The branch is now opening up application for the local hardship fund for those who participated in the strike action of November/December of last year. You can find the application form here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
#UCUStrikesBack @jenheffa makes good point: If @UniofNottingham can invest long-term in new buildings why can't they invest in #research staff? Better job security = higher impact pic.twitter.com/X2jWtwPWgT— Mat Rawsthorne 🇪🇺(⧖) (@RawsthorneMat) December 4, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 email@example.com.
On the day when we learned UoN students had occupied the Trent building in support of UCU strikers, we’re devoting our diary entry to student action via three key moments as archived on Twitter.
First, we have the student occupation of the Trent Building and their collective statement of solidarity.
Occupying the Trent building overnight, students from the UoN Solidarity Support Network quickly issued a statement demanding better pensions and pay for staff, as well as an end to outsourcing and casualisation.
Second, we have the letter sent to the VC by PhD students in the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training
Inspired by students from Geography (see below), students in Computer Science sent a heartfelt letter to the VC supporting staff and outlining their concerns about the future of HE.
And third, we have an image of what a student boycott looks like in practice.
Our third entry comes from one of our hourly paid tutors, compelled to cross the picket line by UoN’s casualisation practices.
It’s 6am on day 5 of the strike – the alarm goes off and I think about how cold it is outside the bed – look outside to see the car covered in frost and think how many layers I’ll need to survive the four hours of picketing ahead.
We start at 7.30am – its cold and dark as I approach West Entrance expecting to be the first there but as usual two students are already there. These two have been at every picket at West staying from 7.30 to 11.30 despite being bitter cold. Why? They realise that future generations will suffer the consequences of inaction now. Thanks to these two for the tips for how to survive without getting frozen to the core. The hot water bottle in the backpack worked wonders today and the hot drinks provided by Unison were very welcome. Thank you !
I work in the libraries (learning technologies) supporting staff in the Faculty of Arts. It’s great to see members of the Faculty on the picket line as the morning progresses. Folk from Physics join us along with representation from elsewhere in Science. Today we’re planning a rally at North Entrance and we all move on up Derby Road thankful for the chance to get moving and warm up a bit!
After a sing along (Solidarity Forever) and rousing speech from Matt a bunch of us head over to Jubilee Derby Road entrance for full on musical action (with trumpet and tambourine!) where Pete, Mary, Howard, Sharon and co are doing it in style with tables of food and a fire to keep us warm. We finish with a rendition of Bella Ciao and head off to warm up and recharge our batteries for next week.
If you haven’t joined us yet on the picket line please do come along to your nearest uni entrance. Remember (in the words of Joe Hill) ‘it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand’.
28 November(ish), 2019
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’.
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.
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.
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!
Remember our end of week 1 gatherings will take place at UP North/East and Derby Road on Jubilee.