MANCHESTER Metropolitan University (MMU) is under fire after its security forcibly evicted staff members from picket lines across the university’s buildings on Thursday morning.
University and College Union (UCU) members at MMU were on strike as part of UK-wide action in a row over pensions, pay and jobs.
The UCU said it could not recall another university ever taking such ‘drastic and petty action’ and warned the institution risked earning an unfortunate reputation and becoming a ‘pariah institution’.
University security patrolled the buildings of MMU and forcibly removed staff on picket lines. UCU claims that the university has ignored the government’s code of practice on picketing which states that a picket can stand ‘at or near his own place of work’.
Many universities in the UK are similar to MMU in design with buildings and entrances spread across a city.
The union said that picketing universities is not as simple as just standing outside a factory gate, but that there had been no other incidents where security forcibly moved staff from picket lines.
UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: ‘I was on the picket line at MMU today and was absolutely astounded to have been dragged away by the university’s security. I am not aware of anything like this happening elsewhere and I fail to see how some leaflets being handed out to staff, students and visitors can be anywhere near as damaging as this incident will be for the university.
‘Aside from the drastic and very petty nature of the university’s actions, the bigger issue here is the damage to MMU’s reputation. The academic world does speak to each other and the university runs the real risk of becoming a pariah institution if it thinks this kind of behaviour is acceptable.’
In London News Line spoke to a number of lecturers on picket lines. Among them were pickets at Harrow College, northwest London.
UCU branch secretary Nigel Perkins told News Line: ‘Our college is solidly out in today’s national strike over pensions and pay freezes.
‘We have had no pay rise for a year and only one per cent last year.’
Harrow UCU branch chair Steve Hayward added: ‘We have been offered 0.2 per cent this year which is not worth implementing.
‘For the last three to four years, we have had below-inflation pay awards – effectively pay cuts.
‘The college wants to increase our contributions to our pensions by 50 per cent – another pay cut.
‘The teaching unions will be balloting soon over pensions, and they will be on board, as well as local government unions.
‘Once other public sector unions get involved, the government will need to take some notice.
‘They are attacking the police, NHS and even the army’s pensions.
‘We need coordinated strike action by all the public sector unions.’
At Southbank University, southeast London, students were on the picket line supporting lecturers.
One student, Dan said: ‘It’s part of the wider fight back against cuts.
‘We must make sure to get everyone out on Saturday’s march.
‘The government should be brought down.
‘If that’s not the objective, then what’s the point?’
The UCU Holloway Prison Education Department was picketing at the prison.
UCU rep Louise George said: ‘We are employed by Kensington and Chelsea College and basically we’re having a drastic reduction in teachers’ pensions.
‘Our pensions should be protected and we should have a rise in pay in line with inflation.
‘Most teachers have to have supported houses.
‘We cannot afford a house.’
Josephine Bennet, from the ATL, said: ‘Is this democracy in action? An unelected body of people have taken it upon themselves to make forays into pension schemes.
‘We’ve saved the money up for the future but day after day money is being devalued by either pay freezes and inflation and the cost of living.
‘This is an alleged democratic country but we have no voice.’
Claire Locke was supporting the lecturers at the London Met university picket line.
She told News Line: ‘We’re out here to support our lecturers because the lecturers, support staff and students are in this together.
‘What affects one of us affects us all.
‘The government needs to take notice.
‘The government has got to go.
‘We want a government who represent the people.
‘The government says that Britain is open for business.
‘We say it’s closed for business until we get what we want.’
The UCU said yesterday that the university employers had to get back round the table and negotiate with the union in the escalating battle over pensions.
UCU members in around 500 universities and colleges were on strike Thursday which was the culmination of a week of action that has seen five strike days.
UCU members in 67 universities across the UK started the action last week, opposing changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension.
The action started in Scotland last Thursday (17 March) and was followed by one-day stoppages in Wales on Friday (18 March), Northern Ireland (Monday 21 March) and England (Tuesday 22 March).
As the action kicked off, a leaked letter revealed that no changes to the USS pension scheme can be implemented unless UCU thrashes out a deal with the employers.
The union says it is willing to clear its diary to talk to the employers and has invited them for talks through the arbitration service ACAS. However, despite pressure from the National Union of Students who has supported UCU’s strike action, the employers’ representatives, the Employers Pension Forum (EPF), are still refusing to talk to the union.
On Thursday, UCU members in the 67 USS universities were joined by colleagues in the former polytechnics (post-92 universities) and further education colleges, who are part of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, for the first UK-wide strike action in universities for five years and in further education since 2008.
UCU said the day had been a huge success and apologised again to students who had seen their studies disrupted. The union said it shared students’ frustrations and urged them to keep putting the pressure on EPF to join the union for talks.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The action was quite magnificent. The support of students for our action has left the employers looking isolated and foolish.
‘We share students’ frustrations that the action was forced upon us by the intransigence of the employers. We have no interest in their reasons for refusing to talk to us so far, we just want them to change their mind and start talking to us now. This dispute can go nowhere unless we start talking.’