With the first of the three stoppages due to take place on 23 January, elements within the union claim that the shortened walkouts represent “a complete U‑turn” from the strategy that members endorsed at regional meetings last autumn.
UCU Left says in a bulletin that the December decision by the union’s higher education committee (HEC) to stage the two-hour strikes did not reflect the wishes of local branches, which wanted to ratchet up industrial action with two-day strikes and a marking boycott.
“The only possible interpretation is that a majority on the HEC (led by the Independent Broad Left) wants to wind down the campaign,” it continues.
The group believes that the two-hour strikes will be ineffective because they are hard to coordinate with other unions and only a small proportion of members will be teaching in that period.
That theme was echoed by Mark Newman, secretary of the UCU branch at the Institute of Education, University of London, who wrote an open letter expressing his branch’s “dismay” at the “de-escalation of the strike”.
“The two-hour strike is in our view atomistic, divisive and cannot be implemented in any way that could make it effective as a form of industrial action,” he says in the letter.
Priyamvada Gopal, lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge, said that the two-hour walkouts might be ridiculed and viewed merely as an “extended fag break”.
However, Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, insisted that “these stoppages will cause significantly more disruption than the previous one-day strikes” and will “maximise impact on universities while minimising the cost to our members”.
“If this series of strikes does not bring [employers] back to the table, we will soon after begin a marking ban and support members by whatever means we can in the fight for fair pay,” she added.
A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association condemned the action, saying “UCU’s demands for higher pay increases are neither affordable nor sustainable”.