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Posted on 24 March 2011 at 16:06 GMT

University and college strikes - report from Manchester

There was an enthusiastic mood on most University and College Union (UCU) pickets at Manchester University on Tuesday, a sunny day, which helped! There were very few scabs where I was picketing, with most of those going in being admin staff who said they totally supported what we're doing.

Academic staff were out, IT services were out and so were IT support staff.

James Naish, Manchester university UCU (personal capacity)

UCU needs to name the dates for further strikes beyond Thursday. There's a lively discussion among UCU members about what to do next, but going to Acas is not part of this discussion.

Members genuinely feel that if they escalate the strike then we can win. The UCU executive should recognise this and act accordingly, name the next strike days and not go to Acas to settle for less than what we can win on our own terms.

Everyone I spoke to is going to be on Saturday's national TUC demo, people know the reasons for it and see the relevance of it. What they're saying is, yes we should coordinate with other public-sector workers if and when they go on strike, and yes there should be a public-sector strike.

People were quite clear on striking with others over Hutton's report etc, there is a limit to what lecturers alone can do and we need to broaden the dispute across the public sector.

A couple went further, expressing support for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates that will be standing in the May elections on a socialist basis.

It's not only academics that are on the USS pension scheme, it's quite a broader array of workers including many on academic-related contracts like the IT staff.

Where there are UCU members on academic-related contracts, we need to build in those areas and get those members to join the strike action. They run the university so to bring it to a halt we need to get them out on strike.

The employers will try to wait it out until the summer and we need to counter that. Within our branch, the idea of resorting to not marking exams is criticised as a way forward; people remember what happened last time and are not sure it would work this time.

We should continue to go on strike, to escalate the strikes, and use the base we've built up through today's strike action to broaden the action. The union has seen a massive influx of members during the last few days, this is a real chance to build the union.

We need mass strike action across FE and HE, and more militant action 'short of strike' in between the strike days. UCU needs to be campaigning actively among young members, even though they weren't balloted and so can't strike, to explain about their future and how they will be the hardest hit by the changes.

We need to build for Saturday's national demo, and after the 26th there should be a rolling programme of escalating industrial action if the employers don't back down.

UCU should be in talks nationally with other public-sector unions about taking coordinated action over pensions and the other attacks as soon as possible.

Students' unions should be campaigning vigorously among the student population to explain why the UCU is taking action, how this is linked with the attacks they face on EMA and with higher fees, with a view to calling student strikes in conjunction with UCU strikes.


Bradford

There was a good mood as around 20 UCU pickets enjoyed the sun on Tuesday 22 March as they struck over attempts by employers to attack their pensions.

Warm greetings were received from lecturers at Bradford College (the main part of which is situated next to the university) as well as from others on the picket lines.

Behind the picket lines was a much quieter campus, showing both the anger over this attack and other attacks on pensions as well as the general mood of support for strike action.

Dr Gary Slater, co-president of Bradford University UCU said:

"We're striking today to force the employers back into talks about the pensions. The USS scheme which is under attack covers both academic and academic-related staff, such as librarians, computer technicians, HR officers, finance officers. It even covers the vice-chancellor.

"There's a lot of anger because the employers didn't put proposals on pension changes to a vote to all USS institutions, the union has and members have overwhelmingly rejected the changes.

"At Bradford 94% voted against the changes which is clear opposition. Today's turnout for the strike has been the best for years, we've managed to have four picket lines, three at the main campus and one at the School of Management.

"But we'll be back out again alongside all other FE and HE institutions over this and the other issues of job security. For most members that will be all about job security, we aim to force the employers to establish a national framework to prevent job losses".

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

Leeds

On Tuesday 22 March UCU members at Leeds University went out on strike over drastic cuts to pensions. Under the new scheme Leeds lecturers could face losing up to 10,000 a year from their pensions as well as facing a potential loss of over 1,200 jobs and the closing of two departments.

This is coming from one of the wealthiest universities in the country, a member of the elite Russell group whose management has enthusiastically supported the recommendations of the Browne review.

The day saw 60 picketers, an unprecedented number for Leeds Uni, cover all the main entrances to the campus. Socialist Student members and other student activists stood alongside their lecturers, conversing with the strikers and asking fellow students to refuse to attend scab lectures and to join the picket lines.

Our presence was well received by the picketers who recognised that the struggle of higher education staff is intrinsically linked to the ongoing student protest movement.

An attack on the jobs and pay of staff will inevitably have a damaging effect on the quality of education, particularly considering the sky high fees students will be forced to pay.

The strike ended with a rally outside the university's main entrance, attended by about 100 staff and students. Amongst several UCU speakers, Socialist Party member and Leeds student Alicia Blackett made a rousing speech to the crowd arguing for the day's strike to act as a springboard for further coordinated action between workers and students starting with the TUC demo on March 26th and leading to a general strike against the Con-Dem government's savage austerity programme.

Thursday sees the UCU strike being rolled out nationwide. Socialist Party members will again be intervening at the numerous campuses across Leeds, raising consciousness amongst students and encouraging academic staff to continue the fight against the destruction of our education system.

Joseph Muller, Leeds Socialist Students

London

Scores of picket lines took place around the pre-1992 London universities on Tuesday 22 March on the 'English leg' of the UCU Higher Education rolling strikes.

Socialist Party members offered our support to striking lecturers across the capital, from Brunel university in West London, to Queen Marys in East London, and Goldsmiths in the south.

The picket line at the Waterloo site of Kings College was active and confident, with picketers leafleting and discussing with students. All the lecturers thought the rolling action on pensions had been successful.

As one said: "None of us want to go on strike. But we have no choice. We have to force them to negotiate on pensions".

Many students were supportive of the action. Students were asked to sign to say that they would not cross the picket lines.

Lecturers hope that on the Thursday 24th strike day, which will be all universities and FE colleges, many students will refuse to go in to university on that day.

Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party

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