The Socialist 4 December 2019 |
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University and College Union strikes: more determined than ever
At Cardiff University, every strike day UCU members have picketed over a dozen university buildings and held strike rallies of hundreds. Students have been involved on the strike committee.
At one of the strike rallies, strike committee chair and Socialist Party member, Lucy Riglin, highlighted the casualisation endemic in UK universities, one of the four main issues in this strike. Cardiff University is responding to criticism for employing academic staff on zero-hour contracts by "kindly moving them onto two-hour contracts - that guarantees them two hours work a year!".
Central to the dispute has been the slide towards insecure casualised work. Craig Gurney, a lecturer with 25 years experience, explained: "I was moved onto a 17½ hour week but all of it was teaching time, so I am expected to work unpaid as well. I was also told that if I wanted to move to a full-time post I had to submit research papers worked for in my own time. I've got three jobs, so just to keep up with that work I routinely have to work until three or four in the morning, with profound implications for my physical and mental health.
"Colin Reardon (the vice-chancellor) earns ten times what I do, and let's be charitable, he has a difficult job to do, but I don't think he works ten times as hard as I do.
"The main reason that there is a gender pay gap is that there are far more female colleagues on part-time, precarious contracts than male colleagues, so equal pay overlaps the issue of precarity.
"Often our we are not paid on time for [casual] hours worked and I have to take our short-term loans just to meet basic bills. Last year we had to cancel our summer holiday because I wasn't paid on time. That is not acceptable."
University staff are under enormous strain with a steep rise in mental health and the tragic suicide last year of Malcolm Anderson, who was suffering workload pressures. The university responded to Malcolm's suicide by putting locks on windows in university buildings, not reducing staff workload.
No wonder UCU members at Cardiff University have been so determined to see this strike through to the end.
Socialist Students led a large and loud contingent on the joint UCU, CWU and climate protest on Friday 29 November.
Starting at Malet Street the crowd grew as we marched past the different London universities, picking up strikers and students. We chanted loudly in support of our staff "Say hey, say ho, pension cuts have got to go!"
In February 2018 when we were last protesting in support of UCU was during a snow storm. This time it was alongside the climate strikers. Our placards read 'Socialist change not climate change' and we made the call to get rid of the Tories, and big business which is destroying our planet for their profits, and for climate jobs with decent pay.
Speakers on the Socialist Students open mic talked about the huge impact that Corbyn's policies would have on the lives of ordinary students and workers, and how the removal of the anti-trade union laws would mean workers like those in Royal Mail, and in a number of universities who were prevented by striking this time, would be able to strike against cuts and attacks to their working conditions.
The demonstration met up with school students striking for the climate in Parliament Square before a rally.
Leeds, photo Iain Dalton (Click to enlarge)
After having the highest number of pickets ever, around 200, outside Leeds University on the first day of the strike, over 100 pickets have determinedly turned out most days.
There's been a high level of support from other unions for the strikers. On Friday 29 November, Socialist Party member Iain Dalton addressed the strikers on behalf of Leeds TUC which had agreed to donate £200 to the strike's hardship fund.
On 2 December, Socialist Students members joined others in the 'Students support striking staff' group protesting outside Leeds University Union, demanding they reverse their 'neutral' stance on the strike. Chants of 'Students and Workers Unite and Fight', 'Shame on you, LUU' and 'Students not consumers' drew a crowd and forced one of the sabbatical officers to come out and discuss with protesters.
Leeds Socialist Party members
Sheffield, photo Alistair Tice (Click to enlarge)
Over 300 striking UCU members and supporters from Sheffield and Hallam universities rallied on 28 November in the city centre over pay, conditions, workload and pensions. Angry at university employers and management but very determined and upbeat due to solidarity and camaraderie on the picket lines.