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UCU picket at University of Westminster

UCU picket at University of Westminster

Up and down the country, higher education has seen the first day of major industrial action by staff. Counterfire takes the pulse of the dispute

University staff turned out in big numbers on Thursday for the first day of national strike by the UCU union which took place in 150 institutions. Picket lines were large and enthusiastic and in many cities there were rallies and protests as well. These were joined by staff, students, other trade unionists and supporters in a show of strength, on a day where posties in CWU and Scottish teachers in EIS were also striking.

The strikes are about dramatically worsening conditions in the university sector: pay has fallen sharply over the past decade, workloads are getting much more onerous, many students are taught by casualised staff who have no security of employment or income, there are widespread inequalities, and universities are subject to the market model which prioritises profit, vice chancellors’ salaries, and expensive real estate over the needs of staff, students, and decent education. 

From around the country, we have received reports of large pickets. Over 100 staff and students gathered outside Goldsmiths to hear speakers, including John McDonnell MP. After taking 37 days of strike action last year in a local dispute over redundancies, UCU members were still out in force.

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Goldsmiths University

In Glasgow students joined with staff in large protests. Newcastle University saw an excellent response from UCU members who turned out en masse to picket all around the campus, and had a rally outside management HQ, Kings Gate. There were pickets at Open University sites, including in Cardiff. Bristol UCU also had a rally. In Manchester, many buildings were picketed with students in full support. There were good pickets on both campuses at the University of Hertfordshire, which – like many post 92 universities has not seen strike action for a number of years, and where staff were heartened by the response from students and passers by. Westminster UCU picketed in the heart of London at its Regent Street site. In most cases UCU members felt they were building momentum for the strikes on Friday and next Wednesday 30 November.

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University of Glasgow

The fact that all universities are mandated to take strike action has given a boost to union members, and involved far larger numbers in strike action. In addition, this time the strikes are against a backdrop of cost of living crisis, failed government, and a growing wave of anger across the working class. We are striking at the same time as CWU members in Royal Mail, and Scottish teachers. Those already striking or planning to do so include rail workers, nurses, civil servants, teachers and firefighters. What we need is coordination between these groups and more: whatever the specifics of each dispute, there are many common factors and we all face attacks from government and employers alike.

The next strike days will be important to build momentum and union support, which will help strengthen the proposed assessment boycott and further strike action in the new year. There is also a UCU national demo: 1pm King’s Cross station, London, Wednesday 30 November

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University of Bristol

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University of Hertfordshire

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University of Leeds

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Open University, Cardiff

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