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Only 6% Turn Out for Lecturer Strikes

Only around 6% of staff turned out for this year’s University and College Union strikes, new figures show. According to records obtained by Impact under the Freedom of Information Act, out of 3844 staff at the University of Nottingham who were eligible to strike last March, only 202 took part on the 22nd and 217 went on strike on the 24th.

Lecturers were striking over changes to the way in which pensions would be managed. Local UCU spokesman Andreas Bieler had already admitted that fewer staff members took part than expected, last month citing the “dangerous illusion” that jobs at the university were relatively safe. This was in response to an email leaked to Impact from Nottingham UCU secretary Mike Byrne stating that the strikes “may not have been noticed”.

The level to which Nottingham staff were behind the strike was already in question by this point, however, when UCU members seemed divided in a vote on whether or not to walk out. Out of 327 valid ballots, 195 voted in favour of strike action with 132 voting against. In a later interview with Times Higher Education, Byrne stated that there was “a very good level of support from members who attended picket lines”.

If UCU organisers were worried that the absence of striking staff hadn’t been noticed, the reluctance of nearly 95% of university staff to take part in industrial action could prove an even greater concern.

Dave Jackson

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36 Comments on this post.
  • Stuart Neyton
    16 May 2011 at 20:32
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    Don’t come to the conclusion that only 6% of university staff striking means that nearly 95% don’t support it. I asked my tutor that day why he wasn’t striking and he said it was only because he wasn’t a union member.

    The people who’s jobs are most at risk are the lower paid university staff, the ones who have most contact with undergrads, the ones who impact on undergrads’ lives the greatest, and the ones who would face the greatest repercussions by our fascist uni hierarchy if they went on strike.

    This is a terrible article and completely misses the point.

    Solidarity with all uni workers and students in this fight.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 May 2011 at 20:39
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    I said that about 95% were reluctant to take part in industrial action which – judging by the number of people who actually took part – is right on the mark, no matter how much tacit (read: silent) support the protesters might claim.

  • Laura
    16 May 2011 at 20:44
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    It’s interesting that you don’t report on the 10 000 students marching in November or the 250 000 people on the TUC march or Rod Thornton’s suspension, but this stat is considered important news…

  • Stuart Neyton
    16 May 2011 at 20:52
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    Laura makes a fantastic point. Several hundred of us marched across campus calling for the reinstatement of Dr Thornton, which got us national media coverage. Yet Impact doesn’t seem to have covered anything about this story at all. This is important because one very fundamental thing, the principle of academic freedom, is at stake with this entire case.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 May 2011 at 20:56
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    You’re making the fundamental error of assuming that the Thornton story hasn’t been covered because of some agenda on our part, as opposed to the fact that we all have exams. Barmy.

  • Bruno
    16 May 2011 at 23:04
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  • dan
    17 May 2011 at 01:07
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    There is a huge danger though the Rod Thornton debate wouldn’t be covered despite running locally, nationally and internationally. There is still plenty of time to cover it. It would be more likely that the article wouldn’t run due to the backlog at the magazine or the political nature of the suspension.

    The strikes weren’t mentioned before or at the time by Impact. That wasn’t during the exam period but was a political decision by the editorial staff, just like running articles, only by the Ed about the perceived failure of the strikes.

    Coleman is bapping outta here in a tiffin too. 🙁

    • Dave Jackson
      17 May 2011 at 04:34
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      You’d be surprised at just how few ‘political’ decisions are made here – the diverse nature of the magazine means that trying to have that sort of editorial slant at the moment wouldn’t really work. You’re speculating that we’ve deliberately suppressed stories on protests, but I can assure you that at no point has that happened.

  • Eric John
    17 May 2011 at 01:46
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    Can I just point out that Impact News hasn’t stopped looking for contributors? If you want to read something on the Thornton story and you see us “failing” to do so, you can also write something yourself and send it in, especially if you were actually at the protest. We appreciate constructive criticism, but we’d love it if you guys actually got involved. Our doors are always open.

  • Settit
    17 May 2011 at 22:57
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    Laura and Stuart, fear not someone on News is covering the story and it’ll be in the next issue of Impact (I think its front page too)

  • Claire
    18 May 2011 at 10:18
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    I’m not at the University of Nottingham but stumbled across this story. Actually, it’s a refreshing take on things because it is actually backed by figures. THE covergage inlcuded emotive quotes without evidence such as Byrne stating that there was “a very good level of support from members who attended picket lines”. UCU’s national press releases on support levels were simply ficticious. Regardless of how you feel about this important issue (and there are a lot of fence-sitters, including students who don’t want UCU strikes to target them) it is important to back stories with evidence and the FOI numbers did that.

  • Spencer Mawby
    18 May 2011 at 10:52
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    Speaking as a lecturer who was on strike this looks like a depressing piece of student journalism.

    I don’t actually know what the figure of 3,644 staff who were ‘eligible to strike’ means but I am certain it does not mean UCU members. Does it perhaps mean the number of staff who are eligible to join the union? If so it is hardly surprising that the large number of staff who have chosen not to join the union, either because they are opposed to trade unionism or because they feel themselves in too vulnerable a position to join, also chose not to strike. I imagine most readers of the article will have been left with rather a hazy impression as to what this figure actually represents.

    The figure for those on strike is also misleading. There is no explanation for how it has been calculated so I can only guess that it is the number of staff who contacted Human Resources to assert that they were on strike so that the University could dock their pay. It is perfectly legitimate for the University to do this but I imagine most readers would have been keen to know of the substantial financial disincentive for staff to acknowledge their participation. Furthermore, strike action raises unique problems for the significant number of academic staff who are on study leave or on a research day. One of my colleagues for example was confronted with the dilemma of whether to continue her research in an archive in Paris on the days of the strike. Clearly staff in this position cannot take strike action in the normal way and are confronted with a dilemma of whether to pay a substantial penalty despite their inability to take effective action.

    Mike Byrne’s point was of course to encourage members to fulfil their responsibilities and inform the University that they were taking strike action and accept the financial penalty. But the notion propagated here that people may not have actually noticed the strike is preposterous given the very effective presence of staff on picket lines on both mornings. In my own school, History, it was evident that the strike did have a substantial impact on the timetabling of classes. Like most of my colleagues I was apologetic about this but it did at least provoke some debate about the issues at stake.

    Which brings me to the most depressing aspect of Impact’s coverage which is of course the complete lack of interest shown in what the strike was actually about. Perhaps the days are gone when students and staff felt some sense of solidarity and obligation towards one another; but I hope that students can at least acknowledge that the staff at the university are working people and that the nature of the pension provision made for them in old age is an important issue. Whether they agree with the strike or not I imagine most students do have some interest in informing themselves about the issues which are confronting the employees of the university, none of whom like taking strike action. My view is that Impact has a responsibility to help them do this. Of course that is presumptuous of me because it isn’t a newspaper for me. But I am still surprised that this is the best it can do.

  • Tim Edwards
    19 May 2011 at 11:18
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    I had two lectures on the day of the strike. Upon turning up at each of them I asked both lecturers jokingly why they didn’t fancy striking. One of them laughed and asked me if I had a cigarette, the other just rolled his eyes and asked me to take a seat.

    I’m still yet to speak to a friend who saw any picket lines or a staff presence behind them (including History students).

    Would be interesting to hear a lecturer involved in the strike to tell us what might be done to mobilize his or her colleagues into striking more effectively, and to avoid another strike that has by and large only had students talking about it because so many simply didn’t notice it was happening and had to be told.

    If the strike had been effective in the first place they wouldn’t need Impact in the slightest to help inform students.

  • Dave Jackson
    19 May 2011 at 18:57
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    Spencer, I feel I need to answer a couple of your points.

    It’s an enormous copout to say that 94% of staff didn’t take part in strike action because they weren’t members of the UCU. That argument, taken to its natural conclusion, must be that the UCU does not represent the interests of a massive amount of staff – surely a more embarrassing revelation than poor turnout for a strike.

    Either way, I think it’s totally fair to use the amount of staff who ‘could’ have gone on strike as the benchmark. If the UCU had one member in a university with 100 academic staff, for example, would it be more appropriate/informative to say that 100% of staff turned out for the strike, or 1%? Which figure would leave the more hazy impression?

    The amount of disruption to the university (ie the ‘point’ of a strike) is better measured by the total number of staff on strike, not the ability of the UCU to mobilise its own members. On the latter point, the lukewarm response in the ballot of UCU members surely says something, anyway.

    As for the ‘He’s only taking into account the people who let the university know’ argument – it’s ludicrous to suggest that I do anything otherwise. It’s not a strike if you just don’t go into work and don’t let anyone know – it’s just bunking off for a day with full pay. It’s absurd to think that the university should be paying staff to not work.

    And if that’s not enough, the UCU’s official advice (both on the UCU website and in my previous article on this subject) is for staff to inform the university that they had taken part in the strike. Judging by the number of people who have told me that it’s wrong for me to only count the number of people that had their pay docked, I can only assume that a not insubstantial amount of those ‘on strike’ were really just throwing an elaborate sickie. I doubt those students who ‘did’ have their lectures cancelled would show much sympathy to the staff members who went down this route.

    Certainly Impact wouldn’t have a ‘responsibility’, as you so claim, to support that particular enterprise.

    • Tim Edwards
      21 May 2011 at 15:57
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      ‘Fingers Jackson Fan Club’ strikes again

  • @Jacko
    19 May 2011 at 22:29
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  • michael
    20 May 2011 at 17:22
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    @ DJ

    I usually disagree with everything dave writes, but this is definitely 1-0 to the chief

  • Rob
    27 May 2011 at 01:05
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    Wow a lot of fucking scabs at Notts. And im sure plenty of students turned scummy and crossed the picket line (excluding those who live on campus).

  • Matt
    27 May 2011 at 13:18
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    Well given that none of my lecturers went on strike, that not striking by myself or my lecturers would only have had a negative effect on my degree and none on the university, and most importantly that there was no picket line for me to cross despite coming from off campus, yes, I came in.

    Also, given that the UCU has made no attempt (or one so insignificant that barely any students have seen it) to explain their reason for striking to people on campus, and that vary few staff appear to have even voted in the strike ballot, and a fair chunk of them voting against, I can only assume whatever changes are being made aren’t as bad as some people are trying to claim, otherwise more of the affected staff would care…

  • rob
    28 May 2011 at 22:06
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    Hey ‘Matt’. By the sounds of it you knew there was a strike. I hope you never pay off your student debt you fucking SCAB!

  • Matthew Cronin
    29 May 2011 at 08:12
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    I’m not a member of the UCU, and looking at the numbers who voted/striked they only represent a minority of the staff. Why should I support a strike they call, especially if they don’t bother explaining to the students they want it to affect why they’re doing it.

    If they want to protest, why don’t the lecturers refuse to engage in any research or publish any material until their demands are met? They’re happy to withhold teaching, and now apparently marking and admissions work, to the detriment of students, but unless they’re willing to equally disadvantage their own work then they can go and do one, to be honest.

    From the bits the BBC has published about these changes they’re fighting, I don’t even really see that it’s that unreasonable. It stands to reason that if the time people are claiming pensions for rises because they live longer, and there’s an aging population, the system needs more money from somewhere.

    To be honest, ‘Rob’, people like you are the reason for the lack of respect for the trade union movement in this country, and a reason why there aren’t more people at the university who are members of/actively involved in the UCU.

    • rob
      29 May 2011 at 11:59
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      Why should you support strike action. Why indeed. Maybe because attacks on the education system are not isolated instances. Maybe because UCU staff getting screwed over is going to impact like a chain reaction and make Universities worse.

      Your suggestions about striking during reseach underline your little knowledge of striking tactics. Unions defend their members terms, conditions and pay. Strikes are used as a last collective bargaining tool. To make it a sharp tool. You have to strike at a time when its likely to cause the maximum amount of pressure to management. UCU stiking over the summer would make no impact at all. During term time is the best timing UCU could call. While at Notts maybe its to be debated about how useful it ended up. Around the country it got a better reaction. Myabe Nottingham is just full of m/c apolitical small c conservatives.

      Also, its me, me ,me with students isnt it. FFS this is real bloody life. UCU had a website, the pickets that did exist would of had literature to give out. Im sorry for telling you this, but in the build up of members staring down the barrel of a significant attack on them, coupled with two days of lost pay. I think complaining that they didnt go to the ends of the earht letting every student know the ins and outs of why they were striking is a tad bit self centred.

      I think it is people like you. With you conservatism, your selfishness and you apolitical moaning is a reason why the trade union movement has declined. Its everyone for themselves right? No solidarity and hey the logic of global capitalism is right, yeah. They screw up, we pay for it, right, why fight back and fight for our selves?

      Matt, if you are a student. Please be a little bit less slef-centred and realise that when you ghet a job, considerations and priorities change when you get attacked in the workplace. Crossing that line shows what a self-centred, selfish and reactionary person you are.

      • David Kingaby
        29 May 2011 at 13:00
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        The lecturers had no qualms about disadvantaging students for THEIR own personal gain. Why should we sit up and say “sure, I don’t mind missing out the the final few lectures of my modules right before the exams so that you can insist the university spend more on you, without specifying the location of the funding that must be cut to allow this increase in spending on you. I also don’t mind having my degree delayed significantly; disadvantaging me greatly in my first real job search. VIVA LA RESISTANCE!”.

        We also received no formal support during the student fees protests.

        In summary, the lecturers who would expect student support can go fuck themselves.

        David Kingaby.

        • rob
          29 May 2011 at 20:08
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          Wow, you certainly dont know shit do you. Did you bother looking up what they were striking over. It wasnt a ‘we want more money’. It was a strike firstly against changes to the USS Pension scheme which was going to screw a large number of UCU over by reducing the amount they recieve. Furthermore there was no consultation with UCU about the changes. This was the central focus of one of the strike days.

          Furthermore staff are facing paycuts. Also jobs are seriously on the line. So not only would staff get paid less, they would have to do more, and some of them wouldnt evewn have a job! It even means, you moaning students would get a craper education system, less contact hours, craper feedback and a further diminished degree.

          I think facing a serious attack on pay, terms and conditions and jobs that kind of overrules your slight disadvantage to re-arranging a few lectures.

          Also, this BS about ‘personal gain’ is what the ruling interests in the world want everyone to think. It would make things easier for them. As when fees go up, everyone thinks its only a student issue. When thousands of jobs go at uni, this too, must only be a staff issue. An attack on one is an attack on all. Thanks for the selfish lack of solidarity. Hope you cant pay your fees back and the job you get gives you terrible conditions.

          • David Kingaby
            30 May 2011 at 11:32

            I will now present an argument by analogy.

            You are in a bank. You have just made a large deposit into the bank.
            A man walks in and shows you papers proving that without warning, the bank has lowered his interest rate and is refusing to raise it again.
            Well, that sucks! Everyone agrees, the bank should not have done this to the man. What dickheads! Maybe it has been a tough year, and they don’t have the money to pay the interest they had initially claimed, but I’m sure they could find it somewhere, right?
            Anyway, the man is convinced that the bank have to continue to pay him the prior amount of interest. They must have the money somewhere! He pulls out a gun, and holds it to your head.
            Well bugger me, this is a most disagreeable turn of events! For you! Not quite so much the bank; the gun isn’t pointing at any of their tellers and the bank has just taken YOUR hefty deposit, whatever the man does to you. The man is not threatening to change banks nor to withdraw his current investment in the bank.
            But yeah, of course you should stand firm and support the man with the gun! HE WAS WRONGED! Pointing this gun at you is of course the natural action, you feel heartfelt support for the poor man, wronged as he is. Solidarity.
            Who cares that the man didn’t say anything when the bank suddenly started charging new customers an up-front fee to open accounts. He wasn’t affected by this. But even though you aren’t directly affected by his interest rates, YOU SHOULD SUPPORT HIM.

            Now, I know for a fact that in my heart of hearts, I would not be routing for the man with the gun to my head. In my personal don’t-like-being-taken-hostage world, this man can bugger off, why the fuck would the bank give a damn about me when they don’t give a damn about this guy.

            Leaving the analogy behind; this is about money. This is about money being a finite resource. You’re at a picnic and everyones thirsty and you have a small jug of water. WELL WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU BRING A TAP?! If staff want no pay-cuts, no pension cuts, no layoffs and job security for all eternity, thats alot of water. (I’ve switched analogy). Where should this come from?

            Student activities?
            Research grants?

            Present your alternative.

          • David Kingaby
            30 May 2011 at 11:38


            If the staff were planning to rearrange the lectures they refused to teach, surely then they are not actually doing anything? “SUBMIT TO OUR DEMANDS OR WE’LL DO TODAY’S WORK TOMORROW, WHILE STILL DOING TOMORROW’S WORK TOMORROW! Then we will be back on track, AND YOU WILL HAVE FELT OUR WRATH!”

          • Matt
            30 May 2011 at 12:56

            In fact, if strikers were to re-arrange teaching that fell on strike days, then not only are they having no effect on the running of the university, they’re actually saving the university money by taking unpaid days off and catching up on work another day.

            Maybe next strike ballot you’ll even find the vice chancellor voting in favour with that logic…

      • Matt
        30 May 2011 at 12:43
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        Rob: “Your suggestions about striking during reseach underline your little knowledge of striking tactics. ”

        Rob: “I think facing a serious attack on pay, terms and conditions and jobs that kind of overrules your slight disadvantage to re-arranging a few lectures. ”

        Sorry, who doesn’t understand strike tactics?

        • Rob
          2 June 2011 at 11:39
          Leave a Reply

          David. That analogy is ridiculous and frankly analogies can be used to prove or set up the rules of discourse in one sides favour. I dont use them, or respond to them, it is terrible politics for anyone of any stripe to use analogies.

          Money is a construction, its not like gold where there actually is x number of gold in the world. Money is often invented and disappears, the global economy is not necessarily restricted on creating more wealth if it wanted to. My suggestion for the short term. Collect tax off tax evaders and tax the super rich more.

          Not all lecturers would of re-arranged lectures, some did, maybe because they have a personal connection with certain students. UCU are a naturally weak union. They arent able to screw things up much, they arent RMT. So striking is pretty weak, its more of a message and a way to build confidence to create a more significant challenge when the time comes to fight back big time.

          So a strike shouldnt be supported because it hurts people. I mean when RMT strike on the underground, lots of money is lost. Are they to wrong to strike. It comes down to this, an attack on one is an attack on all. If you dont agree with this fine. But If you marched against fees and cuts and didnt support UCU you have no right to complain about anything to do with the way Universities are going. Obviously if you have no problem with all this, then thats consistent. But there cannot be isolated picking and choosing what to support. Against fees, for the UCU strikes. There is no other way.

          Oh and Dave Jackson. Ever heard of the 1982 Employment Act? That will explain why UCU didnt strike for political reasons.

          • David Kingaby
            6 June 2011 at 00:31

            Sorry to hear that you wont be replying. Your idea that the university should just create some money to pay the staff pension is wonderful, why did no-one think of this sooner?


  • Matt
    29 May 2011 at 22:07
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    David has touched on this above, but I think it needs saying again, just incase you missed it. You seem to think that we as students are duty bound by the vote of 5% of staff to go on ‘strike’ in solidarity. For staff to go on strike, they sacrifice a couple of days pay, if they bother to inform the university. Final year students skipping the last teaching sessions of their degree can easily drop a degree classification as a result. This can affect their whole career, earning prospects and what they will eventually get in retirement. Further to this, the UCU propose to refuse to mark papers, and delay graduations. This puts the affected graduates at a severe disadvantage in the current jobs market. Two days pay is nothing by comparison. Now, lets consider the effect this will have on the university, who you claim is the real target rather than the students. We have paid our tuition fees, we will not get a refund for any lectures ‘withheld’ by striking staff, and so it has no financial impact on them. Students who might apply next year, and be affected by UCU action, will not be put off from the university of their choice. Again, the students will be affected at a difficult time of their life, and the university merely inconvenienced. ‘Sharp bargaining tool’? I bet they’re quaking in their boots. So, we’ve covered the teaching and admissions that the UCU is so keen to disrupt for the benefit of their members, and it’s looking like they’re happy to screw over the students (who should of course be joyfully accepting all this in ‘solidarity’) for some moderate inconvenience for the university. Now lets think about the other function of universities, which brings in vastly more in revenue and international prestige, and that lecturers can directly cut the university off from: research output. If the lecturers really give a shit, this is the sharpest tool they have. Stop conducting and publishing research, and the university will take notice. Will the UCU do this? Of course not, because it’s not good for an academic’s career. People like you will happily advocate screwing with students degree results and career prospects because you think we should show ‘solidarity’ with the lecturers who are taking a couple of days unpaid (if they’re honest enough) holiday (I didn’t see and 200 strong picket lines, or any at all for that matter). ‘Me me me’, ‘self-centred’, ‘selfish’? I think you might be confusing which side that applies to here.

    You think that I shouldn’t be complaining about the lack of publicity by striking staff explaining their actions, yet you demand student support for them. For the reasons I’ve explained above, their actions then and proposed actions for the future can have a serious effect on student’s education. If they think they can sacrifice us to further their cause without doing their utmost to go out and explain why, not rely on students to go find out for themselves, then as David says, they can do one to be honest. The only ‘reactionary’ opinions here are yours on students obligations to unquestioningly support this.

    So really the UCU should consider sacrificing more than a couple of days of pay before getting others to make sacrifices for them. And maybe do a better job of publicising the fully costed alternative to the proposed changes than they have done so far, then maybe they’ll get a ‘better reception’ everywhere.

  • Dave Jackson
    30 May 2011 at 10:56
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    Out of interest, Rob, did the lecturers go on strike over the proposed increase in tuition fees? Solidarity, and all that.

  • Dave Jackson
    30 May 2011 at 11:57
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    Also to clarify in response to the “slight disadvantage to re-arranging a few lectures” that Rob talks about, the UCU told staff not to rearrange lectures that had been cancelled. Anybody taking part in the strike who complied with UCU guidelines would not rearrange the lectures.

  • Claire Taylor
    15 June 2011 at 14:37
    Leave a Reply

    Just to clarify a few things, re things suggested above.

    There were indeed pickets on all entrances from early morning to midday on both strike days and they were large and visible, handing out leaflets continuously. In other words, every single person entering the campus between 8.00 and 12.00 knew that we were on strike and had the opportunity to engage with us.

    The picket lines were legally to pursuade UCU staff not to enter, not students or non-UCU staff (although the fact that many in both categories didn’t cross is great). A student or non-UCU staff member crossing a picket line is not a ‘scab’, because they are not in the same union as the striking workers.

    UCU cannot legally strike over tuition fees. All members can do – and did, and continue to do – is attend marches etc. on the issue and campaign in other ways.

    It is difficult for the UCU to communicate what it is doing and why to non-UCU staff or to students because the university doesn’t give it access to its e-mail lists. So it relies on posters, leaflets and word-of-mouth, which is haphazard at best given the numbers of people it would like to reach. This is why picket lines are important – hence my point above.

  • ONLY 6?!
    14 February 2012 at 22:31
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    Only 6 percent?! If something only has 6 percent of engagement, it clearly does not have much support!

  • Nigel Elms
    19 June 2016 at 14:11
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