Today’s entry comes from Howard Stevenson, Branch Membership Officer
It was hard to imagine more miserable weather to start Day 3 of our current series of strikes but UCU members at Jubilee Campus were undeterred by the wind and rain. It’s not as though our strikes in recent years haven’t prepared us for whatever the elements can throw at us.
There is always a fabulous feeling of camaraderie and solidarity among the Jubilee pickets and by now we are a well oiled machine in terms of our organisation. First priority is to get the brazier lit and today this was particularly appreciated. From there we are able to sort out posters and placards and ensure all pickets have the leaflets they need.
On the Jubilee Campus our focus has always been to ensure that the three main entrances on Derby Road, Triumph Road and Wollaton Road all have a UCU presence. This allows us to engage with the maximum number of passersby so that we can explain the issues behind the disputes and the wider implications of an increasingly marketised and commercialised higher education sector.
Today on our picket lines we had the usual spread of Schools and Departments represented. Jubilee is dominated by the Business School and the School of Education, both of which have strong UCU membership, but on the picket lines our numbers include staff from the School of Computer Science, the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and several APM colleagues from across the campus. One of the delights of picketing is the many fascinating conversations that develop (usually around the brazier) as we learn more about each other and the fantastic work people are engaged in.
As the morning picketing came to an end an email from UCU GS Jo Grady arrived. It reported that a meeting with the employers (UCEA) had been organised for later today. The email included considerable detail about the union’s ‘four fights’ demands and the response, to date, from employers. The content of the email inevitably generated much discussion among those present on the picket line. There is no doubt that there is a strong desire to see both our current disputes resolved. Members take no pleasure in having to take strike action. By the same token, members were very clear that resolution of the dispute requires the employers to make serious offers in relation to all of the union’s key demands. Our industrial action has created a unique opportunity to address long term, deep-rooted problems in the HE sector. These have moved much higher up the agenda than they were previously and there is now an urgency to confront these issues. This is not a moment for warm words and minor tweaks. Rather we have taken the action we have, and made the sacrifices that we have, in order to fundamentally refashion the higher education sector. This is about the rediscovery of the university based on the values of academic freedom, public service and sustainability. In the interests of university staff and students this is a moment for bold action. These disputes must be a turning point for UK HE.
Morning picketing was followed in the afternoon by a workshop led by Nottingham Citizens organiser Pete Rodgers titled ‘Building union presence: conversations that lead to change’. Nottingham Citizens is part of a national network focused on using the principles of community organising to bring about bottom-up democratic change. Pete’s presentation focused how the same principles can be applied to trade union organisers as they build a sense of collective purpose and identity among members. Most of the participants were UCU workplace representatives based in Schools and Departments who have done a sterling job in getting the strike votes out and helping mobilise members for the pickets. The UCU branch is enormously grateful to all our workplace reps and when our disputes are eventually resolved we look forward to working with our reps to support them in their work as they build the Union across the University. Union membership cannot be something that feels remote, or that members only experience when there is a strike, but rather it is important we all see the Union in our immediate workplaces addressing the issues that make a significant impact on the quality of our working lives. Workplace UCU reps are central to this vision and this is why the Branch is committed to supporting and developing those who take on these roles.
If you work in an area of the university where UCU has a workplace representative do make an effort to contact them and discuss with them the issues that are important to you. If your School or Department does not have a workplace rep why not consider taking on the role? The Union provides training and the local branch is able to provide lots of support. If you want to discuss the matter informally with a branch officer, then please drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org.