striker at Cambridge university, said strikes have spawned new campaigns. “The anti-casualisation movement at Cambridge was born out of our 2018 strike,” she told Socialist Worker.

“That’s what gave people confidence. It meant that this time we had a much better level of organisation at the start of the strike. It’s strikes that are changing things.”

UCL striker Catalina said the strikes are part of a wider battle to win radical changes.

“The same kind of social uprisings that are happening across the world are also found here,” she told Socialist Worker.

“They are showing that the system is crumbling. All the struggles are connected. Across the world it’s the same story. All we want is dignity.”

UCL striker Matthew added, “I was picketing every day and it was really inspiring meeting people from different backgrounds.

“I work on the seventh floor and usually I don’t see anyone all day apart from people in my own department.

“With all the attacks it feels like higher education could break. I’m not going to have it break on my watch.”

Carlo said the strike has “brought people together”.

“It’s made people see that they share so much in common,” he said. “It’s liberating. As socialists, we often say that people’s ideas change in struggle, and they genuinely do.”

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