Reports from the picket lines: what’s happening and what’s next?

The most militant action ever taken by the University and College Union (UCU) has begun. Academic staff at 62 universities have formed picket lines with the intention of taking a total of 14 days of strike action over cuts to their pensions. This attack on staff is part of the wider marketisation of education that has led to a grinding down of working and living conditions for staff in the education sector. In line with the general trend in society, it is workers who are being made to pay for the fact that the economy is stuck in a low-growth, low-investment crisis. In that sense this strike must be a political one. The question being raised is: who should be paying for the economic crisis? Is it the people who actually keep universities, or any other sector of the economy, functioning on a day-to-day basis? Or is it those who hoard massive amounts of society’s wealth and only invest it in order to make profits for themselves?

Marxists argue that the wealth and power of society’s parasites, which they use to exploit the rest of us, should be taken away from them. Workers, like academic staff, should be given control of society and the economy so that institutions like universities can be run for need instead of profit. A lecturer knows far better than some management bureaucrat what resources and priorities the education system requires. What we need is the socialisation of the education system, and the economy as a whole. This is what the fight for socialism is all about.

That’s why Marxist students have been and will continue to be out on the picket lines along with staff around the country. We’re fighting alongside them for our education system, and for socialism. The mood on the picket lines has been inspiring. With determination and solidarity we can do what’s necessary to win this strike.

Casey Burgess from the Liverpool Marxist society reported from yesterday’s picket line.

Several members of the Liverpool Marxist Society supported the striking workers of the UCU at their picket line on the University of Liverpool campus today. We arrived at 7am with a total of eight comrades in attendance and we met with striking lecturers, students who wished to support the strike and other political activists at the Foundation Building on Brownlow Hill. This is the main administration building at the university and is where Vice- Chancellor Janet Beer (who is also the head of Universities UK) works. She was not in today as she was conveniently in London.

Students from other universities around the city and region were also in attendance offering their support. Benjamin Warren, a student at Edgehill University (who are not involved in the dispute), came to show his solidarity and told us:

“I came because the strikers deserve unconditional support from all good socialists. Any effort that anyone can make should be made. There’s nothing more important to our movement than workers organising to use their collective bargaining power.”

We were met with open arms by the workers who appreciated our efforts and the support we gave to them. Solidarity was shown by taxi drivers, bus drivers and motorists, who beeped at the picket line, showing their support for the workers. National press photographers and the BBC attended to interview the people at the strike. This included three of our own Marxist Society members, Heather, Stephanie and Beatrice, who gave their views to North West Tonight.

After we were at this picket line in the morning we also did a tour of the picket lines at the various lecture theatres around the campus.

The mood on the picket lines was one of enthusiasm and camaraderie. There were offers of hot drinks and biscuits to help combat the cold weather and socialising took place between the various groups who expressed their solidarity and friendship in the struggle to fight for fairness and a decent pension for the workers.

Two of the Liverpool comrades on the picket line were interviewed by the BBC about why they’re supporting the strike. See this video below for their comments:

The Liverpool Marxist society also conducted and transcribed an excellent interview with a striking lecturer about what’s been happening and what’s next in this struggle. The full interview can be found here.

From Kings College London, Joe Attard, a member of the Marxist society and UCU activist explained his position on the dispute to Adam Boulton of Sky News. He explained that the money exists in society to fund decent pensions and free education, but that it’s in the wrong hands. He said we need to go further than simply taxing the rich and start expropriating some of this wealth. As Boulton himself pointed out, this would amount to major social upheaval. This strike has to be just one part of a broader fight to change society.

The KCL Marxists also spoke to the local student press about the strike action. They report that:

[the Marxist society] also asserts that students can do more than striking in solidarity. They should, in his opinion, ‘send angry messages to Ed Byrne [the KCL Vice-Chancellor] and ask him why he is not supporting the UCU, why he isn’t supporting his colleagues and their pensions. They should demand he comes out in support of striking lecturers.’

‘Students have a vested interest in supporting strikes,’ [they] concluded, ‘After all, it is your education.’

The full article can be found here.

The level of support and militancy of the students joining the strike was remarkable everywhere. In Sussex, where the Marxist society participated actively in the picket lines, students blocked the roads into the university to prevent buses from bringing people across the picket line.

At UCL the Marxist society joined the picket lines in solidarity with staff. One UCL comrade, Dora Dimitrova, was interviewed by the BBC. She told them that “education should be free. This particular strike is about the pension, but it’s important to contextualise it against wider struggles against the marketisation of education.” You can read the full BBC article here.

Emilie Dufwa, NUS delegate from UCL and a member of the UCL Marxist society spent the morning discussing with students and persuading them not to cross the picket lines. She has written up a Q&A of how to convince students not to cross the picket lines for comrades to use for future days of strike action. The Q&A can be read here.

In Cambridge the Marxist society organised a delegation to the picket lines, of which there were three around the university. Mo from the Marxist society reported that:

The strikes are drawing in lots of new people. The picket line on the West Cambridge site of the university was maybe 6-10 people strong, mostly IT workers from the University Information Services. One striker I was chatting to told me that in the 2013 strikes he crossed the picket line as he felt it was right that everyone tighten their belts a bit, but this was a red line.

Student solidarity is having a big effect. The same person told me about how encouraging the occupation of Senate House lawn yesterday afternoon in Cambridge was.

There is a feeling that this strike can be won in the next few days. One striker pointed to today’s Times headline, which is along the lines of ‘Vice Chancellors Split’, and also to how the government seems to be trying to play a neutral(ish) position, calling for negotiations to reopen with all options on the table.

If the strike isn’t won in the next 4 weeks, there is a mandate for strikes at any time over the next 6 months, and the workers on the picket line want to use it. There is no definite plan, but ideas were raised such as strikes targeted during the exam period to have maximum effect.

I raised the idea that Unite and Unison should ballot their members for strike action, many of whom are being forced to cross the picket lines because the inaction of the trade union leaders means that they won’t receive strike pay and have no recourse if they are sacked as a result of respecting the strike. This went down very well.

At a rally organised by the UCU and the Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) yesterday, a comrade from the Marxist society and a Unite the Union activist made a revolutionary speech linking this strike with the crisis of capitalism and explaining the need for a socialist revolution – a call that was met with cheers from the crowd! You can see the video of the speech below.

In SOAS, University of London, the Marxist society joined the picket lines early in the morning to offer solidarity to staff. Fiona Lali, NUS delegate and President of the SOAS Marxist society reported from the picket line:

SOAS Marxist society attended the picket line from 8am on Thursday morning to show our support for striking lecturers. The atmosphere was energetic and it was clear that student solidarity significantly improved the mood of those striking. We brought food and drink out of money we raised through society meetings and were able to speak directly to a teaching assistant who explained the strike and its wider consequences:

“I’m striking because of the pension raid – which is taking away 40% of people’s pensions. But also this strike is part of a bigger picture- that is the casualization of labour. Staff contracts currently are insecure and on very low pay. There is huge inequality in higher education compared to the pay of vice chancellors and those further down in the system. Students can support the strike and show solidarity by not crossing the picket line, but more importantly this is only the first step. If we win this fight, students must be involved in the overall fight to end outsourcing and ensure we have fair contracts for all staff.”

In Manchester Marxist students joined the picket lines and spoke with lecturers about why they’re striking and what the next steps are. Sarah from the Manchester Marxist society reported from the picket lines:

Two politics lecturers said that they know the University sees this as a key struggle because if they win it will weaken the union but if they lose it will unleash a wave of struggle amongst the lecturers and students. Overall main take away from the picket line was that people were very optimistic and think the uni will buckle soon. They’re willing to fight until it does.

In Warwick the comrades have been on the picket lines shoulder to shoulder with staff. They put out two appeals for students to join them in showing solidarity with striking staff. They said:

Warwick Marxists are at the pickets supporting the UCU strikes along with WFFE and other student supporters – please come along and show your support. Lecturers are fighting against significant pension cuts that are not only unfair for workers themselves but will deter lecturers and tutors from working at universities, lowering education standards. Please show solidarity.

Everyone and their dogs were at the pickets today supporting the UCU strikes. It’s vitally important that we as students support this movement that’s not only fighting to secure working people’s pensions but also fighting against the broader issue of marketisation in higher education which is undermining teaching standards through attacks on lecturers and tutors. Only by uniting with the teaching staff by attending pickets and not crossing the picket lines can we ensure the strike achieves its goals without needing to be extended into the exam period which could be devistating for students. We need your support.

And Thomas from the Warwick Marxists reported that:

The strike at Warwick has seen about 50-120 people on the pickets so far each day. The moral is very high, with many very optimisitc that we will be victorious. There are approximately 4-5 Pickets across campus with the main one focused at central campus with Music, Banners, Dogs, arts etc…. There were about 40 students present.


Whilst on the picket lines the comrades from the Marxist society have been interviewing staff members about why they’re taking strike action. One of the video interviews can be seen here, and the rest can be watched on the Warwick Marxists Facebook page.

In Leeds the comrades joined the picket lines with enthusiasm. Owen from the Leeds Marxist society reported:

In Leeds, the urgency to protect pensions overcame many workers’ reticence to disrupt students’ learning, with a huge turnout on the pickets on the first day of action. Students and non-UCU staff were overwhelmingly positive in their response to the arguments presented about fair pensions and its connection to a general end of marketisation and casualisation in universities. After picketing ended, a successful demonstration marched to the centre of the city and attracted support from about 400 people including not only UCU members but students, NEU activists, and members of the public. Despite the rarity of success in UCU’s recent strike actions, staff’s resolve to win this dispute has been hardened by the seriousness of the situation, the greater scale of the action being taken, and the strength of support among students, non-UCU staff, and the wider working class.

In Southampton the comrades from the Marxist society reported from the picket lines:

First day of strikes today the mood on the pickets was one of positivity, with lots of picket lines (only allowed 6 people per picket) 5/6 out side Avenue campus, lots along university road and several others in car park entrances or back ways. A lot of the staff that had to go to work showed strong support of the strikes some even going to get hot water for teas and doing coffee runs for those picketing.

There is a strong sense of unity among the lecturers and frustration towards the UUK and upper management for not coming back to the table and forcing them to strike. Some lecturers feel like this is the last fight and if they lose they will leave, as management has showed their complete disregard for the rest of the staff as they attack department after department with cuts while increasing their own pay.

All the staff were very happy to see so many students coming out in support of the strikes and helping where they can. The campuses were quite empty compared to normal, showing that a majority of students are not going to lectures therefore support the strikes. A lot of those on campus showed support to the staff picketing and signed the petition to stop the cuts to both the lecturers’ pensions and the local support staff’s pension, which upper management is also trying to cut.

The Teach out in the afternoon was also great and very well worth attending the next ones coming up!

We encourage all students to go and visit the picket lines and if you time help out, its a great morale boost to the staff and a great way to show solidarity.

Fight for Staff for decent pensions!
Fight for Free educational!
Fight for an end to the crippling system of capitalism!

In Leicester the Marxist society organised a delegation to the picket lines. Jonathan, a comrade from the Marxist society, reported that:

There was a good attendance on pickets in the morning and the strikers were positive and hopeful. There was a well attended (100+) sit in solidarity rally in support of lecturers from 11am till around 2pm, after which people gradually left due to the cold. The strikers I talked to were very encouraged by student support and support from De Montfort University (who, being post-1992, are not on strike). We had quite a few conversations with passing students to encourage them to not go to class. One very positive thing in Leicester is the student union support of the strikers and the SU organised teach in throughout the coming weeks.

In Norwich, at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the university is still on reading week. Nevertheless the Marxist society comrades have sent a delegation to the picket lines that have already been established in advance of a much greater show of force next week. Josh from the UEA Socialist Society reports:

At UEA the UCU picket has begun strongly, with high mood and an appetite for the struggle ahead. Approximately 40 members of staff and supporters have been on the pickets on each day, an impressive number considering that the first days of the strikes fall on a university-wide break. A small contingent of comrades have been attending these early days with plans to escalate our intervention when students return next week. Positive conversations have been had with members of staff who are all excited to see students turn out in solidarity and readily agree with our position on the damage being done by privatisation and the pursuit of profit in higher education.

The comrades from the Glasgow Marxist society were out in force on the picket lines and on the UCU demonstration. Shaun, a comrade from the Glasgow Marxist society, had the following to report:

The picket lines formed early Thursday morning, with UCU strikers and students gathering outside the main gate of Glasgow Uni at 8am. With unexpectedly mild weather and a large cohort of student supporters, spirits were high. Morale was buoyed by old union hymns and shows of solidarity from delivery drivers who refused to cross the picket line. The defiant and confident atmosphere peaked as we took to the streets to march from the West End to the UCU rally in the centre of town. Following the Glasgow Uni UCU banner, a caravan of yellow placards snaked through Kelvingrove Park and along Sauchiehall street.

We paused briefly as the official picketers were warned by the police that they could face sanctions if they continued to walk on the road without permission. While the UCU banner continued its lawful business along the pavement, the marching students exploited the loopholes of the law to hold the street all the way to the Buchanan Street steps. As the Glasgow Uni UCU and students crowded around the steps, cheers erupted as the procession from Strathclyde Uni and Scottish Association of Marine Science arrived. At the rally, all speakers spoke about the strike being more than a pensions dispute, but a front line defence of higher education from marketisation and eventual privatisation. All spoke with gratitude towards the students for their support, clearly understanding the need for workers and students to be united in defence of free, universal education.

In Sheffield Lilly from the Marxist society gave an excellent speech at the strike rally in support of the lecturers and against the marketisation of education. She linked the struggle for decent pensions to the struggle against capitalism and for socialism. The full video can be seen here:

These are just some of the reports from around the country of the work that Marxist students have been doing to support their lecturers in their struggle for the future of our education. We’ll be on the picket lines, shoulder-to-shoulder with our staff for as long as it takes to achieve victory. And we want to see other unions start to link up with UCU. Other unions whose members are employed by universities, such as Unite and Unison, must now ballot their members for action to support the UCU. These staff are also facing attacks to their working conditions which could be the basis for a ballot. All these attacks come from the same place – the desire to marketise education for the purposes of profit.

The UUK will try to ride these strikes out, banking on the movement running out of steam. We have to let them know that we’re not going to give up that easily. We’ll support our staff through these 14 days of strike action. And we’ll support them in taking joint action with other unions to shut down universities entirely as the next step. Ultimately we’ll support all those workers in every sector whose living and working conditions are being sacrificed in the interests of the wealth and profits of the few. The more we can link these struggles, the more powerful our movement will be. If we’re going to definitively win this strike, and keep what we win in the long term, this is the kind of perspective and strategy that we need.

  • Students and workers unite and fight!
  • Stop the marketisation of education!
  • Run society in the interests of need, not profit!
  • Kick out capitalism, fight for socialism!