Hundreds of striking university workers marched on the bosses’ headquarters in London on Tuesday.
The march on the Universities UK building came after seven days of strikes by UCU union members, who are fighting in two links disputes. Workers at 68 universities across Britain struck on Monday and Tuesday over pensions and the “four fights”—pay, workloads, casualisation and equalities. The previous week workers at 44 universities struck to defend their USS pension scheme.
Workers, students and supporters gathered in Tavistock Square, central London. Layla, a UCU member from Kingston university, told Socialist Worker, “There is a constant squeeze on your time. The university is always looking to get more out of you for less.”
She added that workers and students were enthusiastic about fighting over the four fights. “Kingston university prides itself on its diversity,” she said. “But in practice it’s black, Asian, women and disabled workers who are largely on casual and precarious contracts. When you say this to students, they see through the university’s false claims to be diverse.”
At City university, security guards were offered £100 by university management to police pickets. But the workers, who are members of the Unison union, refused and voted to walkout in support of their colleagues.
Geordie, a Unison rep at the university, told the crowd that management trying to bribe security guards was “disgusting”. “The university is trying everything to break the staff, but we won’t be part of that,” he said. “That’s why 100 percent of security decided to walk out in solidarity.”
Grant, a student at City, told Socialist Worker, “I contacted the university because I took issue with how their email said that missed lectures were the strikers’ faults. I just got back a list with why I should be against my lecturers. It was shocking. This is why students need to stand with their lecturers and the union, because our university management is doing everything they can to attack the strikes.”
Several speakers from other unions joined the rally, including those from the NEU, UVW and Unite. There was also support from many student groups. As strikers and students marched through the city, they chanted, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” and, “Students and workers unite and fight.”
Workers at several universities, including Queen Mary in east London, have been threatened with upwards of a 100 percent pay deduction for refusing to reschedule lessons cancelled due to strikes.
Oli, a UCU member at Queen Mary, told Socialist Worker that there is one solution in the face of such attacks. “There’s nothing we can do but strike,” he said. “This is an attack on our right to withdraw our labour. The only way to beat this attack is to escalate.”
On protests and pickets, workers have debated what it would take to win and criticised the UCU leadership. Camilla, a UCU member at the London School of Economics, told Socialist Worker, “There has to be more democracy.
“Ordinary people on picket lines should get a say in how the union is run. We need more strikes urgently, and when we do strike, it needs to be an all-out strike. One or two day strikes will not win us our demands.”
Workers at 63 universities will return to the picket lines for three days over the four fights dispute on Monday of next week. And the NUS student union has called a Student Strike for Education on Wednesday 2 March. Every trade unionist, campaigner and socialist should build solidarity with the university strikes—and the UCU leadership should call more, united action.
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