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Wales university lecturers' strike just the beginning
University lecturers strike
University lecturers and support staff at Cardiff University, Swansea University, Aberystwyth University, Trinity-St David and Bangor University went on strike on Friday 18 March as part of rolling action called by the University and College Union (UCU).
Edmund Schluessel, Cardiff University UCU (personal capacity)
The day of industrial action was part of a series of rolling strikes around the UK on pension cuts, building up to a UK-wide day of strike action in post-16 education on 24 March on cuts to pensions, jobs and pay.
Employers continue to reject the UCU's offers of negotiation or ACAS-led mediation to end the dispute.
At Cardiff University, early morning pickets joined with students, including Socialist Students and other anti-cuts candidates in the ongoing Students Union elections, for a rally of 100 outside the university's main gate.
Labour Students, despite being fully briefed on the strike, declined to make an appearance. Pickets continued all day at Cardiff University Business School as lecturers encouraged students to join them in a boycott of academic activity for the day.
UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt spoke at the rally as part of a tour of Wales universities. She was joined on the platform by Cardiff University UCU activists Neil Badmington and I, UCU Wales president Guy Stoate, NUS Wales president Katie Dalton, Cardiff Against the Cuts secretary Ross Saunders and Andrew Price, a retired lecturer and former member of the national executive of Natfhe (one of the unions which merged to become UCU).
Comrade Price spoke of the employers' attack on pensions as broken promises and urged the building of a mass movement against not just cuts to education but all cuts.
At Aberystwyth University, students in their fourth week of occupation against education cuts showed their full support for the lecturers by hosting a "Free University" discussion on the economics and ideological motivation behind spending cuts.
60 lecturers attended picket lines throughout the day.
At Bangor University, UCU member Mikey West led upwards of fifty members in chants of "hands off our pensions" as passing cars honked their horns in support.
Student unions' response across Wales has been variable. Most have been supportive, with Swansea Students Union and Aberystwyth Guild of Students officially supporting the action.
In stark contrast, Cardiff University Students Union president and its academic affairs officer declined even to take part in a discussion about the strike with the Student Council, that nonetheless gave an indicative "expression of sympathy" for the lecturers after Socialist Students members of the council forced the discussion onto the agenda.
Outrageously, management at Coleg Gwent have forbidden Coleg Gwent Students Union president Mary Prescott from supporting UCU pickets on the 24th, and threatened to cut the Student Union's funding if they take a public stance!
Alex Gordon, president of the RMT sent a message of solidarity to the UCU on Friday, saying "On behalf of my general secretary, Bob Crow, our Council of Executives as well as all RMT officers and members we congratulate UCU members on being 'out of the starting blocks' straight away to confront the university and FE college employers." Earlier in the week, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka and PCS President Janice Godrich sent a letter to the UCU where they sent their union's support and offered "any practical support we can give you today and for your planned actions across the UK later in the month."
While for legal reasons the strike on the 18th only concerned the USS pension system in place for workers at pre-1992 institutions, strike action on the 24th is about pensions for all universities and colleges as well as job security, pay cuts and gender equality.
Following the publication of the Hutton Report, the opening shot of an all-out capitalist war on public sector pensions, UCU hopes to build for joint action with all other education and public sector unions and has called for a one-day public sector strike against the cuts.
In Cardiff, the Thursday strike will build up to a UCU-led rally at 11:30am at the Senedd against the cuts to education imposed by the Labour-Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly coalition.