By Sophie Squire
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University strikers say step up the action to UCU union

UCU union strikers are fighting over pay, equality, workloads and casualisation
Issue 2794
Workers on the picket lines, some have placards, one waves an RMT flag

Wimbledon RMT and Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Council show solidarity with Kingston UCU in south London

Workers at 63 ­universities took to picket lines on Monday to fight against heavy workloads and precarious contracts, for better pay, and against inequalities. Strikers joined large picket lines and protests in cities such as Bristol and Leeds. UCU union members have struck for at total of 11 days over the “four fights”, or ­pensions, or both.

Several student groups have continued occupations of university buildings in solidarity with the strikers. Students were also set to converge in London for a “strike and teach in” called by the NUS student union on Wednesday this week.

There was support from the Wimbledon branch of the RMT union—preparing for their own strikes on the London Underground—at Kingston university, south west London on Monday. And Tube strikers and UCU members were together on some pickets on Tuesday. 

But many UCU members are frustrated with how union leaders are running the strikes. Carlo Morelli is UCU Dundee university branch co-chair and a former UCU negotiator over pensions. He said that the lack of democracy in the union is becoming a pressing issue. 

“There was a Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday where the possibility of more action was talked about. Thankfully a motion to suspend all strikes was voted down,” he told Socialist Worker. “But one plan that would see more escalation came to a tie after the proposer of the motion was not given the right to vote for it after experiencing connection issues.”

Carlo added that strikers don’t know precisely what the HEC decided. “But we have heard enough to say that these plans fall short of what’s needed to guarantee a win,” he explained.  “Union members must keep fighting for more democracy. We want the union to listen. We need more ­meetings where branch delegates are allowed their say.”

The UCU Left group, which Socialist Worker ­supports, added, “We face a serious attack on our union and our members are putting ­themselves on the line.  Any failure of nerve by our union’s leadership threatens to severely weaken our ability to resist.

“It’s crucial that UCU members take control of our disputes. Higher education sector conferences have been called for April, but this is far too late. That’s why we are encouraging every branch to pass a motion calling for an urgent special higher education sector conference (Shesc).”  

One branch that has called for a Shesc is the Royal College of Art (RCA) in west London. Workers there are fighting as part of the national dispute and a local one over workloads and precarious contracts. A member of the RCA strike committee told Socialist Worker that the university has already conceded to some of their demands. 

“Management has been forced to agree that those already working at the RCA and those who join in the future will receive the same terms,” she explained from the picket line. “But we have to continue. The university has a plan to restructure that will impact our teaching. They still haven’t told us what this restructuring will mean for staff.”

The striker was clear about what is needed in the national dispute. “It’s simple. We need to escalate strikes before the ballot ends.”

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