By Sophie Squire
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University strikes show united fight can win the battles

There were strong picket lines on university strikes. But there are questions about the strategy laid out by those at the top of the union
Issue 2797
Seventeen strikers stand on a picket line outside UAL university in London

Pickets at the UAL university in London in the latest round of university strikes

Workers at 38 universities began the first of five days of strikes on Monday. They are striking as part of two separate but connected disputes. The first is over cuts to their USS pension scheme. The second is over heavy workload, casualisation, low pay and inequalities.

At Goldsmiths university in south east London, workers took to picket lines over the national disputes and a wave of local redundancies recommended by banks. Striker Martin told Socialist Worker, “As we fight our national and local dispute, we are faced with an utterly uncaring management team.

“What they are trying to push through here is no doubt, fire and rehire.We were faced with a massive increase in workload as soon as classes went online, and now with the cost of living soaring, the lives of university staff will only get tougher.”

Martin added that despite the fatigue that workers might feel in the long-running dispute, it is vital that strikes continue. “We can’t do anything but keep on striking. We need to keep up the pressure, reballot and start a marking boycott,” he said.

Across Britain there were strong picket lines to mark the first day of the strikes. UCU members in Leeds organised a large rally outside the town hall, and there were big pickets outside the university of the Arts London and at Sussex university.

The strikes follow ten days of action in February and March—and another wave of university workers are set to strike next week. Workers are fighting bravely. But there are big questions about the effectiveness of the current strategy laid out by those at the top of the union. The leadership will be content to limit strikes and de-couple the disputes. That’s disastrous.

The UCU Left group, which Socialist Worker supports, said, “We have arrived at this point through a series of failures by our union. The majority of these have arisen out of a refusal by the leadership—HE officers, full-time officials and the general Secretary— to implement democratic decisions taken by members. This has resulted in members continually having to make the best of sub-optimal situations in order to prosecute these fights.” It says that despite the set-backs” both of the disputes are winnable “but control of them must be in the hands of members”. 

The statement adds, “Those at the top of the union who don’t have the nerve for this fight should stand aside. Now is not the time to throw in the towel.”

Mark Abel from Brighton university told Socialist Worker, “There is an argument coming from the top of the union that if we fight separate local disputes, we are more likely to win. But this isn’t the feeling on the ground. Rank and file members know that fighting together is essential. From branch delegate meetings, there is a mood to keep fighting and to couple strikes with a marking assessment boycott. This strategy was effective in Liverpool where strikes and a marking boycott beat a wave of redundancies.

“There is a fight going on for democracy in the union. Two special sector conferences have been called, which can be a chance to fight back. The members can still take back control of this dispute and the union.”

 

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