The first round of action
To all UCU colleagues: Please return the human resources form indicating that you were on strike last week. Let us know if you need a copy of this form.
Our strikes last week were very successful and well-supported, both in the devolved nations and England for the rolling strikes and on the 24th. On that day, the whole of the union- FE and HE – was involved in common action for the first time, pickets were out in force and some institutions in those regions also witnessed the best-supported days of industrial action that they had ever had. There is clearly a mood to fight amongst the membership of the UCU nationally and locally.
The two strike days were a great success at Leeds. Members picketed seventeen University entrances from 7am to 12 noon on both days. Students supported UCU, helping to distribute leaflets and holding their own placards and banners. Campus and its car parks were sparsely populated. Two delivery vans, one delivering newspapers and the other canned drinks, refused to cross our picket lines. In addition to the importance of the strikes in winning the current disputes, it was a welcome opportunity for union members to come together in the sunshine and spend time getting to know one another. We recruited some new members on the picket lines and have received a lot of positive feedback.
Some photos from the two days are linked here. These pictures highlight the wonderful smiles on the faces of our pickets in contrast to those we saw going in to work. It was noticeable how many new members volunteered for picketing; many had never been on strike before and a good percentage were women. The two strike days ended with a rally at City Square on Thursday. We were joined by up to 400 UCU members and students from Leeds Met, the various Leeds City College branches, Leeds Trinity, Craven College Skipton, the Open University, Wakefield College, Hull college, Bradford University and Bradford College. Representatives from UCU, NUT, UNISON, NUS and LUAC (Leeds University Against the Cuts) gave inspiring speeches. The strikes and rally received good coverage on Calendar News and BBC Look North.
We had many excellent speeches in City Square. Here is one offered by LUU’s Rachel Wenstone:
A large UCU contingent, including a Leeds delegation, joined Saturday’s mammoth TUC march. Outside the education sector, we have a layer of political support for the defence of a tertiary public education system that is new. The fee rises have suddenly created a constituency of support for state funding, and an understanding of what FE and HE do that previously did not exist. The BBC website has demonstrators interviewed on the TUC demonstration who explained their motivation for being there as job losses, cuts to services, abolition of the EMA and the fee rises. They were NOT workers from the education sector.
Students are calling a protest against the £9000 fee and will meet 4pm today outside the students’ union. Pending the final decision on tuition fees in Thursday’s University Council meeting, LUU are organising a black ribbon campaign and have asked us to participate.
Black ribbons should start appearing around campus over the next 24 hours, a Facebook page is being worked up and information will be on LUUs website around their view on tuition fees and what the black ribbon represents. In short, it represents disappointment and sadness at the fact that the University is about to agree the biggest rise in tuition fees in history. This action is simply about getting as many students and staff as possible to wear the ribbon and visibly demonstrate this view to the University. LUU has plenty of ribbons they can drop off in schools and they have a box of on the Helpdesk in the union if you would prefer to pick some up.
Next Steps in our campaign
We will be meeting the university over the next week or two to discuss resolution of all the issues over which we are in dispute with the university locally – school constitutions, agreement on fixed term contract staff, jobs for our members in FBS and CJH, withdrawal of academic activity profiles and rationalization of reviews. Higher Education Committee will be meeting on April 15th to consider the next steps in our National campaign in defence of USS pensions and the National Trade Dispute over jobs and pay.
The employers’ side has not moved on USS, and remains determined to push ahead with the changes. Protecting the USS will necessarily entail further industrial action. The questions now are what kind of action, when, and how does it relate to the action over a jobs agreement, and over the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in post-92 and FE. The Easter break creates a cut-off that could impair the sense of continuity and urgency in all of the disputes. We will need to relaunch all of the campaigns after the Easter break, one suggestion is a one-day strike across all sectors in pursuit of all of our objectives in the first week of May, during the week of the local elections.
We need targeted action and more rolling strikes. We also need those actions to be coordinated so that individual institutions are not taking action alone. That would squander the political impact of strikes by failing to generate the scale of publicity that can put the employers (and also the Government) under pressure. The national union has asked us to identify days in May on which groups of institutions can take action together.