UCU day of action: reports from the picket lines

Reports from a variety of colleges and universities updated as we receive more. Whether you’re an education worker, a student or neither, if you have a report from a picket line or demo post it here as a comment or email it to againstfeesandcuts@gmail.com (pictures also welcome!)

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Jade Baker, Vice President Education-elect of University of Westminster Students’ Union, says: about a dozen students joined 25 lecturers on the picket lines at the Regents Street campus; the number of workers picketing was a big increase from the last strike at Westminster. There was also a picket line at Titchfield Street. I think the support we’ve given lecturers in the anti-cuts struggles and during our recent SU election campaign has been a boost. A lot of students had exams so went in, but generally sympathetic; we also had a lot of discussions with members of the public and our effigy of our VC Geoff “Job Slasher” Petts got on ITV!

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Rowan Rheingans of Newcastle Free Education Network writes: Students joined UCU members at Newcastle University today for a day of action against planned cuts, including stalls on campus. (We also work regularly with the university Unison branch.) We got a lot of interest, particularly because management has just proposed cutting combined honours degrees and replacing with them with more joint honours. 100 students do combined honours every year; 600 apply! The university has not consulted students or staff.

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UCU activist Colin Waugh reports from College of North West London: All three sites (Willesden, Wembley and Kilburn) were successfully picketed and there seems to have been little sign of anyone other than the usual people crossing picket lines.

The branch banner was taken on the central London demonstration, and the branch secretary, Indro Sen, spoke at the rally, explaining the struggles in which the branch is involved, which include against compulsory redundancies and management’s attempts to impose a worsened contract, plus the scheduled mothballing of the (virtually new) Kilburn building with effect from 1st August.

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Stuart Jordan: Hackney College had a lively picket of around 40-50 people this morning. Picketing was slow to get going, but really picked up. Lots of students decided not to go in and said they’d like to keep in touch with the NCAFC.
There is a certain amount of frustration about Unison, but also an understanding that the problem is not Unison members but the Unison leadership.
A lot of people spoke about being on zero-hour contracts, where you’re totally casualised and not guaranteed any hours. I thought if you’d been employed for a year you were entitled to the same rights as other staff, but apparently both management and the UCU lawyers say it’s two years.
It looks like there will be two further days of action at Hackney next week – activists in London need to get mobilised to support them!

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Ruth Cashman, Lambeth Unison assistant branch secretary, reports from Lambeth College’s Clapham Centre: The college is cutting 26 posts which will mean 47 people losing their jobs. Overall at Lambeth College, across all three sites, the strike was really strong, with only a small number of teaching staff crossing picket lines.
There were about 70 people on the Clapham picket line from 7am, later they were joined by pickets from the other sites (Vauxhall and Brixton), and a hundred or so people marched through Clapham before leaving for the demo in central London. The mood was high, with people keen to stop students and passers by to talk about the strike. One striker commented: “Sure the mood is good today, but it usually is on the first day of action. We need to talk about what next. It takes more than a day, or even a day here and there, to stop cuts like this.”
UCU and UNISON have been holding joint meetings at the college and producing joint propaganda in the run up to the strike. Some UNISON members did not go into work despite the union’s failure to ballot members to go out themselves. UNISON activists at the college are frustrated at the London Region dragging their feet on organising coordinated action with UCU and are keen to push through a strike ballot as soon as possible so they can join their brothers and sisters in action.
Both unions are, to some extent, pursuing a policy of avoiding compulsory redundancies without challenging cuts – moving people into vacant posts, forcing people to retire, voluntary redundancy, hours cuts etc. This pushes the unions to make the bosses’ arguments – “We need to make cuts…” – for them, and ignores the effect on staff of increased workload and on students as they lose teaching time, nursery facilities and other important services.
Vauxhall site: I didn’t go to Vauxhall, but got a report from a UCU activist who was there. There were about ten pickets (not bad considering it was such a small site); everyone was pretty upbeat, but keen to see some strategy for taking the strike forward.

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Sacha Ismail: About a dozen UCU members were picketing Lambeth College’s Brixton Centre when I dropped by to support them this morning. Brixton is the college’s smallest site and there were picket lines at the Clapham and Vauxhall sites too.
Brixton Centre UCU convenor Dave Estherson told me:
“The college are planning 3.5 million in cuts, and 47 redundancies. Yet our principal is on £170,000 a year, our top managers all get private healthcare and they’ve just created a new senior management post on more than £100,000.
“More broadly, staff here do not see why workers should pay for this economic crisis. We know about the billions given to the banks, and the fact that the super-rich have increased their wealth by £77 billion this year.” (As we spoke, UCU members were making a banner saying ‘Sack the bankers, not the teachers’.) “We need a united campaign by the public sector unions to stop the cuts.”
“The strike is pretty solid among UCU members; Unison members [support staff] are in general very supportive, but don’t feel confident to not cross picket lines. We’ve built good links with Unison [in fact I went to the picket line with one of the Lambeth Unison assistant branch secretaries], and there were 50 support workers at our last joint meeting, so we’ll work on that for next time. Last time there was a Unison strike many UCU activists refused to cross.
“A fair few managers used to be in the union, but in recent years the college has replaced ‘course managers’ who were also teachers with managers whose only job is to police the workforce. They weeded out any managers who didn’t want to do this role, and gave those who remained financial incentives to separate them out.
“After today, we’ll be pushing for another round of coordinated action by the eleven colleges and four universities that are on strike in London today – and the others that are currently balloting or preparing to ballot.”
One other picket line incident: a local Green Party candidate (unfortunately I didn’t get his name) stopped to tell the workers he didn’t support the strike, as it would damage education. When questioned, he vehemently objected to the idea that the Greens are left-wing or have anything to do with workers’ struggle. I don’t think the left and labour movement should support the Greens, but those who do should make a fuss!

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6 responses to “UCU day of action: reports from the picket lines

  1. I don’t think the so-called Green party candidate was a Green at all, considering the Greens have been vehemently against cuts in the first place and very pro-access to education. Sounds like an imposter.

  2. Hi Nishma,
    I was surprised. I agree that most Green Party activists would be much more sympathetic to anti-cuts protests and to strikes in general.
    To be fair to the guy, however, he wasn’t say he didn’t oppose cuts – “just” that strikes aren’t the way to stop them. While he was clearly on the right of the Green Party – he said that he looked back fondly to the days when the Greens said they were ‘neither left nor right’ – the Greens’ general record on actively supporting workers’ struggles is very weak (with the odd exception), which I suppose is why someone like him can continue to exist in the Green Party while being quite out of step with most of its members. If large numbers of Greens actually bothered about the workers’ movement and class struggles then he’d probably leave.
    I should have got his name!

  3. Odd. From Caroline Lucas’ campaign, there are definitely labour unions supporting her campaign.

    The problem obviously is that no-one is really supporting the labour unions or workers rights really anymore – now that Labour, is ‘New (Right)’. I think the Green Party is swinging towards these issues because they are ultimately rather socialist anyway, and more and more of us are coming from the same angle.

    But then UCU isn’t a fight for workers and the working class anymore. It’s a fight against the corporatisation of education. It’s a fight for society and for the right to education. I don’t think many Green Party people would normally be against it. This candidate was definitely in the minority.

  4. Hi again!

    There may be local unions supporting Caroline Lucas (do you know which ones?), but I don’t know of many examples of unions supporting the Greens. And in terms of what the Greens do: for an organisation of perhaps 5-10,000 members, they have almost no presence in the labour movement, whether you’re looking at union activists, workplace reps, delegates to union conferences, members on union executives, supporters on picket lines, workplace or union publications. The various socialist groups, which currently have far fewer members, massively outweigh them.

    A good test case was the Vestas wind turbine workers’ occupation (http://www.workersliberty.org/vestas-how-wind-turbine-workers-became-power): surely a perfect opportunity for Green involvement, yet the Green Party was nowhere to be seen.

    Maybe that will change, but if so I think the Green Party will split.

    More importantly and interestingly:

    I don’t see the distinction between a fight by/for the working class and a fight against the corporatisation of education/for greater access. These struggles are part of a wider class struggle – and it is education workers taking the lead with this kind of action. To me this just confirms the idea that society is shaped by the fight between the employers and the working class.

  5. Trade unions that support Caroline Lucas: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/05-05-2010-brighton-trade-unionists-back-caroline.html

    Also, on Vestas: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/24/vistas-isle-of-wight-dispute and http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/10/439559.html

    I don’t think Green Party people always make themselves known. I’ve done a few things myself (like supporting this anti-cuts campaign) which I don’t necessarily see directly relating to a political party. However, I will point out that the Green Party is the only party which has come out saying it does not and will not support these cuts to higher education. After all, Education is a RIGHT.

    I think in some ways we agree about the workers struggle and corporatisation, but I don’t think we can shift the argument to mere Marxist terms any more, mostly because we live in a hyperreal world, where exchange is a little more complicated than the exploited and the exploiter. Inequality comes from more than just materiality.

  6. On trade unionists supporting Caroline Lucas, fair enough; though it is just individuals, that is quite an impressive list.

    I don’t deny that Caroline Lucas wrote an article about Vestas in the Guardian or that she visited once! However, as someone who spent many days (possibly even weeks) at the occupation and knows a number of its initiators and central activists very well, I can tell you that no one from the Green Party was significantly involved – or indeed really involved at all. This was, once again, in contrast to the involvement of two much smaller socialist groups, Workers’ Liberty and the SWP, and of various anti-capitalists from the Workers’ Climate Action campaign.

    In any case, as I explained above, my point is a more general one, not limited to Vestas.

    I don’t really know what you mean about hyper-reality and materiality.

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