UCU Strikes Back 2019: Day 4

28 November(ish), 2019

Solidarity at Jubilee

Today’s diary entry comes from Jubilee picketer, Branch Committee member and former Branch President, Howard Stevenson. Howard works in the School of Education.

I’m going to start my Thursday strike diary on Wednesday night because this is when Agnes Flues (branch Vice-President) and I attended the Nottingham College UCU ‘victory party’ at the ‘VAT and Fiddle’. The event was organised to recognise and celebrate the extraordinary achievement of Nottingham College UCU members in their campaign against the imposition of a ‘sign or resign’ contract that increased teaching hours and also cut the pay of a significant number of staff.

“Nottingham College UCU members took 15 days of strike action, as a result of which they ‘won everything’ to quote a UCU regional official speaking at the event.”

The meeting was addressed by UCU General Secretary Jo Grady who described the strike as ‘a dispute of national significance’. Jo went on to highlight the importance of solidarity, and what can be achieved when we act collectively. She argued that there was much to learn from the dispute and that the experience of Nottingham College UCU acted as an inspiration to those of us in higher education who are now involved in our campaign on pensions and the ‘four fights’.

UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, addresses victorious Nottingham College strikers

I was able to address those attending on behalf of University of Nottingham UCU and offered my congratulations to those present. I also highlighted the need for us all to work more effectively across sectors and to link our campaigns across not only universities and further education, but also connecting with the school sector unions. All our institutions experience growing managerialism and an absence of democratic control that can only be addressed by radical, cross sector, system reform.

University of Nottingham UCU members provided great support to the Nottingham College branch during their dispute by supporting their strike fund and attending their pickets. I suggested that if Nottingham College branch members wanted to recreate the experience of their damp and wet picket lines then they were very welcome to join us on our damp and wet picket lines over the next few days.

The later-than-was-sensible night due to the party meant that today’s alarm bell was particularly unwelcome and for the first time since the strike started I found myself hitting the snooze button. This didn’t however stop me getting to Jubilee campus for 7.30am and helping set up our three picket lines.

UCU Strikes Back Selfie – Day 4

Since Monday UCU members on Jubilee campus have organised solid picket lines at all major entrances – on Wollaton, Derby and Triumph Roads. Following the USS strikes in 2018 we are now a well-oiled machine and several members have considerable experience of getting ourselves set up and ready to engage with students and members of the public.

“Throughout the strike spirits have been high and it has felt good to recapture the energy, collegiality and sense of collective strength that was such a powerful feature of our experience in 2018.”

Meeting new colleagues, sometimes new UCU members and very many students was always one of the highlights of 2018 and it is great to be able to re-create those experiences again.

Jubilee cat dispelling the widely propagated myth that only dogs have a social conscience

Our picketing ended just before lunch with a discussion about plans for the ‘picket party’ we will be holding at the Derby Road entrance on the last day of our full week strike (Friday 29th from 10am). There will be music, food to share and lots of discussion. All UCU members and students welcome!

It’s not so grim up North…

Remember our end of week 1 gatherings will take place at UP North/East and Derby Road on Jubilee.

UCU Strikes Back 2019: Day 3 — Why I’m not striking

Geography PGRs join strikers at UP North

Today’s strike diary comes from two UCU members who are not striking. Here are their stories:

Member 1:

I am not striking…because I’m legally not entitled to. As a postgraduate member of staff, I (as well as all other PG staff) have been outsourced to third-party temp agency, Unitemps. We are therefore not legally part of the current UCU disputes for which you are all striking. Despite the front-line work we carry out, we are not deemed worthy enough to be employees of the University of Nottingham. Indeed, we are not deemed worthy enough to be anyone’s employee.

“We are not deemed worthy enough to be employees of the University of Nottingham…. Whilst we are unable to (legally) withdraw our labour … we will continue to stand… in solidarity with UCU members in the battle for a more secure future for us all.”

Instead, we are defined as ‘temporary workers’, operating under a ‘contract for services’ arrangement where we are “supplied [by Unitemps] to render services to the Client [UoN]” for a defined period of time. We have been stripped of employment rights (such as access to grievance procedures), and are disposable and replaceable without notice despite the fundamental front-line roles we play in the day-to-day operation of this university (in one Faculty of Arts dept. this semester, PGR teaching staff account for almost 50% of its weekly seminar hours/30% of its total weekly teaching hours).

If you work with any PGRs, it is under these circumstances that they must carry out their work. So, whilst we are unable to (legally) withdraw our labour in the fight against the multipronged attack on our current and future working conditions, we will continue to stand – where and when we can – in solidarity with UCU members in the battle for a more secure future for us all.

More students and staff at UP North

Member 2:

I will be teaching four seminars and holding two office hours over the course of the two weeks of industrial action that have now begun at universities across the country. I want to stress that this is not because I do not support the principles for which my colleagues are striking. In fact, it is because I am forbidden to participate on days which I am expected to teach.

This is the current reality of being a postgraduate teacher at the University of Nottingham, someone whose labour senior management does not value enough to contract properly as an employee of the University. Instead, I am on a zero-hours, hourly-paid contract with an external temp work organisation. Because of this, in addition to being excluded from benefits like sick pay and compassionate leave, I am also not part of the University’s agreement with the UCU when it comes to participation in industrial action. If I attempted to strike, it would be in breach of my contract.

“Casualisation is just another symptom of … the wider marketisation of education that is underpinning … the current strikes. If you are striking, please know that many of your postgraduate teaching colleagues are behind you … please turn up to the picket on our behalf.”

While casualised contracts for postgraduate teachers are disappointingly common across Higher Education, the University of Nottingham is one of the worst offenders, in entirely outsourcing these contracts to Unitemps. Casualisation is just another symptom of institutional greed and the wider marketisation of education that is underpinning all of the reasons for the current strikes. If you are striking, please know that many of your postgraduate teaching colleagues are behind you even when we can’t be there on the ground, please turn up to the picket on our behalf as well, and know that many of us will be standing beside you when we are not being forced to teach.


Members of the East Midlands Retired Members Branch turned out today to support strikers

Please note that images are for illustrative purposes; they depict events that took place today but are not directly linked to the stories above.

Watch out tomorrow for strike diaries from across our campuses!

UCU Strikes Back: Day 2

A show of solidarity on South Entrance with Lillian Greenwood MP

Tuesday 26th November

Today’s diary entry comes from Lila Matsumoto, one of our UoN Branch Equalities Officers:

I arrived 7.30am at South Entrance picket as the sky was starting to get light. The weather was predicted for rain but spirits were high among the picketers. We had maracas, a cowbell, a bike horn, and other noise makers; homemade treats were passed around; someone brought a canteen of tea. Motorists, lorry drivers, tram drivers, bus drivers, and motorcyclists honking/beeping in solidarity raised spirits. Lillian Greenwood MP for Nottingham South came to visit, and members from Nottingham Trades Union Council came to support us and to hand out information leaflets and hold up signs: ‘Nottingham staff and students stand together’; ‘Support our staff, Support the strike, Support the future’.

UP West

At 10.30am I visited the West Entrance, which was completely abuzz with picketers, music (a picket rave!), and lots of supporting students spreading information about the strike and encouraging passing students to register to vote. I participated in a collective reading of revolutionary poetry, in memory of poet and activist Sean Bonney who died recently. There were some very moving and energizing poems by Sean read out loud. My reading ended with the phrase: ‘Occupy the future’.

Student supporters at UP South

At 1pm I headed to the teach-out. There were two wonderful sessions: the first a feminist history of strike action, covering such strikes such as the 1910 Chicago garment worker’s strike, and the late 1970s Grunwick dispute led by Jayaben Desai, leading striking workers who were mostly female, immigrant, and East African or Asian. The second session was on student well being and the economic hardship faced by students, many who are forced to take unsustainable loan packages. It challenged my own assumptions about student experience and how their challenges relate to mine as a worker at the university.

Rita Hordosy talking about student experience and #UniLifeHacks

At 2pm there was a ‘picket line dancing class’ in which I sacrificed my dignity for collective dance solidarity – and it was actually a lot of fun.

UCU Strikes Back: Day 1

Staff and students greet motorists at UP West

Welcome to what we hope will be a daily summary of strike action over the course of the next eight days (unless the employers see sense, in which case we — and our students — can return early from the picket lines). Today’s entry comes from Dr. Matt Green, UoN UCU Branch President.

Early morning sun at UP North

The day began dark, wet and determined as the first intrepid picketers arrived at their stations. By 8:30, banners were up, placards mounted and “UCU Official Picket” armbands were on. Numbers soon rose and by the time ITV Central rolled up at University Park West Entrance we’d reached hundreds of staff and students spread across ten picket lines on four campuses.

Determination runs deep at KMC

The weather was grim but the mood was jubilant and (carbon neutral) braziers were ablaze thanks in part to the generous donation of Notts TUC.

Keeping the fire burning at Jubilee

For anyone anxious about the effect of the strike on students, it was inspiring to see the level of student support. Considerable contingents of students gathered at University Park West with a view to spreading out to other pickets in the coming days. With visits from local parliamentary candidates and journalists, it was wonderful to have student voices represented so fully.

Some of the students showing solidarity with staff

Refreshments were abundant, keeping spirits elevated, and picketers were further buoyed up by the support of passing motorists honking and waving in support. There were impromptu debates on pressing political issues, chanting and several other musical interludes.

Striker’s best friend

After interviews with more journalists and exciting news of a packed ‘teach out’ tomorrow (including strike histories, uni life hacks and picket-line dancing lessons), the picket lines wound down for the day between 10:30 and 11:30. Then it was off for lunch and a busy afternoon.

Solidarity at the South Entrance of UP

At 1:30pm, a substantial group of picketers, made their way to the Beeston Rylands’ Community Centre, where Jeremy Corbyn and Broxtowe PLP candidate Greg Marshall saluted the grit, determination and moral purpose of UCU members taking a stand against the attacks on HE. Clips of their speeches can be heard here and here.

Greg Marshall showing his support

After that, it was off to BBC Radio Nottingham to discuss the strike with Carson Wishart and fill in some misconceptions planted by a previous interviewee. The broadcast is available here and the segment starts at 1:19:00.

No stopping jubilant staff at Jubilee

Finally, as darkness blanketed the streets it was time to head home with fond memories and a renewed faith in the power of solidarity.

Till tomorrow, good night and good luck.

Knowledge is Power; Unity is Strength.