Workers took to the picket lines for the second day on Friday at 62 universities across Britain. The two-day strike kicked off a wave of 14 days of walkouts for UCU union members across 74 institutions.
Workers are fighting casual contracts, low pay, spiralling workloads, pay gaps and attacks on pensions. They see all of these issues as having the same root cause—a neoliberal agenda that turns education into a business.
In Leeds, pickets braved strong winds and rain to picket. Groups of students joined strikers with music, and helped leaflet other students.
Postgrad student Ana told Socialist Worker, “Education is being treated like a commodity. It should be more respected than this.”
Astrid, a student and UCU striker, said she was most angry at casual contracts. “I’m on a casual contract myself and it’s very detrimental,” she said.
“They are normally for less than a year. And I think just over half of all academic staff at Leeds are on them.
“It’s just a convenient way of hiring cheap labour.”
Workers on casual contracts aren’t paid for all the preparation they do—and often have to work several jobs to make ends meet. “It becomes a vicious circle,” explained Astrid.
“You’re chased by deadlines all the time and you don’t produce your best work.”
Striker Andrew said he hoped the walkouts would “bring to the attention of the employer that they can’t keep driving us into the ground”.
“I’m 62 so for me the pensions issue is very important,” he told Socialist Worker. “What’s been great about the strike is that you mix with different people who share the same experiences.
“There’s a camaraderie because we’re all in it together.”
For Kat, increased stress had pushed her to take action. “I know a lot of people who have left because of it,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’ve worked in universities for about 15 years and have seen my pay drop and contracts get worse.
“You can feel the pressure increasing. You don’t have time to do your job properly and that’s bad for students. Universities are becoming money-making machines.”
A steady stream of pickets came to report for duty on Friday morning, and were sent to picket various buildings across the campus. There were fewer than on the first strike day, but still around 100 strikers and supporters rallied later in the morning.
And new people came to picket too.
“You don’t get the sense that people want to give up,” said Lesley, UCU campaigns officer at Leeds. “There’s definitely resolve there.”
Chloe, vice president of the UCU branch, agreed. “The mood changes on each strike day, but now people are really angry,” she told Socialist Worker. “The bosses are just playing games with us.
“Their latest offer was insulting. But we’ve shown that if we stand firm they will move, and I am hopeful of a victory.”
Trades council representatives came to show support, and have pledged a donation to the hardship fund. And Labour MP Richard Burgon came to a strikers’ rally to support them.
Michelle Gregson, general secretary of the NSEAD education and arts union, also came to support the pickets. “What’s happening in higher education reflects what we see all down the line to primary schools,” she said.
“Arts education is really under pressure. It’s all about ‘value for money’ and not about valuing education. It’s about big business.”
Workers at some 74 universities plan to strike for 14 days in this latest wave of action. More walkouts are set to begin on Monday. Many strikers have been motivated to get involved because they know the stakes are so high.
Striker David told Socialist Worker, “It’s a chance to make a big change in the culture of universities.
“At first I worried that fighting over pensions and pay at the same time would be confusing. But all the issues are tied together—they’re all part of the same thing.”
What you can do
- Visit a picket line at your local university. See where and when the strikes are here
- Donate to the strike fund
- In London come to the UCU strike solidarity assembly, Tue 25 February, 6pm, The Tudor Rooms, Imperial Hotel, Russell Sq, London WC1B 5BB. Bring your union banner and a donation.
- Join the strikers’ march from the bosses’ headquarters to the City, Wed 26 February, assemble 12 noon, Tavistock Square, London WC1
- Invite a striker to your union or campaign meeting