Picket line at Queen Mary University. Photo: Katherine Connelly Picket line at Queen Mary University. Photo: Katherine Connelly

A UCU striker at Queen Mary University speaks to Katherine Connelly about the ongoing dispute

What is at stake in this dispute?

The legal mandate for the strike is to defend the USS pension scheme, which is being cut by 40%-75%. The aim is to cut pensions enough so that members pull out of the scheme so that it collapses. So it is a make or break moment for pension provision in the sector and nationally.

The strike is also motivated by: 75% of QMUL staff being on ’Sports Direct’-style contracts; 20% real terms pay cuts; £9,000 tuition fees and sky-high living costs; soaring management pay; and stress and the mental health crisis. If government and their management lackeys win on pensions they will feel emboldened to ignore us over union casework, such as racial and disability discrimination; the very functionality of the union is therefore at stake.

The strike is part of the wider struggle against unprecedented public service cuts. Universities are in the front line of the struggle to bring down the Tory government and welcome in a red dawn under Corbyn.

What has the atmosphere like on the picket lines at Queen Mary?

The mood has been upbeat and people are pleasantly surprised about the unheard-of number of picketers.

This strike has seen lots of lively picket lines, lots of press coverage and widespread action.  Why do you think this strike is resonating so much?

Years of Tory rule and public service cuts, a weak government, a Trump visit that feels like Waiting for Godot, the shadow of Grenfell. People sense we can win this strike; it has captured people’s imagination.

What do you feel has been the reaction of students and the general public to the strike?

60% of students support us in the struggle, with only 19% opposed, which was evident from student picketers and a receptive attitude from others. Posties (in the CWU), Unite members in Estates and Unison members were all fully supportive, even if their disputes haven’t escalated as much as ours. Favourable media coverage is surely cutting through to the public too.

How can people help support the strike?

If you are a UCU member:

Katherine Connelly

Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.

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