The first day of a wave of university strikes was a big success on Thursday – despite appalling weather in many places.
Strikers reported big picket lines, solidarity from students, donations from other trade unionists and an upbeat mood.
Carlo Morelli, a UCU union rep at Dundee university, said the picket line there was “possibly the best ever”.
“The weather wasn’t good but we had a good number out picketing with some students and new people, including casualised staff,” he told Socialist Worker.
“There’s no indication of the strike weakening. If anything, support is growing because we are seeing new people appearing. The strike is reaching deeper layers of people.”
Jo Gilmore, a department rep at York university, agreed. “It was absolutely pissing it down but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits at all,” she said.
“The pickets were bigger than they were at the start of the last strike. It was very confident with lots of new people. Lots of students were supporting us.
“I think people are up for staying out this time. We’re exhausted and angry but also optimistic that we can achieve something.”
Around 120 people picketed at Leeds university. UCU rep Lesley McGorrigan said there were “new faces and veterans”. Labour MP Fabian Hamilton spoke to a rally in solidarity.
More than 80 people joined a rally at the University of Birmingham, and big crowds rallied in Manchester.
And 100 picketed at Glasgow university. That’s despite two UCU branch officials previously arguing for the strike to be called off apparently due to lack of support.
And big numbers were reported at Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield universities, despite “driving rain”.
Workers are fighting over pay, equality, contracts, workload and pensions. Fury at casual contracts, gender and race pay gaps, and years of below-inflation pay deals are fuelling the action.
Sheffield UCU rep Robyn Orfitelli said the idea that there’s not enough money to resolve the dispute is a lie.
“Proportionally the amount of money they’ve been spending on staff has been doing down consistently over the past decade,” she said.
“If they actually cared about staff, they have the money to fix this dispute. They could have done it six months ago.”
The same message was clear from a central London rally outside the UCEA bosses’ headquarters at lunchtime.
“The same people who are awarding themselves massive salary increases are telling us there’s no money for decent pensions and no money for fair pay,” Roddy Slorach, a UCU rep at Imperial College London, told the rally.
“This is about the future of education as a right for everyone and as a public good not a private privilege for the few that can afford it.”
Strikers celebrated the success of the walkouts and stressed why the struggle is so important.
Tony Sullivan, branch chair of London College of Fashion of University of the Arts (UAL), London, said the strike had been “fantastic”.
“I’m really proud that this strike is about fighting oppression as well as fighting exploitation,” he told the rally. “This strike is about a war on casualisation. It is about fighting the discrimination faced by women, BAME and disabled workers.”
Sam, another lecturer at UAL, said the “properly brilliant” thing about the strike had been the student support. “We have just joined the strikes after a reballot so it was a bit unknown how it would go,” he told Socialist Worker.
“But so many students have come out to support us. They’ve been producing posters and stickers in solidarity.”
Tony said 22 strikers had picketed picketing at the London College of Fashion. “UAL had seven picket lines,” he said. “That’s never happened before. This campaign has rebuilt our branch.”
Others had similar stories of how the strike is helping rank and file organisation to grow.
Carlo said that Dundee has a strike committee for the first time. “People came forward to help run the strike,” he said. “Things that took a few days to organise before, such as teachouts, suddenly got organised within minutes.”
After the London rally, strikers held a general meeting to discuss the fight. Margarita, a UAL rep in Camberwell, south London, said the dispute had transformed the union there.
“At the start we had a meeting of three people,” she said. “Then we had eight, then we had around 20. It can be done.”
There is a sense that after years of neoliberal attacks in education, workers have had enough.
“People feel universities are at breaking point and something needs to change,” said Jo. “For a lot of people on the picket line, the strike is necessary to defend their conditions and the conditions of their students.”
This is a fight workers can win – and support from other unions will make a big difference.
Individual branches, including from the Unite, NUJ and NEU unions, have donated to strike funds at their closest universities.
National unions have also made donations. “It’s fantastic we got £5,000 from the NEU,” said Tony. “But to be honest, we need £50,000, we need £100,000.
“We need solidarity from the rest of the TU movement.”
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