Reports from picket lines around the country on the first day of the UCU strike
University of Glasgow
Glasgow UCU has got accustomed to offering the strike movement a somewhat iconic image in the last few years: a mass picket in front of our historic Main Gate.
We did it again today, with over 100 people out by the end of the morning picket at 11 a.m. We had UCU flags and placards, as well as leaflets for passers-by.
The student solidarity collective showed their support, handing out leaflets in support of our action and chanting pro-union and anti-Tory slogans.
Braving the weather, which saw rain, sunshine, hail and wind alternate in the space of just a few hours, we have had a good start.
This show of determination is important. We face a continuing market-driven attack on the sector, and taking 14 days of action will not be easy, least of all on the most vulnerable.
To win, we will need more solid days like this. And we will need to build wider solidarity with students and other unions, to make collections for our solidarity fund and to ensure support for education as a public good.
School of Oriental and African Studies
Over a hundred staff and students joined the picket line at SOAS this morning. There was a mood of real determination, the vast majority of lecturers and students stayed away. Unison members joined the picket lines in a separate but connected dispute.
The mood has been hardened by local management plans to slash funding for fractional staff.
Today feels like a turning point. The current model is unsustainable. Marketisation has created competition for students across the sector which has meant rich universities expand while others are squeezed to breaking point causing work and stress levels to go through the roof. Most students have responded brilliantly. They don’t want to be taught by staff under unbearable pressure. As management threatens to close down the college they understand that marketisation is a disaster for SOAS and the Higher Education system as a whole.
On Friday the action will foreground casualisation. The more support we get the stronger we feel so we urge everyone to get down to their local picket line.
We faced heavy rain but there was a good turnout at Bristol University. There were 20 pickets across campus, followed by a rally and protest of up to 200 union members. For half term, this was a good start and there was plenty of energy on the picket lines. Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, undergraduate education officer, spoke passionately in support of strike, as did a member of the NEU. There was a teach-out on the neoliberal university. This is the kind of support and action needed to maintain support over 14 days, and shows we have resolve.
Students and staff at Goldsmiths made the decision to strike this morning, during reading week. Despite the break in studies resulting in many students having gone home for the week, the momentum surrounding the strike was energetic, even more so than during the strike in November last year.
Upon hearing about the strike, a number of students banded together to quickly find and book a space where they have been organising support, creating placards, and discussing prospective internal actions to take place alongside the strike action itself.
Amongst other things, a huge banner was designed and dropped at the top of the University building. A group of outraged students designed a banner directed at the University’s Warden, reading: SHAME ON YOU FRANCIS CORNER’, making a point against marketisation, casualisation and pay gaps.
Third year Art student Zoe Sanders explained that the newly appointed Warden, Francis Corner, recently announced a new scheme she has devised with the senior management team. The scheme, which will be put in place due to deficit cuts, will aim to completely restructure departments so they are no longer locally managed, and will instead be run by four Executive Deans. This will result in the loss of department heads, and departmental business managers, who have incredibly valuable first hand experience of the subjects, destroying the entire culture of the Art department.
Second year art student Andy Williams initiated the collaborative creation of a collage reading: ‘in loving memory of ART EDUCATION 2020’. The group of Art students arranged a protest outside Deptford town hall. Dressed in black, carrying placards protesting the Warden’s hopes to restructure the way the Art department is to be run, in a questionable attempt to save money.
We had 140 pickets out today at Newcastle University, similar numbers to the previous 8-day strike. There have also been reports of even higher numbers, 175 at Durham University down the road. The mood was good, generally a feeling of confidence in numbers now that we are out. We are going to do a stall in town on Saturday and petition the public and collect donations for our strike fund. We are pleased with day one and have everything ready for day two.
A very wet first day for #UCUstrikes at Newcastle University. We're cold + damp but we're here fighting for a better future for our universities @NewcastleUniUCU https://t.co/nKvBADaQg0 pic.twitter.com/PKWOVFQpQJ— Olivia Mason is on strike (@olivia_r_mason) February 20, 2020
Queen Mary University
Staff and students picketing Queen Mary University were in high spirits on the first day of the UCU strike. Music was blaring from a sound system and a banner reading “Honk for equal pay” generated constant beeping from traffic on Mile End Road.
University staff are taking strike action to fight for pay, pensions, equality, and against casualisation and deteriorating working conditions. The feeling among strikers was that they would rather be getting on with teaching, but the strike is completely necessary because of the abject failure by Universities to treat their employees fairly.
“What I hope the strike will do is make employers realise that they can’t take their employees for granted,” said Anthony Philips, one of the striking lecturers from the Physics department. “We’re not going to stand by and accede to a model which sees students as bums on seats and sources of income and staff as drains on that income.”
It is recognised among UCU members that there are things that are already on the table in the current negotiations which weren’t there before the last two rounds of strike action in 2018 and 2019. Striking has already had an impact and the continuing fight can deliver a decisive push back against the marketisation of higher education.
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