STRIKING University and College Union (UCU) lecturers and their supporters are marching through London today, assembling at 12 noon outside Universities UK HQ in Tavistock Square, and proceeding to the Universities Superanuation Scheme (USS) office in Threadneedle Street, City of London.
The biggest ever wave of strike action on university campuses began last Thursday, 20 February, starting 14 days of strikes in 74 universities over USS pensions and pay, equality and working conditions.
On Monday this week there were strong picket lines at several entrances to UCL (University College London) with the main picket at the Quandrangle on Gower Street.
Students turned out with their banner to support the lecturers.
Sean Wallace, UCU NEC member and branch president of UCL, told News Line: ‘This is our ninth day of strike because we took action before Christmas.
‘We were not on strike last week because of Reading Week.
‘The strike is getting more serious and more difficult for members because of pay loss.
‘The UCU strategy was to put a marker down early and keep the impact on students to a minimum.
‘We have been discussing in UCU about taking action in solidarity with other unions. Our ballot is valid until April.
‘The employers clearly think that they can wait us out and let students and staff suffer.
‘They say we are making money, they do not care about students.
‘In 2016, the last major strike, we learned that collective strength is needed. Striking is popular. There is very little hostility.’
At the Mallet Street site, there were pickets at the entrances to Birkbeck College and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
At SOAS, UCU and Unison formed a joint picket line, with students and their banners supporting them.
A number of ‘Teach-Ins’ on radical subjects were held during the day.
Senior teaching fellow Alison told News Line: ‘The strike is going well, morale is going up and there is a good feeling on the picket line.
‘There is a lot of solidarity between staff and students, it is inspiring and invigorating.
‘There is a tough fight across the entire institution of Higher Education and consensus across unions that this situation cannot continue.
‘Unity across institutions will put pressure on management.’
Sandy Nicoll, the Unison SOAS shop steward also striking on the pension issue, told News Line: ‘We only balloted on pensions and Unison gave us three days of strike action until today.
‘Whilst we will not be on strike tomorrow, obviously we will not be crossing picket lines.
‘The obvious thing to see off anti-union laws is united action.’
There were busy pickets out again at Queen Mary College (QMC) in Mile End, east London, where Tom Barringer from Admin, told News Line: ‘Students should be angry at lectures and classes being cancelled.
‘All we’re suggesting is that students should direct their anger towards the people that are responsible, the university management who let these appalling working conditions fester for years.
‘Energy is up and we’re getting a lot of student support. Pay has dropped 20% in real terms since 2010, yet workload in increasing.
‘We get paid for 35 hours but the average week is 51 hours.
‘I’m hopeful for the trade union movement. We do have some power and we have to win.
‘It’s really great to see what is happening in France. Their retirement age is much lower than here.
‘We are striking for pensions protection.’
Henry Del, temporary lecturer said: ‘The rate of casualisation in the universities is appalling.
‘In QMC 75% of teaching and admin staff are not on permanent contracts.
‘Many junior staff are Teaching Associates and only paid for a few hours.
‘When I was working in Edinburgh, we got paid for three hours of class preparation and for giving three seminars to groups of students after a lecture.
‘So I got paid for six hours work, but in fact the preparation took much longer than that. It was £17 an hour and I would end up with around a £100.’
Katie, a teaching associate said that she was doing her PhD and was on a zero hour contract, not a fixed term contract.
‘We are allotted a very small amount of time to do a lot of work. We have to mark essays very quickly, otherwise we end up doing hours of unpaid work. And we do seminars.
‘But we are also post graduate students trying to get our own studies done. We are teachers and students.’
On the picket line at Kings College on the Strand, UCU rep Chris said: ‘This is the first day of our strike at this particular university.
‘It is mainly over the issue of pensions. We are striking for 14 days over four weeks. We are out three days this week, four days next week, five the week after, and two the following week.
‘It is just the first day and support is good.’
At Elephant and Castle in south London, pickets were out at London College of Communication (LCC) where they have been out on strike since last week.
UCU member Jeremy told News Line: ‘I think that it has been powerful to see the support we have had from both staff and students.
‘It was amazing to see people down from Goldsmith’s College this morning.
‘There has also been a big discussion on-line and people are sharing resources, which is great.
‘The big story which is coming through is about precarious working, when workers do not have any security.
‘There is no continuity because these contracts are reviewed every year. Everyone should have proper contracts.’
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK.
‘That support sends a clear message to universities that, instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run-up to the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out.’
She explained: ‘The dispute centres on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), rising costs for members and on universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.’