Strike day sees stiff resolve and storm warnings

March 10, 2006

Academic unions flex their muscles in a one-day walkout, reports Alan Thomson

Academics across the UK braved the rain and took to the picket lines this week for a one-day strike, signalling the start of what many believe will be the sector's longest and most bitter industrial dispute in a generation.

The Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe hailed Tuesday's strike as a major success, claiming that mass walkouts forced the cancellation of lectures from Aberdeen to Plymouth.

Employers, however, described the strike as patchy.

The mood among strikers was one of gritty resolve, summed up by the early morning pickets at London Metropolitan University.

Steve Cushion, who sits on Natfhe's National Executive Committee, said:

"There is a feeling we are going to do it this time. Members don't want to be led up to the top of the hill and back down again."

At King's College London, Jim Wolfrey, a senior lecturer in French and the AUT branch president, said: "I think people see this as a landmark dispute and it is not just about pay. Pressures have increased in every aspect of our jobs."

Across the road, picket Joan O'Mahony and her colleagues at the London School of Economics huddled against the rain.

Dr O'Mahony, a research fellow at the Centre for Environmental Policy and Governance, said: "People do this work because they love it and management is in danger of squandering that goodwill."

Chris Husbands, senior lecturer in sociology and the AUT branch president at the LSE, said that he thought the dispute would go all the way but added, "I think employers will blink first."

Sheeting rain did little to dampen spirits at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in Bloomsbury, where striking staff belted out slogans.

Colin Rennie, a librarian at Soas, said: "Emotions are running high here and we are quite prepared to start this dispute early and finish it late.

We regret hurting students but we are fighting to improve their education."

At the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dorothy Wright, the AUT's local association president, said: "The timing is right, the morale is right and the money is there. I hope that we will go all the way this time."

Richard Bruckdorfer, professor of biochemistry and AUT branch president at University College London, said: "We have to take this to the wire. If we do not go for this now, the sector will be in the doldrums for a long time."

Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, and Roger Kline, head of universities at Natfhe, addressed the UCL picket before moving on to a rally at Westminster Methodist Central Hall near the Houses of Parliament.

Ms Hunt told UCL staff: "We are in this until the end. I have no intention of settling this dispute until we have a credible offer from employers."

Mr Kline said: "If we do not win this year, then we can forget making up the shortfall in lecturers' pay in future years."

alan.thomson@thes.co.uk

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