By Sophie Squire
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University workers on strike front line

This article is over 1 years, 3 months old
“We need to show our power and scare the employers,” says UCU striker
Issue 2842
UCU members picket outside Queen Mary University in east London

UCU members picket outside Queen Mary University in east London. (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Around 70,000 university workers were set to strike on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The planned strikes by UCU union members will follow big picket lines on 1 February as well as on Thursday and Friday of last week. 

Workers have begun a ­programme of 18 strike days in their battle over pensions, pay, conditions and equality. This extended programme needs solidarity from other workers. And UCU members have to turn their fight ­outwards to link up with others. 

At the University of Greenwich, south London, last Thursday 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.” 

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. “It matters how many people we have on picket lines. We need to show our power and scare the employers.”  

Spirits have been 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 strikes. On many picket lines, students showed their support. 

Students at Glasgow university and Newcastle ­university made banners to show their solidarity. Workers in Liverpool planned a city-wide strike committee—involving four branches—after picketing last week. In other cities, including Bristol, Cambridge and at Imperial College in west London, workers are ­beginning to organise strike committees. It is this kind of organising that is vital for the future of this dispute. 

Instead of building on the size and vibrancy of picket lines, UCU general secretary Jo Grady and other leaders in the union are more interested in the reballot later this year. Activists have to organise in the here and now to make the strikes as hard-hitting as possible. 

Calling more big rallies and organising solidarity with other striking unions is vital to keep the momentum going and raise strikers’ confidence. University workers must also fight for democracy within the union. 

The leadership of the UCU union has yet to call a branch delegates’ meeting that will give members a full and democratic voice in the future of the strikes. Strike committees give workers a voice, but they can also raise workers’ confidence to challenge the bureaucracy. 

Last week, Grady promised on a Twitter video that the union would not settle until there was a “rounded agreement on pay”. Workers must not accept a below-inflation pay rise. Strikes should not be paused for negotiations. If bosses don’t move, the only way forward is all-out indefinite action. 

  • All workers should 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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