Our industrial action continues

This week, on Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 February.

Picket lines are a show of strength and solidarity and we ask all members who are able to join the picket line to do so. Children are welcome too – particularly during half term or when teachers are on strike. We have pavement chalk! Children’s safety is, of course, the responsibility of their parents/carers.

There will be pickets from 08:15-11:00am on every strike day at University Park South and West Entrances, as well as Jubilee Campus Derby Road entrance.

This week we need to show our strength and determination to support our negotiators in the room with UCEA and UUK. Join us! Never cross a picket line!

Love your staff – March and rally on Wed 15 Feb, 12 noon UP South

Love your staff! On Wednesday 15 February we will march and rally to demand that our university love their staff! Because we don’t buy into the commercial exploitation of love on Valentine’s Day, we march on Slap Day! Homemade placards and themed chants encouraged, email or tweet us your ideas or join the collective brainstorming on the pickets on Tues 14 Feb.

The march will set off from University Park South Entrance at 12 noon and follow the route in the attached, high tech map. There will be two stops for short speeches outside Chemistry building and on Portland steps.

We want to be seen and heard, so make sure you come adequately prepared.

Online solidarity space – Tues 14 Feb and Thurs 16 Feb

We understand that some members are not able to be on the picket line due to disability, health conditions, caring responsibilities and/or distance. We will have a zoom room open between 09:00-10:30 as a space of online solidarity, it is open to anybody who wants to drop in to chat and keep each other company or to ask any questions about ongoing action and its impact.

Join Zoom Meeting


Meeting ID: 817 1338 8840

Passcode: 823426

Next week…

If we still have to strike next week (Tues 21, Wed 22, Thurs 23) to protect our pay and pensions, we are planning following events:

Tues 21, 2pm – online meeting with UCU national negotiators in both disputes (confirmed so far: Mark Taylor-Batty, Jackie Grant, Deepa Driver and Marian Mayer)

Wed 22 – we march again

There are also these two events organised by the independent Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ):

20 February at 6 p.m. via Zoom: River Butterworth (SU Education Officer) – Demilitarise UoN: Why the University is not committed to human rights. For a free ticket, register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/demilitarise-uon-why-the-university-is-not-committed-to-human-rights-tickets-515309122457?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

27 February at 6 p.m. via Zoom: Steve Battlemuch (Head of Campaigns PCS and local Labour Party Councillor) – Strikes are back – Can they win? For a free ticket, register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/strikes-are-back-can-they-win-tickets-545937452617?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

National fighting fund

Members taking part in industrial action can make a claim from UCU’s national fighting fund.

Payment from the National UCU fighting fund is made:

  • in the sum of £50 for the second and subsequent days of strike action for members earning £30,000 gross or more per annum (this is subject to a cap of 11 days. This will be kept under review); and,
  • in the sum of up to £75 for the second and subsequent days of strike action for members earning less than £30,000 gross per annum (this is subject to a cap of 11 days. This will be kept under review).

In order to make a claim to the Natonal Fighting Fund members need to:

  • be paying subscriptions at the correct rate (if any subscription is payable);
  • have participated in official strike action for which officers have agreed to make funds available; and,
  • provide evidence of deduction from your salary or loss of earnings for strike action.

The current HE dispute (UCU Rising) started on 24 November. 1 February is the fourth day of action.

Local Hardship Fund

Further support is available to members who face financial hardship via the local hardship fund. We can provide up to £25 per day.

By ‘hardship’ we mean colleagues who will genuinely struggle to cover everyday costs, for example (but not limited to):

  • Childcare including nursery fees;
  • Care costs for elderly or disabled family members*;
  • Medical expenses, for example prescription charges or paid-for therapy that is not covered by private medical insurance;
  • Basic food provisions;
  • Topping up prepayment (‘pay-as-you-go’) gas and electricity meters;
  • Rent;
  • Emergency transport costs.

* By ‘family’ we mean people with whom you have a close, interdependent relationship.

Please email your request to uonucubranch@gmail.com. You will need to show evidence of a submitted claim to the national fighting fund, together with relevant supporting documentation.

If you need money urgently please contact the branch; we may be able to provide you with a loan, which will need to be paid back once you have received money from the Fighting Fund.

Spreading deductions

The University has confirmed that members who wish to spread deductions beyond April to alleviate financial challenges should contact the HR department to request this. Decisions will be made on a case by case basis.

Dispute Organising Group (DOG)

18 days of action require a lot of organising and planning and we need help from members. If you are able to help organise our collective action, please respond to this email or contact uonucubranch@gmail.com.

UCU Industrial action strategy 2023

In the ongoing debate about what the next steps in our industrial action to restore USS benefits and obtain a better deal for pay and working conditions should be, we (UoNUCU branch committee) think that the proposal in our September motion is the most sensible: on-going strike action from the first day of the second semester, organised in such a way that members only take strike action on those days when withdrawing labour impacts the employer.
Read a longer rationale here

Branch meeting to discuss this and make your voice heard
Jan 6 2023 at 13:00
Zoom link will be sent to branch members via email

Donations to the Local Branch Hardship Fund

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Unity Trust Bank
Account number – 20346359
Sort code – 60-83-01

The Local Branch Hardship Fund is maintained to help strikers who will suffer significant hardship from loss of pay due to striking.

If you are in a position to help, donations would be very welcome

If you were unable to strike because you were on leave or abroad we encourage you to donate to the Local Branch Hardship Fund.

‘Love HE, Love HE Staff’: 2022 USS Strikes Day 1

Today we March! On our way to the Trent building to show our resolve to the VC and UEB!
Picture by @Pete_Radcliff

Today marks the first day of yet another period of strike action our branch is taking. Today is also Valentine’s Day and of course we chose the theme for this day to match this day of love. We are far from the only ones to have jumped on this bandwagon. In today’s strike blog, I will reflect on this analogy and draw attention to a day of action happening in HE in my home country.

When we mention Valentine’s Day, images of bringing your significant other gifts and treating them to a special day comes to mind. Whether in pop culture, the media, advertising, and beyond, the focus is on that expression of love. However, to the close observer there is something distinctly noticeable about how one is supposed to express love on this very auspicious day. You probably know where I am going with this! If you say most, if not all, of the ways we are encouraged to spend love on this day involve spending money, you are a winner!

This link between spending, often considerable, amounts of money and Valentines Day is not an accident as a stroll through history shows. The imagery used is a call back to the minor god Cupid/Eros from Roman/Greek mythology well know for shooting arrows and making hapless humans fall head over heels. The name for the day itself derives from a Christian martyr Saint Valentine who according to some sources was executed for the crime of marrying Christian soldiers. As with many cultural customs, there are many other origin stories and variations over time and across the world. In later times, this day became one where couples would send each other a handwritten card and a small gift to express their love. In the 19th century, handicraft gave way to commercially printed cards and the well-known brand Cadbury started creating a heart-shaped box of chocolates specially for Valentine’s Day.

This abridged history shows Valentine’s Day morphing from a day about fighting for love, to expressing your love in a personal way, to doing so en-masse in a heavily marketized way. Those cards, chocolates, and trinkets we use to express our love are often produced in the very worst circumstances in global value chains. Production in low wage, less strictly regulated countries, displacement of farming benefitting the local population for higher yield cacao crop, and other practices all so we can express our love on Valentine’s Day. While we could simply say ‘I love you’ to our significant other, spend some time and effort making them something unique and special, and being present for them, we are made to feel we need to go all out and the amount of money we spend equates to how much we love them.

There are strong parallels between this trend in how we celebrate Valentine’s Day and the current state of UK higher education. We are told students want more than just to be educated by dedicated, knowledgeable academics, supported by competent librarians, student services administrators, and other staff, and do so in comfortable, well-equipped lecture halls, seminar rooms, libraries, etc. Students who we should now primarily treat as customers wielding market power through where they choose to spend their tuition fees, so we are told, want a ‘student experience’. To guarantee this student experience, ever greater amounts of the university’s funds are invested not in what makes for a good education but in all kinds of bells and whistles, like fancy sports facilities, shiny buildings, and other things that are meant to make students feel satisfied. Moreover, to let students know about this amazing student experience, significant amounts need to be spent on marketing and advertising.

While many of these extras benefit the primary aim of educating students, their main aim and consequence is to make the student feel like they are getting ‘value for money’. In fact, as some of the bells and whistles are comparatively more cost-effective at the latter as compared to improving the actual education students enjoy, ever greater sums are diverted to such expenditures. Moreover, and unlike investment in knowledge and skills academics, librarians, and other staff can make given the opportunity, such bells and whistles are easily copied by competing universities exactly because they require little more than throwing a lot of money at it. So, these investments in bells and whistles at best maintain competitive parity.

As the number of prospective students, and thus the value of their tuition fees, kept increasing due to widening participation and ever stronger interest from international students in a UK education, universities were able to match the investments in bells and whistles with greater receipts from tuition fees. Unfortunately, investments in the academics and other staff to deliver the product these students bought has certainly not kept pace. As happened to Valentine’s Day, HE has become commoditized. To maintain the illusion that the ‘student experience’ is a premium product despite fierce competition in the sector, ever more bells and whistles need to be tacked onto this product to make it ‘stand out in the market’ and convey ‘value for money’.

The real costs of maintaining this illusion are borne not by those at the helm of the universities justifying ever greater pay packets as universities balloon in size with record student numbers and annual budgets including all those bells and whistles, but by academics, librarians, student services administrators, and other staff. Staff numbers have not kept pace with the growth of the HE sector. The proportion of university budgets devoted to them have even declined. Staff are asked to make space for additional students in their increasingly overflowing lecture halls, seminar rooms, and other venues, to mark more essays and exams, to provide services to ever more students within the same amount of time. Where the limits of what additional work can be squeezed out of these academic and staff are reached, universities solve the issue by drawing in an ever greater casualized workforce to do the same work, or even a standardized, lower quality version, at a bargain.

The costs of our marketized HE system are borne most of all by the shoulders of our casualized colleagues. They are employed at the very worst of terms, if at all, since they are in many cases technically not even an employee of the university. Amongst other difficulties, that means they do not even get to be in the USS and thus make a contribution towards their pension nor are they allowed to join UCU strike action and fight for better terms and conditions.

To turn the tide, and for the many other reasons why we are on strike today and for a further nine, we are calling on the management of our university to show us some love. They claim they love HE, but if they continue to give their staff the cold shoulder, more hearts will break.

UoN UCU at the VC’s and UEB’s doorstep. Will they hear us know?
Picture by @yarn_wytch

Across the North Sea, our colleagues at Dutch Universities are also taking action today, with the tagline ‘The University won’t love you back’. This follows a long campaign against casualization spear-headed by the 0.7 organization in which they have repeatedly asked universities to put their money where their mouth is and offer better terms and conditions. They are fighting for staff employed on one short term contract after the other only to be discarded the moment they would legally be entitled to a permanent one. Those contracts are usually 0.7 FTE since the amount of work ones needs to complete as part of such a contract is already a full-time workload. As in the UK, those on short term, casualized contracts are no stranger a lack of recognition for their unpaid research, inequality of opportunity, pay gaps, unsafe work environments, and more. Send them some solidarity @0pointseven!

The 0.7 campaign logo for today’s action

Volunteers wanted for the strike blog!

Do you have any reflections on the theme of one of the strike days? Had amazing conversations at the picket line or enjoyed a teach out, and want to tell all about it? Want to share something about how you think the university can become a better place for staff and students?

If so, please send us your suggestion or draft contribution at uonucubranch@gmail.com or talk to Gertjan Lucas (bottom left on the below picture), Equality Officer, at the Jubilee Campus picket on Derby Road.

Pickets going strong at Derby Road entrance on Jubilee Campus.
Picture by @hstevenson10