Students on the picket line at Bristol University, supporting their lecturers, 22nd February 2018. Photo: Jack Hazeldine Students on the picket line at Bristol University, supporting their lecturers, 22nd February 2018. Photo: Jack Hazeldine

University strikers across the country are reporting the most successful and well supported industrial action for years

‘Casinos are for the rich to gamble in. They are not places to put our wages.’ That is how one Manchester lecturer summed up the spirit behind the growing rebellion over pensions in the universities. A colleague reported a mood of anger and determination at the university, ‘At least 15  buildings had their separate entrances well covered by staff angry at another great pension robbery. Most people were surprised by the turnout and then overjoyed to see a student march turn up soon after 8am!’

When asked about lobbying for compensation for lectures cancelled a social science student said ‘lecturers didn’t set the price tag, in fact, they marched against fees. Education isn’t fifty quid a lecture, it doesn’t work like that.’ A striker reported ‘The atmosphere across campus was vibrant with busy pickets and students delivering coffee and breakfast. I am in no doubt our employers got a clear message that the feeling here is very angry and determined. 

Students in support on the picket line at Manchester University

Students in support on the picket line at Manchester University

Unity grows…

In Bristol University hundreds of staff gathered for a 10.30 rally when a march of hundreds of militant students turned up chanting ‘students and workers unite.’ As one university worker said ‘Within in half an hour a crowd of two thousand had gathered outside senate house’. UCU reps, students and other unionists bringing solidarity all called for staff and students to unite and fight against cuts and marketisation across the board.They then set off on an impromptu march into the centre, town stopping traffic and getting a huge amount of support from passers-by.

A student activist at Cardiff University said the atmosphere on campus was ‘amazing’. ‘Everyone is talking about the strike. Most students weren’t going to classes.’ He only knew one lecturer who had gone in to work. After picketing, hundreds of staff and students gathered for a rally addressed by Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly members amongst others. He had helped organise a meeting the day before the strike through the Peoples Assembly and other organisations where UCU members were explaining the situation to students. About 60 people turned up and that meant there was a core of students who really knew the arguments. Student health workers who had tried to picket their building were forced to move by police and security because they were told it was NHS property. They ended up getting a fantastic reception when they formed ‘a kind of flying picket’ marching around the campus to boost activists across the university.

Despite problems at Birmingham University, where there has had to be a re-ballot, Aston university lecturers in Birmingham also had a very big picket with what an activist called ‘a determined and defiant mood’. He said lots of students were taking the unions leaflets and almost all of the students they were talking to blamed the management rather than the union for the disruption.

At Glasgow University UCU activists had decided on a show of strength at one gate on the first day. Sure enough, more than one hundred turned out including a lot of students. One activist said it was ‘the first time I have ever been on a picket where we actually stopped vans and lorries coming in. On top of that, we got loads of people hooting their support.’ After picketing they marched into the centre of the city to join strikers and students from other Glasgow campuses and universities.

At SOAS in central London, there were at least 200 people involved in picketing through the morning and creating a real buzz. This follows an amazing rally the night before when 300 students and staff packed the Junior Common Room to hear UCU speakers, reps from the cleaners and Owen Jones. The strike has had a big impact. A UCU member reports ‘most classes have been cancelled and very few students have come on to the campus.’

… and so does the union

After effective picketing in the early morning, Goldsmith’s University workers in South East London held a huge rally at the university gates where students would normally be flooding through the doors. Messages of support were read out, and various workers took to the mic to attack not just the slashing of pensions, but the whole phenomenon of marketisation. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell turned up to support the strikers and told them “You are standing up for the whole Labour movement. While they cut taxes for the bankers, we fight back, for our pay and our pensions.”

In her speech to the rally, Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU reported a poll showing that three-fifths of students support the strikes, with students at universities affected by the strike showing more support. She also told the crowd of how this strike was headline news across all of the media, and how it would give strength to workers across all sectors to fight back. At a time, where the lack of union membership is often a source of dismay for many on the left, Hunt reported 5000 new members over the recent weeks, consisting mainly of new young lecturers, librarians, and administration staff. Not bad for a start.

Lecturers and supporters on the picket line at Goldsmiths University


Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.