Sussex and Brighton Universities
Jason Toynbee, UCU retired member
Day 6 of the strike and the sun came out on a frosty morning in Brighton. But the spirit on the pickets is high and there’s a growing sense that this dispute can - must - be won. The number of students going in at both universities is down to a trickle. Last week at Brighton’s Moulsecoomb campus there was a well attended joint student-staff rally. This morning students at Sussex have again blockaded Sussex House, the main admin building. Workers are being sent home. And at lunchtime there is a combined Brighton and Sussex demonstration for students and staff at Brighton station. Support and determination are growing. Victory to the UCU!
And Connor Rosoman, Brighton Socialist Society
Despite the cold weather, striking UCU staff at Brighton and Sussex universities have shown a determined mood, and spirits have been high at pickets across town.
In many places, they have been joined by students showing solidarity with their staff. At Sussex, students have organised daily solidarity meetings and have successfully shut down the management building with blockades at the entrance. However, Brighton University students face the challenge of a Students Union that has despicably opposed the strikes, and students that openly support the strike have faced reprisals as a result. Socialist Alternative members have discussed with Brighton students around how to challenge these actions from the Students' Union.
Staff from both universities attended the climate strike on Friday 29th November. This is a positive step, showing the potential there is for workers to make links with the school strikers and to build the climate movement.
Among many members of staff, as well as students, there has been an increasing politicisation around the upcoming General Election. Socialist Alternative members have been raising the importance of the links that these struggles can develop between students and workers in fighting for socialist change during and beyond this election.
Sofia Wiking, Leicester Socialist Alternative
On the Leicester picket morale has been good, despite the miserable weather, with the usual racket we remember from last year's strike, being made by drums, whistles, musical instruments and voices.
From the first day over two hundred people joined across four different pickets, but all coming together at lunchtime for a march around campus, with students and staff waving from the sides and filming the noisy spectacle, then finishing outside the University’s administration building for a rally.
On day one, the VC, who has only been in the job for four weeks, came out to address the crowd, asking for understanding that he is still getting to grips with the job and asking the strikers to ‘cooperate’ and be ‘considerate towards students and staff who aren’t on strike’, for the good of the university. ‘We are the university’ is the heckling response he got from the crowd, who were also unimpressed about him seemingly going back on a previous promise to split the pay deductions across two months.
This was followed by an open platform which featured accounts of precarious work environments and over-working, as well as messages of solidarity from students and the TUC.
On day four, the pre-march rally also featured local parliamentary candidate and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who brought a message of support from the Labour Party. His point that this dispute is about more than just the universities was well received, saying that this is about the wider system and the fact that neo-liberalism as a system has been proven not to work and needs to be replaced.
We in Socialist Alternative agree with this, but this is not simply a failure of neo-liberalism, but the whole crisis-ridden system of capitalism, which is failing to provide acceptable wages and conditions at work, as well as the services we rely on, decent housing, and so on.
After the rally and the customary march around campus with shows of support from students, there was one in a series of ‘teach-ins’, this time on the topic of precarious employment, and taking the form of an interactive dramatic re-imaginiation of Leicester UCU co-chair Sarah Seaton’s negotiations with University management over the termination of her contract, that she was meant to have today if she hadn’t been out on strike.
As well as better conditions and pay, the UCU are also striking over the pensions scheme. While last winter’s strikes saved the pensions scheme, there has subsequently been steep contribution increases on workers.
Fiona Pasazadeh, UCU member at University of Manchester
Pickets have been extremely lively throughout the strike. Solidarity has been shown to us from many quarters. Unite and Unison members came along numerous times with tea and biscuits to offer their support. Many high-profile figures, such as Angela Rayner and Bury South Labour candidate Lucy Burke attended. The Lib Dem candidate for Manchester Central attempted to speak, only to be heckled off stage for their betrayal over tuition fees.
It was also inspiring to see the student support that we helped to build. On Friday 29th, a group of climate strikers came down with their PA system, after which we marched into the city centre to join in on the youth strike. We need to see action like this across the whole country and the world!
UCU and Socialist Alternative member, York
People are motivated. At the main picket there are usually around 20 people and at the main rally when all the pickets come together there are between 100 and 150. The mood is good but colleagues generally don’t believe that much will come from this strike action and believe that the struggle needs to be continued and intensified next year.