By Sophie Squire
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Striking university workers must keep up the momentum

This article is over 1 years, 3 months old
In many areas, UCU union branches organised strong pickets and rallies
Issue 2843
London metropolitian strikers holding a purple UCU union banner for the lobby at Acas

Part of the lobby at Acas (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Around 70,000 workers at 150 universities ended three days of strikes on Thursday in their battle over pay, pensions, conditions and equality.  

At the same time their UCU union and other unions have been in talks with the bosses’ Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) at the conciliation service, Acas. There has been no new offer.

It was a good sign that around 100 activists lobbied outside Acas headquarters on Tuesday to pressure the bosses and make clear to their union leaders that workers won’t accept any rotten deals. 

Sean Wallis, UCL UCU branch secretary told the crowd, “We have been offered 3 percent last year and 5 percent for the next year by UCEA. if we were to accept that it would be game over. 

“That would be 8 percent for two years. But in the context of the current rates of inflation that’s a pay cut of between 11 and 15 percent. Fifteen percent is 55 calendar days worked for free. That’s nearly two months.” 

Strikers from several university branches were on the lobby including from London Metropolitan university, King’s College university and Imperial College London.

The UCU has set out a programme of 18 strike days. That’s much better than one or two-day action. But it can seem harder for workers than declaring indefinite action that can win quickly. So it’s important to keep the strike active and moving forward.

In many areas activists held strong pickets and rallies during this week’s strikes including Stirling, Queen Mary, Cardiff, Bangor and others. Around 250 people joined a joint UCU and Unison rally in Bristol on Thursday. At Newcastle university UCU strikers held daily meetings to discuss taking the action forward.

After big picket lines in Lancaster, UCU health and equalities officer Julie Hearn told Socialist Worker that strikers are “resilient” and “committed to the strikes.”  

“We had a good number of workers picketing on Thursday, and we were also joined by students and members of the trades council,” she said. 

“The main thing people are angry about is that the university sector has no real excuse to keep pay down when sitting on massive reserves.” 

“We have people on pickets who have been part of the strikes since 2018, but we also have new people on hourly contracts. They’ve decided that now is the time, and have the confidence to strike. 

“I think they now really believe that if they are victimised by university bosses, then the union will have their back.” 

Strike committees in every branch can drive forward strikers’ participation, reach out to other groups who are striking, spread the message of escalation and confront the union leaders’ retreats.

In some branches picket lines were smaller or non-existent on some days this week. That is partly because in some universities it is reading week, when teaching stops. But it also flows from an absence of encouragement from the top of the union for militant and active involvement.

But that didn’t hold back important initiatives. Christian Hogsbjerg, a UCU activist at Brighton university, told Socialist Worker that organising a march on Thursday lifted workers’ spirits. 

“We had the Unison union striking with us, so we shut down the campus,” he said. “We had a march from the train station and past the Royal Mail office. 

“We chanted ‘Victory to the CWU’ union. In Brighton, strikers are split across many different campuses, so bringing everyone together is vital.”

Without a leadership call for a national demonstration, London Region UCU has organised a march in central London on 27 February. 

  • Join the UCU solidarity meeting—Strike together, march together: building united action to win. Tue 21 Feb, 6pm on Zoom.  Register at bit.ly/21FebUnited

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