We are into the third week of strikes. UCU negotiators are reporting that there has been progress but have counselled us to keep up the pressure. Here is a series of reports of the strikes from different parts of the country
Newcastle University, Graham Kirkwood
We have managed to sustain the strike through this week with sizeable pickets each day. There has been a battle with the weather but members continue to turn out. We had an excellent teach out on Monday with Jane Hutton, former UCU trustee who was sacked controversially for doing her job and scrutinising the decisions of the USS board. Some of her revelations were alarming as to the modelling assumptions being used by so-called experts, all instrumental in driving up the supposed deficit. As Jane herself pointed out, there is no deficit, only estimates.
It has been helpful to get the email from Jo Grady outlining the progress that has been made as a result of the strikes, more regular communication with the members from the top of the union would help keep people's spirits up. We need to know we are making progress.
Bruce Baker, Reader in history at Newcastle University and UCU NEC member, said,
"We are having an effect, and classes just aren't being taught. Management are going to have a lot of problems at the end of the academic year unless this is settled soon. They are going to discover that they have frittered away the last bit of goodwill staff had. The chaos can be alleviated if we come to an agreement."
University of Glasgow, Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
The fifth day of the strike at the University of Glasgow saw the biggest and most enthusiastic picket lines so far. The weather helped as we had a dry and sunny morning after several wet and windy weeks.
But the turnout of over 150 was also due to the call for a general meeting of the union on the day. Members wanted to get a sense for how negotiations were going and what we could do next as a union. The mood in the meeting was confident given the increasing turnout on the picket lines. A representative of UCU Scotland, which had organised a rally in Edinburgh attended by hundreds the day before, told us he was impressed by how quiet our campus was. It was good to hear this from someone coming from outside.
In terms of next steps, we decided to call a teach-out when we the strike resumed this week in order to attract more people to the picket line and to renew momentum going into the third week of the strike. We also reached the conclusion that a UCU Scotland rally in Glasgow in the fourth week would be an exciting opportunity to bring strikers from different parts of the city together. A street mobilisation could draw public attention and gain solidarity from outside our ranks, which is critical to putting pressure on our employers. It is also important to underline that our success so far is critically tied to student support. Without them, we would have difficulties holding meetings and countering management pressures on members not to strike.
But we are now very confident carrying on. The picket line will once again face freezing conditions, snow and winds, but we have arranged for a Samba band on Wednesday and set up a WhatsApp group that has already attracted dozens in less than 24 hours, ensuring a sense of collective power and connectedness, which are important going forward.
Queen Mary, University of London, Mark Baxendale
It was too cold to think. Several hundred pickets limbered for the London Region rally and march. In energy-conserving clusters. With strong coffee and even stronger resolve. Speaker after speaker lambasted education market madness. From a platform raised to the UCEA/UUK office widows.
The levitated Angela Rayner railed against professional decline and social injustice. Reports came from the UC Santa Cruz wildcat TA strike. Pay-gap, and anti-deportation campaigns. A French striker brought news of unfettered action, of spectacular wins, and bonfires.
Below, banners billowed. UAL, Royal Holloway, Birkbeck, Royal College of Art, Imperial, Kings, SOAS, and Queen Mary.
NEC member, Sean Wallis sent us off with a feisty attack. He linked banking crises to neoliberal education. To student debt. To climate change. And back again.
And so, to the belly of the beast: The City of London. Home of USS, Ltd. The chants were straightforward, the mood downright determined. We believe that we will win, went a song. A small dog barked in unison.
Then came the career-high: We taught you calculus, give back our pensions (tune: La Donna È Mobile).
Frowning suits tapped their smartphones.
Next, we made history. On the steps of the Royal Exchange. Next to the Bank of England. The taxpayers’ revenge said Sean. Our excursion into non-payer land, he said. Feudal lords traded crops in the building behind us. The money built our universities, he said. Now university bosses extract profits to reward fund managers. Shareholders and senior management teams too. We must think of the priced out, said Sean. They will be looking at us.
London is a union town cries echoed down Threadneedle Street.
I believe that we will win.
Goldsmiths College, University of London, Des Freedman
Goldsmiths remains largely shut down inside and buoyant outside. Teach outs run from early morning to late afternoon with student support remaining strong. Yet, any 14-day strike needs replenishment and there are now plans to make the strike days Departmentally-focused in order to encourage informal assemblies and teach-outs on the picket line itself. There are plans for themed days in the final week of the strike including a focus on anti-casualisation, climate change and opposition to Prevent.
The mood is strengthened by the widespread opposition to the College's proposed restructure programme, 'Evolving Goldsmiths' (now widely known as 'Dissolving Goldsmiths') which includes a 15% cut to budgets in the next two years as well as the closure of the campus gym and a centralisation of finance. There have been two protests so far together and plans for an alternative plan for Goldsmiths are well underway.
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