The 31st October saw joint strike action from UCU, Unison and Unite in universities across the UK. This was in response to a real term pay cut of 13% after five years of a pay freeze. It was also in opposition to the culture of low pay and zero hours contracts which employers seek to normalize and extend, forever reforming higher education to suit profit.
Striking workers succeeded in seriously disrupting the running of the universities. In Edinburgh University, staff were well supported by students picketing several buildings throughout the campus. Students played a game of shutting the Old College gates, the security staff having to repeatedly open them. At the library, we urged others not to use the building to support those on strike.
At Glasgow University, management were forced to shut down the library. Cleaners were out on the picket from 5am, there was a large gathering of strikers at the main gate and smaller pickets elsewhere. Unite even brought along Scabby the giant rat.
Not just lecturers but everyone who runs the university, from caretakers to caterers, were out and this made it particularly important. A one day strike is unlikely to be enough to force a major rethink from employers. For that day though many of us felt an unusual sense of control over the campus. It fostered new ties between staff and students. And if it was sometimes difficult trying to convince some students and even other workers not to cross picket lines, the strike itself was an education in class solidarity.
We want to see this as the first of more industrial action, to build on militancy and turn up the heat. A big part of this is to make UCU’s work-to-contract, which began on 1st November, a success.