Monday, 21 March 2011

My dear chap it doesn't just happen in Egypt - Join the picket lines this week!

Don't stay at home - why you shold join the picket lines!

This week and next will see UCU members in universities and colleges across the UK (March 24th in England) striking against attacks by the employers on pensions. Today lecturers in Scotland took strike action and lecturers in Wales are striking tomorrow (18th March). Vagrants have learned that lecturers at Warwick University were also peopling the picket lines today to defend their pensions and jobs. Why should lecturers strike? The fight for decent pensions is not some sort of abstract disagreement between employers and the UCU. Pensions are deferred pay. They're not gold plated. Gold plated pensions tend to inhabit the gilded corridors traversed by the likes of unelected bankers, Vice Chancellors and the CEOs of large concerns. Thus despite what BBC newsreaders and the Tories would have us believe pensions are an entitlement and not gifted to us by overly generous bosses. 

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Staff at colleges and universities across the UK will be out on strike on Thursday 24 March in an unprecedented level of action across the further and higher education sectors. The attacks on staff's pensions, pay and job security have created real anger throughout the sector and instead of burying their heads in the sand the employers need to respond urgently to UCU's attempts to negotiate.'

The scales of justice weighed heavily in favour of
strike action by judges in France earlier this February 

Democracy from below and the importance of collective action

Staff at University of Salford will also be on strike on the 22nd of March. The Vagrants are pleased that Vice Chancellor Martin Hall has emailed staff in order to reaffirm that democracy is alive and kicking at the University of Salford. He informs us that the majority of those who participated in the recent ballot for industrial action voted for strike action. Like this Vagrant, Professor Hall has a clear commitment to the concept of liberal democracy and the notion of majority rule. It is indeed heartening to see university employees actively engaging in the grass roots participatory democracy within the union particularly when it centres on such important issues such as pensions, pay and jobs.

Deepening our democracy

But this democracy shouldn't cease the moment you've placed your cross on the ballot paper. UCU members should engage with non-members, explain to them why they're taking action and ask them to join the union and join them on the day. Indeed why stop with colleagues. Why not involve students as well. This strike is not just about pensions but the future health of Higher and Further Education. You'll be pushing at an open door as far as students are concerned. And in keeping with the spirit of extending liberal democratic values into the workplace wouldn't it be nice if all staff including senior managers, regardless of whether they are members of the UCU or not (or whether they voted or not) respected the will of the majority who voted and decided not to cross picket lines. I mean you might not vote in a general election but it doesn't mean you can reject the decisions and laws passed by Parliament does it? That would be vaguely anti-democratic wouldn't it?

Picket line fables and folklore galore

Picket lines are a great place to build solidarity, meet new colleagues, swap stories and absorb some of the picket line folklore that permeate universities across the country during periods of heightened militancy. You might even hear the hoary old urban myth of the conscientious manager, possibly a poor old Dean or Head of School, desperate to demonstrate their commitment to collective action and the plight of their colleagues by resigning from their union in order to cross a picket line. It's certainly done the rounds.

Time to join the union

Indeed, for those who have not yet joined the UCU (and other campus unions) what better time, under the shadow of a finely honed axe poised menacingly over several hundred jobs. What is clear is that if it falls, its keen edge will not discriminate between members and non-members of trade unions. And on this note, today in a wonderful show of solidarity, students at Edinburgh University went into occupation in support of striking Scottish teaching staff. There is a growing awareness among both students and university workers that the protests against fees and the strikes against the attacks on pensions, conditions and job losses are one and the same.

Edinburgh student occupy in solidarity with striking lecturers last week
A Vagrant's life can be a lonely life

We Vagrants by our very nature are often isolated from wider society... in Beckerian terms we're 'outsiders'. When the opportunity arises to indulge in a little collective endeavour, we grasp it eagerly with our grimy hands. The mass movements that exploded onto the world stage driven by the Egyptian and Tunisian masses in first two months of 2011 have demonstrated that collective struggle is firmly back on the agenda.  This week's strikes are therefore part of the larger global opposition to driving down our standards of living  in the now and the future (lower pension benefits) and driving up the profits of the already super-rich. We have a world to win or a lot to lose. Next to this, the thinly veiled threats of pecuniary loss should be seen for what they are - a clear indication that when push comes to shove, those at the top table are not really our friends and that they're more than a little rattled at the prospect of what our own collective endeavour might bring.

For those who do brave the elements, a picket line is an exciting place.  This Vagrant will be joining those out on the picket lines at Salford on Thursday. As strikes rarely garner much positive commentary on the television news or in the press, we have provided a little demonstration of wider action and solidarity among colleagues across the country happening this week.

Oh and by the way, don't forget to book your seat for what promises to be a huge demonstration against the Tory cuts in London this Saturday.

The full list of Universities that are out 17-22 March is below

The University of Aberdeen
Aberystwyth University
University of Bangor
University of Bath
Queen's University of Belfast
University of London, Birkbeck College
The University of Birmingham
University of Bradford
University of Bristol
Brunel University
University of Cambridge
Cardiff University
City University
Courtauld Institute of Art
Cranfield University
The University of Dundee
Durham University
University of East Anglia
University of Edinburgh
University of Essex
University of Exeter
The University of Glasgow
University of London, Goldsmiths
Heriot-Watt University
The University of Hull
Imperial College London
University of London, Institute of Education
The University of Kent
King's College London
University of Wales Lampeter
University of Lancaster
The University of Leeds
University of Leicester
University of Liverpool
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
London School of Economics
Loughborough University
The University of Manchester
Newcastle University
The University of Nottingham
Open University
University of Oxford
University of London, Queen Mary
University of Reading
Royal College of Art
University of London, Royal Holloway
The University of Salford
University of London, School of Pharmacy
University of London, Senate House
The University of Sheffield
University of London, SOAS
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
The University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
Swansea University
University of Ulster
University College London
University of Warwick
University of York

Universities still finalising details of their action because of holiday dates:

Durham University
Newcastle University
Institute of Education
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University of Sussex
University of Warwick
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