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.

Strike Information

This post outlines strike plans for the University of Nottingham UCU branch between 20th February to 13th March. Please check back regularly for updates and follow us on Twitter: @UoNUCU

Dates of strike

February 20, 21

February 24, 25, 26

March 2, 3, 4, 5

March 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Rally on Thursday 20 February

We will be holding a rally at 11:30am on Thursday 20th at the Pavilions in Highfields Park (see blue circle on map below). The aim is to make our presence seen and heard in the management offices of Trent Building, so please bring music instruments and any noise making devices (pots and pans, vuvuzelas, kazoos, cow bells, bike bells, etc).  

We also have a UoN UCU strike playlist which is public and collaborative, so feel free to add your favourite tunes!

Picket line 

Picket times are 07:30-11:00. 

Please make every effort you can to join the pickets, support each other, talk to colleagues and students about the action, and represent the union as powerfully as you did during the last strike. If you cannot join the physical picket – as many can’t, for various reasons – please demonstrate your solidarity and support on the virtual picket, using @UoNUCU #UCUStrike #ucustrikesback 

Please take care of yourself on the picket line and watch out for cyclists and motorists! Your health is a priority so if you feel unwell/need rest, don’t feel pressure to attend the picket line but strike from home.

Picket line locations

* See corresponding letters next to red X’s on map

University Park:

(A) North Entrance

(B) South Entrance

(C) West Entrance

(D) East Entrance

(E) Pedestrian Entrance across from University Blvd Tram Stop

(F) Pedestrian Entrance Derby Road (West End of Campus)

(G) Pedestrian Entrance Derby Road (across from Wollaton Park pedestrian gate)

Kings Meadow Campus:

(H) Main Entrance 

Sutton Bonington Campus:

 (I) Main Entrance (College road)

 (J) South Entrance (Landcroft Lane)

Jubilee Campus:

(K) Wollaton Road Entrance 

(L) Triumph Road Entrance

(M) Derby Road Entrance

See below for where to report for the picket. The locations have been assigned by department in order to ensure coverage on all picket lines; however you are not obliged to go to that location – feel free to move around as well. You may also be asked by a picket coordinator to populate a quieter location, if you are happy to do so.

If your department/unit is not listed, or if you require posters or armbands, please visit picket leaders at these sites: 

At UP: North Entrance (A); South Entrance (B); West Entrance (C) 

At Sutton Bonington: Main Entrance (I)

At Jubilee: Triumph Road Entrance (L); Derby Road Entrance (M)

DepartmentPicket Location
American and Canadian StudiesUP North (A)
Architecture and the Built EnvironmentUP West (C)
BiosciencesSutton Bonington Main Entrance (I)
ChemistryUP North (A)
Civil EngineeringUP North (A)
Computer ScienceJubilee Wollaton Rod (K)
CounsellingUP North (A)
CLASUP South (B)
EconomicsUP West (C)
Education (inc CELE)Jubilee Triumph Road (L)
Electrical and Electronic EngineeringUP North (A)
EnglishUP South (B)
Finance and InfrastructureJubilee Wollaton Road (K)
FrenchUP West (C)
GeographyUP South (B)
German StudiesUP West (C)
Health SciencesJubilee Derby Road (M)
HistoryUP West (C)
History of ArtUP South (B)
Information ServicesKings Meadow
LawUP North (A)
LibrariesStaff based at UP: UP South (B) Staff based at Jubilee: Jubilee Triumph Road (L) Staff based at Kings Meadow: Kings Meadow
Life SciencesUP South (B)
Mathematical SciencesKings Meadow
MedicineJubilee Wollaton Road (K)
MusicUP South (B)
Nottingham University Business SchoolJubilee Derby Road (M)
PharmacyUP North (A)
PhilosophyUP West (C)
Physics and AstronomyKings Meadow
Politics and International RelationsUP West (C)
PsychologyUP South (B)
Russian and Slavonic StudiesUP North (A)
Sociology and Social PolicyJubilee Derby Road (M)
Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies                   UP West (C)
Veterinary Medicine and ScienceSutton Bonington Main Entrance (I)

Teach-outs and events

Events are free and open to all (not just UCU members). All venues are wheel-chair accessible. 

DateEventVenueTime
Thursday 20th FebStrike RallyPavilions, Highfield Park11.30am
Friday 21st FebBake-offPicket lines
Monday 24th FebWorkshop: ‘Building union presence:
conversations that
lead to action’ Led
by Pete Rodgers,
Nottingham
Citizens
Dunkirk
Community Centre,
Montpelier Road
NG7 2JW
1 – 3pm
Tuesday 25th FebDiscussion:
‘Gendered Injustice
in the University’
Led by Katharine
Jenkins and Jessica
Vernon, Dpt of
Philosophy
Middle Street
Resource Centre,
74 Middle Street,
Beeston NG9 2AR
1 -3 pm
Wednesday 26th
Feb
Talk: ‘What is a
student housing
co-operative?’ Led
by Nottingham
Student Housing
Co-operative
Dunkirk
Community Centre,
Montpelier Road
NG7 2JW
1 – 3pm
Monday 2nd MarchCrafting session:
Intimidating
Bunting, Crochet,
Finger-knitting,
needle felting. All
materials provided

Talk: ‘Brexit and
Citizen Rights’
Narine Ghazaryan,
School of Law
Dunkirk
Community Centre,
Montpelier Road
NG7 2JW
1 -3 pm
Tuesday 3rd MarchTalk: ‘The power
of statistics: how
to spot fake news’
Rosie Smith, School
of Education

Talk: ‘Well-being
and resilience at
work’ Neil
Chadborne, School
of Medicine
Middle Street
Resource Centre,
74 Middle Street,
Beeston NG9 2AR
1 – 3pm
Wednesday 4th
March
Yoga for all stages
including beginners
Bring your own
yoga mat/there will
be 12 provided by
instructor. Class
size limit: 20
Session: 45 min
Middle Street
Resource Centre,
74 Middle Street,
Beeston NG9 2AR
1 – 2pm
Wednesday 4th
March
STRIKE SOCIAL!
Music, dancing, and drinks. With special guest UCU secretary Jo Grady. Free, everyone welcome!
Vat and
Fiddle, 12
Queensbridge Rd,
NG2 1NB
7.30pm – late
Thursday 5th
March
Workshop: ‘The
Changing Face of
Community
Education in the
East Midlands:
Implications for
Adult and Higher
Education’ Colin
Kirkwood, Rob
Hunter, Lorinda
Liversidge,
John Holford,
Linden West
Nottingham
Mechanics
(Lounge),
3 North Sherwood
Street, NG1 4EZ
2 – 4.30pm
Monday 9th
March
Discussion:
Anti-casualisation
led by University
of Nottingham
Anti-casualisation
Group
Dunkirk
Community Centre,
Montpelier Road
NG7 2JW
1 – 3pm
Tuesday 10th
March
Poetry reading:
Peter Gizzi,
Sarah Hayden,
Alan Baker
Five Leaves
Bookshop, 14a
Long Row W,
NG1 2DH
7 – 8.30pm
Wednesday 11th
March
Talk: ‘Black Holes
and Extra
Dimensions’
Antonio Padilla,
School of Physics
and Astronomy
South Entrance
Picket
10am
Thursday 12th
March
TBC
Friday 13th
March
RallyTBC

What happens when I am on strike?

No Emails

·         Not log-on to the university network

·         Not read or respond to work emails during the duration of multiple-day strikes

·         Put an ‘I am on strike, etc.,’ automatic reply on your email – see below

No Teaching or administration

·         Not ‘catch-up’ with work planned for during the strike

·         Dissuade any colleagues from covering for your absence

·         Not ‘decline’ or rearrange meetings

·         Not rearrange classes

No Research

·         Not attend research seminars and other research events

Out Of Office emails

UCU members should not read or respond to any emails whilst on strike, and should immediately delete, unread, all emails on return to work — except for those from students. During strike periods, we ask you to put an out-of-office auto-reply on your emails. We suggest the following text — though of course you may edit this if you prefer.

I am currently unavailable as I am striking over Pensions, Pay and Equality.

Background to the dispute can be found here:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/why-we-are-taking-action

You can support us by joining UCU (http://join.ucu.org.uk/) and taking part in strike action.

If you are a student, I will respond to your email on my return — though you may have to be patient. 

Otherwise, I will not be reading this email, and will delete it, unread, on my return.

Open Days

Where members have been directly instructed to participate in an open day or other University activities on a day not explicitly marked as a strike day (including weekends), they should comply with this instruction provided said activities form a normal part of the work associated with their role; where participation in such activities is presented as voluntary, members do not need to undertake this work.

Other useful information for members can be found here:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/he-action-faqs

UCU Strikes Back: Breaking records

UoN UCU on the march.

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.

Labour councillor, Adele Williams, and novelist Jon McGregor

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.

Pickets from UP West, South and KMC approaching comrades at UP North @HemiMistry

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.

Picketers await the commencement of activities outside the Jubilee Gatehouse. @WillPattBass

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.

Arriving at Jubilee. @carolespary

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”.

David Bowie and Queen speaking of the ill-effects of the free-market HE experiment @carolespary

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.

Decorating the railings at Jubilee. @carolespary

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.

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.

Exhaustion rebellion.

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.

Strikers listening to speakers at Jubilee Derby Road entrance.

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.

Lilian Greenwood addresses the crowd while our trumpeter gets ready. @GibsonCerys

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.

Strength in Unity. @onni_gust

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…

UoN Pickets visit the OU Picket Line @john_holdford
Sutton Bonington @hstevenson10
KMC Standing Strong
UP East (lower) looking positively cheerful in the sun.
Standing strong at UP East (upper)
UP North bringing together comrades at all stages of their careers.
UP South (road entrance) in good spirits.
UP South (footpath) with camera-shy strike dog.
UP West part 1

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 mattgreenucu@gmx.com.