Staff from the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University were joined by students last week as they gathered on the picket line for a second day of industrial action. The peaceful protest, which took place on November 24 in front of Leeds University’s Parkinson Building, involved members from three unions: the University and College Union (UCU), UNISON and UNITE.
The UCU says over 70,000 university staff at 150 universities across the UK are striking over pay, working conditions and pensions. The strike is said to be the biggest in the history of UK higher education.
University of Leeds joins strike action
More than a hundred people were present for the protest in Leeds, expressing their support for unions. I asked some people their opinion on the strike. A lecturer who prefers to be unnamed said, “I had to move to a much cheaper house so I can afford to pay my mortgage”. So that’s why the strike is happening, but is it effective? This is what some of the strikers had to say.
Interviewed on the picket line, Jennifer Dodd, a lecturer from Leeds Beckett University said, “I think the university is likely to take notice now because we have got the three unions together, all of the support staff and academic staff, and also tying to another strike. All we are asking for is an increase that meets the inflation we are faced with and energy costs”.
Alan Roe, a lecturer at the Leeds University Business School who is close to retirement, had his doubts: “I am not sure the three days strike will be effective. Though I think they are more likely to consider now the three unions are on strike than when it was just the lecturers. I also think the lecturers have to move to a marking boycott rather than just striking to make it more effective.”
Roe added, “My students are fully behind me and are very supportive. Some of my students will say to me ‘we know what the university is like, it affects us, but we support you’”.
Alexa Athelstan, who works at the international student office of the University of Leeds and who is a member of UCU and UNISON, said: “Being on strike affects our pay as we lose money but there is a fighting fund and a hardship fund that helps support UCU members who get pay deduction from strike action”.
Strike already having an impact
Romain Cames, a member of the UNITE and a university staff member for seven years, said:
“The strike is already having an impact. We also know that students are supporting us more than ever and it will force the management to listen. The official dispute is purely on pay. The three campus unions are striking all together in a coordinated strike for fair pay but that does not mean that there are no other issues that affect our members of staff, for example, high workload, stress, and well-being.”
Leeds Student Staff Solidarity, an affiliate of Leeds University Union Society, said on their Facebook page that they stand in solidarity with striking UNISON and UNITE workers.
Strike action continues
The union will continue their strike on Wednesday 30 November. They will converge at the Parkinson Building by 11.30am and march towards Leeds Town Hall. On 4 December, the three unions will meet at Hyde Park Book Club for a fundraiser.
Universities officials are yet to respond to the union’s demands for better pay and an improved working environment. At the time of writing, efforts to obtain comments from representatives of the universities had drawn no response.
Other UK sectors are planning to embark on strike action in the coming weeks. Rail workers will strike on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January. NHS nurses will embark on industrial action on the 15 and 20 of December. Royal Mail is currently on a ten-day strike action.
With regard to the NHS action, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has said a 19% pay rise for nurses is unrealistic. It is unclear if the health sector will embark on another strike if their demands are not met.