The Picket Line in an Industrial Estate: Strike Diary, Day 5

Today’s entry comes from Dr Joseph Baxter, Learning Applications Developer and UoN UCU APM Officer

KMC Picket Line 26th Feb

Today was a nice sunny walk to Kings Meadow Campus, walking past the queues already forming on the Clifton bridge.

Met Adam our lead picket in the cold shade of the industrial estate on Lenton lane (we have lovely view of a storage company facing away from the campus gates). We had 8 members on the picket line today which is reflective of the strong presence we have had each day of the strike.

On the picket line we have a mix of Information Services and Libraries staff as our core picketers. Our numbers are boosted by visiting academic staff who I assume come to enjoy the view I mentioned before. [Ed. Note: It’s the craic Joe, definitely the craic]

Talk as usual ends up with Campus Solutions and the incoming outsourcing of Information Services. As you can imagine no one on the picket line can understand how you can have such a bad experience with an outsourcing company and still think it is a good idea. Please come along to the picket line next week if you want to hear a full rant but I best leave it there for now.

We usually only see a handful of students at KMC unless an exam is on (yes, the “temporary” exam location of KMC is still in use) so we are mostly talking to our colleagues on the picket line. The staff outsourced previously (still based at KMC) who walk in are friendly and often offer to get us a nice warm cuppa.

At KMC foot traffic tends to stop around 10 o’clock so we pack up at 10:30 today, lots more union work to be done though…

After popping home for some lunch and doing some UCU branch committee work it is back to Dunkirk for the teach-out event hosted by the Student housing co-op.

An interesting talk on the history of student housing co-ops around the world and an update on Nottingham student housing co-op.

They have several ideas on how UCU and academics could help which I hope to discuss at a future branch meeting:

  • should/could our UCU branch invest in Nottingham Student Housing Co-op?
  • should our UCU branch promote to members to invest / become members of the Nottingham Student Housing Co-opshould our UCU branch ask national UCU to support the Student Housing Co-operative?
  • can academics promote to students?
  • can academics provide access to networks that the housing co-operative do not have access to?
  • can UCU help get us on the university’s agenda?
  • can academics who research in relevant fields engage on the educational level?

Why would we want to do any of these things?

  • The housing co-operative wants to support UCU student members
  • The average student housing co-operator is more likely to engage and support UCU

After the meeting it is back home to write this diary update, help process the local strike fund applications, design the strike social leaflet, create some more why we strike posts for twitter.

Feb 26th, why we strike twitter post @grumpyoldmanjoe

… and have a cup of tea.


Stories from the South Entrance: Strike Diary, Day 4

Today’s strike diary comes from Lopa Leach, UCU Departmental Rep (Life Sciences).

Sun at last. Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

Today was glorious. The sun was out, drenching us with Vitamin D, the happiness inducing chemical. There was a really big turnout, including the UCU East Midlands Retired Members Branch. It was excellent to have their support and encouragement.

Retired members show their support.

STEM colleagues came in large numbers today to join the philosophers, the historians, the geographers, the modern language professors, the political scientists, the lawyers, the librarians, APM colleagues and of course the many postgraduate students. University in a capsule. Such a vibrant mix.

Chatting with students. Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

The UoN UCU playlist was livening the atmosphere with songs of protest and solidarity. It was Shrove Tuesday, so some wonderful colleagues were cooking delicious pancakes. The students, streaming out of the trams, stopped and chatted.

Pancakes! Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

A beautiful Labrador was there soaking up the admiration. The clarity of the light meant that denizens of Nottingham tooted their support as they drove by. The lorry drivers and delivery van people were as usual the loudest in their support. Every tram driver waved. It felt good, this solidarity. Our four fights resonates with Nottinghammers. A sense of optimism filled us all: this is a good fight and one that we will win. The hours flew by and picketers wanted to stay longer!

Dog days. Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

The afternoon teach-out on Gendered Inequality was a sell-out. Full house with UG and PG students. It was sad to hear that some of our students still experience sexual harassment and do not feel there are appropriate mechanisms to report this to the University. The centralised student services had impersonal queues, that made them give up. Solutions to this were discussed, including anonymised social Forums on Moodle, which allowed a tally that staff and students could keep.

Cooking and sharing. Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

Students themselves discussed active involvement in groups called Safer Nottingham, Night Owls etc. Academics discussed how their workloads did not even acknowledge time spent helping students that reached out, including restricting the time they did want to give. This really was an excellent afternoon that allowed discussion on empowerment to all stakeholders. Many thanks are due to participants and organisers alike.

Photo by Andrew Renault and Sophie Chester-Nash.

Resolve, Training and the Warmth of the Brazier: Strike Diary Day 3

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.

Jubilee picketers gather around the Brazier

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

Teach-outs this week: 24 – 26 February

Monday 24th February

Workshop: ‘Building union presence: conversations that lead to action’ Led by Pete Rodgers, Nottingham Citizens

1 -3pm. Dunkirk Community Centre, The Old School, Montpelier Rd, Dunkirk, Nottingham NG7 2JW

This interactive and informal workshop looks at how we can use our one to one conversations with colleagues to encourage collective action. We all know such conversations can seem uncomfortable – but there are many simple techniques we can use to help these discussions. Everyone is welcome to attend; if you are a current UCU rep or thinking of becoming one, this would be particularly helpful to attend.

Tuesday 25th February

Discussion: ‘Gendered Injustice in the University’. Facilitated by Katharine Jenkins and Jessica Vernon, UoN Department of Philosophy

1 -3pm. Middle Street Resource Centre, 74 Middle Street, Beeston NG9 2AR (Next to the Middle Street tram stop)

Sexual violence, gendered labour—how do these affect our lives and what does it have to do with the strike? Come and discuss these issues and more with staff and students. All welcome!

Wednesday 26th February

Talk: ‘What is a student housing co-operative?’ Led by Nottingham Student Housing Co-operative

1 -3pm. Dunkirk Community Centre, Montpelier Road, Nottingham NG7 2JW

UCU Strikes Back: The Return of the Strikes

Demonstrators at the rally. Photo by @craigafrench

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.

Wind conspiring with rain.

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.

‘“‘They win by making you think you’re alone’”.

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.

Thanks Joe!

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.

Nottingham East MP, Nadia Whittome

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’.

Bringing a spot of colour and solidarity to Derby Road.

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.

History students at West Entrance. Photo by @Natalie_Grace95

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.

Who says it’s grim up North (Entrance)?

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.

Sheltering behind the Notts TUC banner.

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.

Indefatigable resolve on East.

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.

First time on the pickets.

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.