AUT early birds were out in force 1

March 5, 2004

I must protest at your coverage of last week's joint action by the Association of University Teachers and the National Union of Students over pay and variable top-up fees respectively ("I think they've gone to the pub", February ).

Your report focused on an afternoon tour of London picket lines last Tuesday. But it was common knowledge that AUT members were picketing in the morning at the time staff and students arrive on campus and deliveries are made. Those picket lines were filled with enthusiastic AUT members, many of whom had volunteered for picket duty for the first time.

The accompanying photographs distort the true picture. One purports to show a deserted picket line at King's College London, but is in fact the entrance to an AUT member's office. Another of a sodden strike leaflet on the pavement shows simply that it rained.

I am astonished that you did not look at action across the UK. Four times more people volunteered to stand on picket lines than in 1999, the year of our last national strike. On Monday, in Wales, many universities looked like ghost towns. On Tuesday, in England, there were strong pickets and local rallies. On Wednesday, the day of UK-wide action, tens of institutions were all but shut. In Leeds alone, 1,000 people marched through the city centre. On Thursday, in Scotland, most institutions were hit hard. Meanwhile, on Friday, in Northern Ireland, both Ulster and Queen's universities were virtually deserted.

Two weeks ago, The Times Higher said the AUT was less than happy with the coverage of the pay dispute. Surely now your readers can see why.

Terry McKnight
Association of University Teachers

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