Big picket lines and rallies marked the beginning of a two-day strike by 70,000 university workers on Thursday.
UCU union members are taking 18 days of action in their battle over pensions, pay and conditions. They struck on 1 February alongside teachers, civil service workers and others—and are set for a three-day walkout from next Tuesday.
At the University of Greenwich in south east London, workers held placards that read, “Mind the pay gap.” UCU co-chair Ruth told Socialist Worker, “University workers have seen at least a 25 percent pay cut in the last ten years. And now, with the cost of living crisis, we’re struggling to pay rent in places like Greenwich.
“Staff are demoralised and tired. We’re at the end of our tether. We are constantly being asked to work longer for less.”
But Ruth added that strikes and solidarity are the antidote. “The strikes and demonstrations on 1 February were fantastic,” she said. “They gave workers confidence. It was great to be able to walk out with teachers. On the train home we had really valuable political discussions with each other.
“Whether we win depends on us strikers. It matters how many people we have on picket lines. We need to show our power and scare the employers.”
Spirits were high on picket lines across Britain. More than 45 strikers took to picket lines in York. Pickets were lively and noisy at Derby university and at Camberwell arts college. Around 250 turned out for the strike rally in Leeds.
Unison union members joined UCU strikes at UCL in central London, and in Brighton university strikers joined striking physiotherapists on their picket lines. At the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, an opening ceremony was cancelled due to the strikers.
Postgraduate student Izzy had joined university workers on picket lines. She said, “This university is run like a business. Fees make students think that education is to be bought. But we have to argue it shouldn’t be.”
She added, “Workers need to act now for their pay and conditions. If they don’t, things will get worse for them and the students too. That’s why I’ll be standing beside my lecturers.”
On many picket lines, students showed their support for university workers. Students at Glasgow university and Newcastle university made banners to show their solidarity.
In contrast with the vibrancy of the picket line, UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, released a video on Twitter on Wednesday night. She confirmed that discussion with employers is ongoing and there would be developments in the next few days.
She promised that the union would not settle until there was a “rounded agreement on pay.”
Whatever this “rounded” agreement is, workers must not accept a below-inflation pay rise. Strikes should not be paused for negotiations or for workers to vote on a new deal.
To win, workers must keep making their voices heard and seize control of their disputes. Workers in Liverpool have organised a city wide strike committee—four branches—after picketing next Tuesday. Strikers everywhere should hold strike committees. They can be a crucial space, involving people beyond existing union structures, for debate and activity to take forward the strikes.
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