Snow-go to all that jazz

November 22, 1996

UNIVERSITIES and colleges across Britain were closed on Tuesday as picket lines held firm, if not frozen. In London snow, sleet and driving rain threatened to turn the strike into a washout but it was a mark of the anger felt by striking employees over pay, that they managed to stop everyone except vice chancellors and the occasional optimistic student crossing picket lines.

Building supervisor and Unison member Paul Badenham was the first on the picket line at Westminster University at 6.30am. Apparently immune to the near-Arctic conditions, he later shouldered one corner of the Unison banner on top of an open-top double decker bus visiting the capital's pickets.

Mr Badenham, who has worked at Westminster for five years, said: "It's the first time I've been on strike here but I now feel I have no choice. The 2.5 per cent pay offer actually works out as a pay cut for me and I just can't afford it."

Alongside him in Regent Street, was Natfhe member Irene Brennan, professor of European education studies. She said: "The financial aspect is very important, especially for younger lecturers and low-paid support staff, but it is also about the underfunding of higher education and about creating the conditions in which we can all do our jobs properly."

Keeping spirits up was Tony King, a Westminster lecturer in human resources management, who brought along his band Mainline Jazz. They played for two hours on the steps of Westminster University before boarding the double decker for a tour which would end at Central Hall for the main rally of the day.

In Manchester speakers including John Akker, Natfhe general secretary, and Christine Lewis, Unison national officer, addressed about 1,000 staff from the city's four universities at Manchester University after a march from UMIST. Manchester University's vice chancellor Martin Harris told striking workers he was concerned by the "intolerably low wages" paid to some.

Students also fought to support staff, but a planned lobby of MPs by 200 Manchester University students had to be cancelled after a major accident blocked the motorway. Most of the 60,000 students at the city's four universities stayed away from campus. Steve Elliot, a first-year politics and modern history student at Manchester University, said many students viewed the day as a holiday and wondered how many were fully aware of the reasons for the strike.

Alice Hainsworth and Elly Bate, first-year psychology and geography and archaeology students, had a similar view. However, they were familiar with the consequences of poor funding - particularly having to stand during lectures.

At Northern Ireland's two universities students joined staff in street protests. It was the first time academics have united with undergraduates in a public demonstration. At the University of Ulster almost 97 per cent of students supported the stoppage in a ballot. At Queen's the strike hit the Belfast Festival. John Campbell, a performing poet who has appeared in the festival in previous years and is senior shop steward of the Transport and General Workers Union, which has about 300 members at Queen's, said: "We have been friends of the festival for years, but this 24-hour stoppage is overwhelmingly supported by our members."

The majority of Scotland's 21 higher education institutions took no industrial action this week. The 13 former central institutions and colleges of education have separate pay negotiations through the Conference of Scottish Centrally Funded Colleges.

But it is likely that academic staff will take industrial action in the New Year, rejecting a pay offer of 2.5 per cent contingent on changes in conditions of service.

* A dispute is likely over how much pay academics will lose for joining the strike. The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association assumes that 1/260th should be deducted on the basis of a five-day working week but the Association of University Teachers says it should be only 1/366th, taking account of the Leap Year.

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