Halloween strike: the mood on the picket lines

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Here’s a round-up of mini-reports on today’s higher education strike, taken by comrades on phones and uploaded to social media. See also the reports and pictures on the Socialist Worker site, plus Andy Cunningham’s backgrounder on the strike from earlier today. All reports are written in a personal capacity.

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University of Bradford

Philip, a lecturer in UCU, reports:

Bradford university was very quiet today as students and staff stayed away. Passers by happily took leaflets, and students came out to show support – especially after getting letters from the vice-chancellor warning them off. Pickets then went to join a strike rally in Leeds.


Birkbeck and SOAS, central London

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Lois reports:

There were strong pickets at SOAS and Birkbeck with most doors I walked past covered. At Birkbeck they are waiting to see how it goes when students turn up for evening classes. At SOAS I spoke to a striking graduate teaching assistant who said he was effectively on a zero hours contract. He felt the unions could be doing more to support non full-time workers.


University of East London

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Jonas, a non-technical worker in Unite, reports:

There’s a determined mood at the joint UCU-Unison-Unite strike at UEL. Lecturers and other higher education workers have experienced years of outsourcing, bullying and cuts – they are determined to carry on this fight.

We’ve had all entrances and exits covered today, with about 40 people out picketing. This is good, but many students and unorganised staff are crossing the picket line. We need more action ASAP. And we need to strengthen workplace organisation for all sectors of staff as well as campaigning for greater solidarity from students.


University of Cambridge

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Amy, a graduate teaching assistant in UCU, reports:

We had a reasonable number of pickets out at the West Cambridge science site, stopping cars and speaking to them. Once person who wasn’t even in a union turned away from going to work after speaking to us. We didn’t manage to persuade Prince Andrew, however – his entourage drove straight past!

The rally at noon gathered striking workers from all 14 picket lines across the city. Large numbers of students joined UCU, Unite and Unison members to march chanting “Students and workers: unite and fight!” The rally was addressed by FBU and NUT members as well as the unions on strike.

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London School of Economics

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Robin, a graduate teaching assistant and UCU member, reports:

LSE saw more pickets and more classes/lectures cancelled than during the pension strikes of 2011. LSE strikers were joined in the afternoon by pickets from across London for a rally on the steps of the old building, addressed by an FBU rep among others. Some 200 pickets and students then took to the streets of central London and marched to Conway hall for the official union rally.


Queen Mary University, London

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Luke, a QMU library worker in Unison, reports:

The picket lines are really decent – we have seven of them (there’s a lot of entrances here!) – and they are noticeably young. I’d guess at least half the pickets are in their 20s.

The strike is building solidarity between unions. We’re seeing academics joining up with hourly paid PhD students, library workers like me, estates & cleaning services and so on. So some of those sectional boundaries are getting broken down and people talking politics on the picket line.

I’d say there’s a base level of recognition of students – they’re often crossing picket lines but stopping to talk about the issues anyway. The bin collections have been cancelled and the Royal Mail van took one look at the picket line and turned around.

Spirits are high. A lot of workers say it’s their first strike, so we’re talking about people who weren’t out on 30 November 2011. We’re learning lessons – people are joining the picket lines and seeing that as a responsibility.


University of Essex

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Dan Swain, a graduate teaching assistant in UCU, reports:

We had pickets at our Colchester and Southend campuses, mostly with UCU members although Unite and Unison also organised pickets. The one I was one even managed to persuade one worker to turn round, drive home and join the UCU.

There was good support from students who brought us hot food and solidarity. Some put up signs supporting the strike and claiming that lectures had been cancelled (which wasn’t strictly speaking entirely true…) I thought it was a successful day – and the campus was certainly a lot quieter than usual.


Goldsmiths, University of London

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Jamie Woodcock, UCU hourly paid rep, reports:

Good lively pickets lines at Goldsmiths, many with a Halloween theme. There’s a noticeably large turnout from VTs (casual teaching staff). We’ve had great discussions with people about need to call further days of action – one day is not enough.

Students have joined the picket line – the students union voted to support the strike with only one vote against. The university was shut down for the day.

UCU members at Goldsmiths are now beginning an out-of-hours email boycott. We’re not answering emails before 9am, after 5pm or at weekends – and our auto-replies explain the action. This is part of our action short of a strike, and we’re looking to escalate to a full email boycott.


City University, London

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Jaz reports:

UCU, Unison and Unite members were on strike outside City University this morning. Everyone was in high spirits, and handing out to chocolates to people who don’t cross the picket line. I gave them some doughnuts and Halloween cakes in solidarity!

Some lectures are taking place today, but pickets told me that the strike is fairly strong and that union membership has been steadily growing all year. This is partly because of restructuring plans that management are trying to push through for the second time, but also because unions have recruited in the run-up to the strike.

City is a big campus and quite spread out, so they have organised up to a dozen picket lines across all the main entrances. They are having their own rally on campus before heading to the London-wide one.


Manchester Metropolitan University

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Andy, a Unison member, reports:

Today’s strike at MMU was a real milestone. It involved lots of new people and we had more pickets that we had on the N30 strikes in 2011, the previous high water mark. The mood on the pickets was solid and the activity around the strike provides a solid base for going forward and calling more actions.

There was also a packed rally in the University of Manchester Students’ Union where the workers from across the north west came together with students to demonstrate their determination to win the battle of pay and to rebuild union organisation for local battles on jobs, workloads and cuts.


Leicester University

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Kevin reports:

The picket lines at Leicester University were solid today, with all entrances covered. There was a great response from students showing solidarity. Around 50 pickets and supporters gathered in Mandela Park at 13:30 complete with ‘official picket’ pumpkins.


Oxford

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John, a UCU member, reports:

There was standing room only at the strike rally in Oxford this afternoon following picket lines at various sites around Oxford University and Oxford Brookes. After the rally a 350 strong student solidarity demo march around the city and culminated in occupying the main examinations and lecture building for an hour, with speeches from Oxford University and Ruskin College students and staff.

David Willetts took the opportunity of a day when universities were on strike to speak at the Oxford Union on the motion “This house believes that education is a right not a privilege”. A loud flash mob turned up to tell him what they thought of him.

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