The UCU union has said it could strike if universities are fully reopened this academic year. It said teaching should remain online to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The union said it will “support branches that ballot members for action against an unsafe return to in-person teaching”.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, “Death rates are higher than ever. Even an Easter return now looks hopelessly optimistic.
“If the government and universities will not commit to prioritising staff safety then the UCU will continue to resist a return to unsafe campuses.”
Already several UCU branches have voted to strike over unsafe conditions, including at Northumbria and Birmingham City universities. Other branches are balloting.
It’s good that the union is saying it will support fights to keep workers safe.
But virus safety is a national issue, and it would be much stronger to have a coordinated, national fight.
The UCU Left group has called for mass meetings of members and for every branch to organise ballots.
It said, “To protect the lives of our staff and students and communities we must act collectively and if that takes industrial action then so be it.”
And it said the UCU should make clear that workers can use Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act to immediately stop unsafe working.
Chichester College fight for jobs
Staff at Chichester College have voted unanimously in favour of declaring a dispute and moving towards a consultative ballot. This follows college management continuing to threaten the jobs of Maths and English teachers.
Chris Hartley, chair of Chichester College UCU union, said after the meeting, “The solid vote to declare a dispute and to move towards a consultative ballot shows the strength of feeling. Staff believe that making cuts to Maths and English will be a disservice to students. UCU members are determined to do whatever it takes to prevent these vital staff from losing their jobs during a global pandemic."
A consultative ballot will be an indicator of whether UCU will proceed to a formal ballot for industrial action and/or action short of strike action.
People Before Profit meeting to plan resistance
The People Before Profit group is holding a national activist meeting this Sunday at 2pm on the theme, Fighting for safety, jobs and survival.
It will be a participatory meeting held on Zoom with workshops and plenaries.
Speakers include rank and file activists and union representatives plus Labour MPs John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
People Before Profit says, “The government has stubbornly refused to improve economic support for those impacted worst in the pandemic.” It adds that resistance is what forces the Tories to back off.
Workshops include sessions on fighting redundancies, resisting austerity, opposing scapegoating and campaigning for welfare and housing.
Fight for rail safety
The RMT union has pledged to fight for safe working practices during the intensified pandemic.
It is in response to new proposals from the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF).
The union is concerned that the new proposals aren’t effective and will place lives on the line.
The RMT says workers are at greater risk now because new Covid-19 strains are more transmissible.
And rail and tube usage is much higher now than during the first lockdown in March last year.
The union says rail workers could face the same fate as bus workers last year.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said, “The union believes that there is a dangerous ‘business as usual’ attitude emerging from employers.
“We do not see evidence of measures being put in place to adequately protect our members, and rigorous enforcement of such measures, in view of the changed and more dangerous phase of this pandemic.”
The best response is workers’ action, as in the schools.
Battle over school jobs
Strikes are on the cards at two east london primary schoools over job cuts.
The Unite union has ten members at the Colvestone primary school and the Thomas Fairchild community school.
They have voted unanimously for strikes over restructuring plans which include changes to terms and conditions, and redundancies.
The schools are part of the Hackney-based Soaring Skies Federation.
Unite says there are potentially more than 18 jobs at risk out of about 30 teaching support staff.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said, “The employer now needs to withdraw the proposals to cut jobs immediately, otherwise we will be issuing notice of strike days very shortly.”
Unite is liaising with the other unions concerned about the plans—the GMB, NEU and Unison.