Higher education strike: news from the pickets

Noisy protests on pickets lines, cancelled classes and student occupations have been seen at universities across the country as trade unions mounted a one-day strike over pay.

October 31, 2013

Members from higher education’s three largest unions – the University and College Union, Unite and Unison – joined protests outside university buildings this morning, urging staff not to go to work and students to boycott lessons.

It follows a ballot by all three unions in favour of industrial action over a “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer.

Union members will attend rallies in 21 towns and cities this afternoon, while a march to the Universities UK headquarters in London’s Tavistock Square is also planned.

Liverpool Hope University and Liverpool John Moores University have cancelled all classes today, while all evening classes have been postponed at Birkbeck, University of London.

Students at the University of Birmingham attempted to blockade the campus in support of staff by chaining bikes across car park entrances. Others lay down in the road to prevent staff access.

Students also occupied Soas, University of London this morning before leaving on request of striking staff, while an occupation was also reported at the University of Sussex.

Barry Jones, regional official for London’s UCU branch, said there were strong presences at most London higher education institutions.

“We’ve a presence everywhere – University College London, Soas, Birkbeck and the Senate House,” Mr Jones said.

However, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association claimed the strike had caused “minimal disruption” to campuses.

“Today’s action is passing off with only minimal disruption but since fewer than 5 per cent of staff voted to support this strike this was not surprising,” a spokesman said.

Mike Cushman, UCU secretary at the London School of Economics branch, said most students had stayed away owing to the strike.

Speaking from a picket outside the LSE’s Houghton Street building, he said: “This place is normally buzzing with students at this time, but it’s very quiet now.”

He added: “All the branches will head towards Tavistock Square later to let universities know the people they employ are not very happy.”

At King’s College London, students continued to enter its main Strand campus building, despite a noisy protest led by the university’s students’ union, which has voted to support the industrial action.

Sebastian Debrouwere, King’s College London Students’ Union president, said: “If you do not pay a fair wage to the people who teach, then quality will erode.”

Catherine Morrissey, education secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which represents both outsourced staff and those employed by universities directly, was protesting outside the University of London’s Senate House.

Most students were supporting their action, even if they chose to enter the university, she said.

“Students are telling us they don’t want to cross the picket line,” she said.

“They may be popping into the library, but they are saying they will not be attending classes,” she added.

Nadje Al-Ali, UCU president at Soas, said most services at her institutions were closed due to a strongly unionised workforce.

“The library is officially open, but very few students have gone in,” said Professor Al-Ali.

Action was needed to address not just this year’s pay offer, but concerns over growing workloads, she argued.

“The number of colleagues who are complaining about workload-related stress has soared in recent years,” she said.


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