Today’s entry comes from Matt Green, UoN UCU Branch President
Rain. Wind. More rain. More wind. But undaunted support and impressive spirit from UCU members. Welcome to the first strike diary entry of 2020.
Undeterred by the tail end of Storm Dennis, hosts of picketers and supporters turned out for the first day of strike action across our four campuses. Action culminated with a rally across from the Trent Building energised by close to two hundred staff, students and local supporters, wet but resolute. Present in spirit were all those strikers unable to make it in because of flooding or poor health, but who sent in messages of support and solidarity.
At the outset of the rally, I said a few words supported by our APM Officer Joe Baxter, who did his utmost to shield my lovingly crafted notes from the worst of the rain. Next, we heard from Liz Morrish, retired academic and independent researcher in Critical University Studies, who spoke passionately of the importance of defending our pensions; then, from Sam Harris, who brought solidarity from NTU and his Unite branch, who have generously donated £150 to the Hardship Fund; from UoN undergraduate, Joseph Baker, who underscored the significance of our struggle for him and his peers; and, rounding things up, from Nottingham East MP (and former UoN student), Nadia Whittome, who reminded us that our fight for pensions and better working conditions stands at the vanguard of the labour movement today.
2018 was the year UCU truly woke up with unprecedented numbers on the picket lines and a swelling sense of jubilation as members came together with a rejuvenated recognition of the power of solidarity. Winter 2019 saw the longest single block of strike action in the Union’s history and again saw more members on the pickets — it was our time of testing and proving and as members we showed ourselves proud. Spring 2020 will be a time for dogged determination and solid resolve.
On the pickets this morning, I saw in every face the grit and purpose needed to win a dispute that, really, should have been resolved by now. The employers may be dragging their heels, but UCU members and their supporters remain undeterred. The weather was inclement, but our spirit was strong and, until the downpour commenced, the new UCU sound system was enlivening spirits up on North entrance — Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ was ramping up the irony when I stopped by, but I’ve been faithfully assured the UCU playlist has retained Branch favourites like ‘Bella ciao’.
In both disputes — pensions and pay/conditions — UCU’s position is reasonable and attainable. Sustained and strong turnouts on the picket lines will give our national negotiators the strength needed to forge a deal that will turn around a decade of attacks on our pensions, our pay, our health and our working environment.
For too long we’ve seen APM members forced to work evenings and weekends with no renumeration, no acknowledgement and no real understanding of how hard they have had to work to patch together learning and research environments beset by broken systems and botched restructuring. For too long we’ve seen our IT staff ignored and frustrated by a decade of under-investment and mismanagement. For too long we’ve had early career staff forced to put their lives on hold as they are trapped in a cycle of fixed-term contracts our hourly paid teaching work. For too long, academic staff have been denied the tools, the time and the professional respect required to do their jobs.
Today, UCU members came together to say ‘No More!’. Our collective voices reverberated up Portland Hill to the offices of senior management. Shouts of ‘Treat us fairly!’ rang out across the boating lake. Along with the support of local politicians and dedicated students, our rally resonated with both anger and optimism. Our action is part of a larger struggle that can add momentum to restore democratic accountability to University governance and can add strength to the voices of those who want to see real and genuine change for the better.
And yet, at present, conditions on the ground are the worst I have seen in 20 years of employment at the University. While on the one hand, the outpouring of support from our students shows hope for the future, on the other we are working in an environment that is increasingly hostile and in which inequality and injustice too often prevail. This is a fight that we cannot afford to lose.
The establishment of a national framework to ensure fair treatment of staff and safe working conditions is not only long overdue, but well within the purview of UCEA, while the full implementation of the Joint Expert Panel’s recommendations will protect our pension benefits and ensure the longterm viability of the USS.
Today was a heartening start to this round of strikes, but the more people visible on the picket lines, the more who strike, the sooner these disputes will be resolved.