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 firstname.lastname@example.org (pictures also welcome!)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!