UCU Strikes Back: Breaking records

UoN UCU on the march.

Today’s entry comes from Matt Green, Branch President.

Below I attempt a summary, in words and pictures, of the final days of strike action, which broke two records: first, the national record for the longest consecutive HE strike in our Union’s history, and second, for what I believe was our largest ever local UCU rally.

As we return to work, and to difficult conversations with colleagues who chose not to stand with us and who may not understand or appreciate the need for ASOS, it’s important for us to remember the lessons of the last eight days, to keep this knowledge in the very fabric of our bones. As we walk forward, each and every one of us will know that wherever we are, we know comrades who understand and will stand with us. For some of us, it’s people on our corridor; for others its colleagues on another floor; and in some cases, it’s someone in the building next door; but wherever we are, each of us has a door we can knock on.

Day eight dawned with an apocalyptic promise over the proudly dystopian vistas offered by UP North and East. Too frosty to longboard, I was ferried to the outskirts of campus by my comrade in arms and two rather groggy children. Though not overly excited about pre-school excersions (especially after traveling in pyjammas was ruled out), budding curiosities were awakened at the example of selfless resilience offered by Branch VP, Agnes Flues, and her compatriots, stalwart picketers who, like all our lead-pickets and early-shifters, arrived in the winter darkness to set up their picket line.

It wasn’t long before I journeyed south to staff the East picket joined in due course by other veterans of the eastern front, strikers habituated to concrete monotone and the smell of exhaust. And as the pickets grew, so do did the sense that this day would be something special.

Labour councillor, Adele Williams, and novelist Jon McGregor

Shortly before 10am, I made my way to UP South, recognisable at a distance for its vibrancy and flaming brazier, courtesy of Notts TUC. Whilst there, I was met by Nottingham City Councillor (and former UCU Branch Administrator), Adele Williams. We quickly found ourselves engaged in a topical discussion on the hazards of mixed-use cycle routes with award winning-novelist, and regular picketer, Jon McGregor.

After a little hand-warming by the brazier and some last-minute planning with UP South lead picket, Lila Matsumoto, it was off to UP West. En route through the lakeside walk (happily on City Council land), I touched base with the student occupiers by phone, who were being pressured by Campus Security to end the occupation.

The crowd at UP west was already sizeable and well-organized. Within no time, placards and banners were untied from the fencing and mobilised for the march. We finalised our repertoire of dialectical chanting — “Casualisation: Out! Out! Out!”, “IT Services: In! In! In!”, “Staff Pay: Up! Up! Up!”, “Workload: Down! Down! Down!” — en route to UP South where we doubled our numbers and set off along the tram-line border of campus.

Pickets from UP West, South and KMC approaching comrades at UP North @HemiMistry

Having worked out, more-or-less, the logistics of traffic control, we crossed the A52 and headed down toward Jubilee. At this point, the scale of our numbers began to register and it became clear we’d exceeded the number of marchers from 2018. The feeling of pride watching so many colleagues striding together for a common cause after eight days of rigorous strike action was truly inspiring and brought home the value of our collective late-nights and early mornings.

And by this point, we hadn’t even reached Jubilee campus.

Picketers await the commencement of activities outside the Jubilee Gatehouse. @WillPattBass

The gathering at Jubilee was similarly heartening, though I must confess to a little jealousy over the well-established food table and obvious signs of the party-atmosphere for which these pickets have become renowned. Happily I knew we’d not only have a large and welcoming crowd for our speakers, but also that we’d have no problems rounding things off with a good, old-fashioned sing along.

Arriving at Jubilee. @carolespary

The atmosphere for all of us at Jubilee was upbeat and there was a very strong feeling of solidarity produced by having members from across all our picket lines, as well as students, other supporters and members from other branches in the region. We also had a reporter from GEM 106FM who managed to find her way to the demonstration based almost solely on my repeated injunction to “just keep heading toward Subway”.

David Bowie and Queen speaking of the ill-effects of the free-market HE experiment @carolespary

It’s impossible to accurately explain what a strike means to someone who hasn’t been on a picket line. On one level, of course, it’s about withdrawing our labour and disrupting the business of the employer, but the shared experience of the picket line is about so much more than that. It’s about rediscovering the lived humanity of your colleagues and of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people who have your back. Past disagreements or disciplinary differences dissolve amidst the rediscovery of unity at the heart of collective struggle.

Decorating the railings at Jubilee. @carolespary

Our end-of-strike rally captured that spirit and magnified it through the collective mass of our stories, comradeship and the broad spectrum of positions articulated across eye-catching and percipient placards. Our roster of speakers was similarly inspiring and after offering thanks to our lead pickets, drivers, student supporters and everyone whose come out to the pickets — thanks which I echo here — I was delighted to hand the megaphone over to Jen Martin, who spoke with clarity and compassion of the plight facing not only herself, but her team.

Jen made clear the difficult choices imposed by the University’s reliance on fixed-term research contracts, describing an all too common scenario in which those whose research forms a cornerstone of the University are precariously employed throughout their careers on fixed-term contracts.

Next, we heard from hourly-paid tutor, Daniel Edmondson, whose words had to be read in absentia. Daniel’s statement underscored the exploitative conditions that University continues to impose on hourly-paid staff — in some cases in flagrant defiance of mutually drafted and agreed principles. He clearly outlined the problems resultant from the use of Unitemps, a practice which sets the University of Nottingham apart from the majority of other universities. All present, fully appreciated the irony that Daniel himself couldn’t be there as he was at that moment being compelled by his terms of engagement to teach despite the strike.

Exhaustion rebellion.

Then we heard from Liam Conway, Secretary of Notts TUC, who spoke of the plight facing all areas of education and emphasised the relevance our struggles have to the labour movement as a whole. With passion and humour he drew out the links between our disputes and the wider challenges facing our nation.

Finally we rounded the speeches off with addresses from Adam Thompson, Labour candidate for Amber Valley, and Lilian Greenwood, the Labour candidate for Nottingham South who has represented the constituency since 2010. As a former PhD student still employed by the University, Adam spoke knowingly of the exploitative conditions facing PhD students and of the challenges of finding work after successful completion of the PhD.

Strikers listening to speakers at Jubilee Derby Road entrance.

Lilian, whose home-made flapjacks are still fondly remembered by picketers from the 2018 UP South picket, is a familiar face and spoke compellingly about the need to rethink the way in which education is approached at all levels. With reference to HE specifically, she discussed the need to end the free-market model of universities, to rethink the assessment of research and teaching, end casualisation and abolish tuition fees.

Lilian Greenwood addresses the crowd while our trumpeter gets ready. @GibsonCerys

Finally it was time for the music. I had been eagerly anticipating a group rendition of classics like “Bella Ciao” and “Solidarity Forever” (UCU version). Led by Howard Stevenson and a chorus of singers (plus trumpet), the crowd erupted into song. Singing is far from my strong point (as my long-suffering family will attest) but there is something magical in the unity of singing together.

As we walk forward, these notes of struggle and of collective endeavour shall be kept alive. We have built and renewed connections over these past days that will stand. Knowledge Is Power; Unity Is Strength.

Strength in Unity. @onni_gust

Day 7 – Photo Journal

Organising Day 8 kept us pretty busy after pickets closed on day 7, so in place of a regular post, here is a photo-record of the day gleaned from Twitter and the back of the longboard — flying picket indeed…

UoN Pickets visit the OU Picket Line @john_holdford
Sutton Bonington @hstevenson10
KMC Standing Strong
UP East (lower) looking positively cheerful in the sun.
Standing strong at UP East (upper)
UP North bringing together comrades at all stages of their careers.
UP South (road entrance) in good spirits.
UP South (footpath) with camera-shy strike dog.
UP West part 1

UP West part 2

Have you got pics from Jubilee, Day 7? My usual Twitter sources were at the OU and SB; sadly, I couldn’t get there myself that day. Please email mattgreenucu@gmx.com.