Picket lines were set up at the main University of Nottingham campuses earlier today, as members of the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike. From 7am until 10am, strikers stood at the North, South and West entrances to University Park, and the main entrances to Jubilee and Sutton Bonington Campus.
The President of the UCU association at the University, Professor Andreas Bieler, told Impact that the strikes were in response to the “attack on pensions in higher education and the changes being imposed by employers”, and that he hoped to achieve “renewed negotiations of the changes to the pensions scheme.” However, he added that he was also aiming to raise awareness not just of the pensions system, but also of broader issues in higher education, including the increases in tuition fees.
Several students in support of the strikes stood at the picket lines at the North Entrance to University Park. One of those was Stuart Neyton, who joined as a show of solidarity with striking lecturers: “Like us, they’re being ideologically attacked by this government. We are being asked to pay for an economic mess we didn’t cause through higher pension contributions and tuition fee rises. I think solidarity between students, lecturers, workers and the unemployed is vital if we want to succeed in resisiting austerity.” He said that the response to their presence was mainly positive, although he added that he and one other student had been removed from campus by Security for “flyering people coming off the 34 buses”.
(Professor Bieler at the South Entrance)
Professor Bieler said that support from colleagues and students had generally been good. He said that the UCU had tried to liase with and inform students through an open forum and by handing out leaflets. “We appreciate that some students may be anxious about potential impact on their degrees as a result of industrial action – we want to cooperate with them, but also make them understand that it’s not us causing the conflict, but it’s actually us responding to the imposition of changes”. He added that he wouldn’t have “any kind of controversies” with students who chose to cross the picket lines to attend lectures or seminars.
(Mr Stevenson and his daughter)
Joining the picketers at the South Gate entrance to University Park was Nick Stevenson, a reader in Cultural Sociology at the University. Mr Stevenson believed that most people had been very supportive of the action taken: “Not everyone in my department is a union member but most people are, and when we had a ballot the vast majority of people voted for a one day strike. I know there’s been lots of questioning about the legitimacy of today, but there’s a clear majority that voted in favour of the strike and it’s their right to take action.”
A similar UCU strike over pensions took place in March this year. Figures obtained by Impact suggested that only 6% of staff eligible to strike did so. However, Mr Stevenson was optimistic that this strike had more support from members of the University. He also felt it would be different because it was in support of fellow public sector workers. “We weren’t linking with other workers last time we were taking action… so today is probably more important in that respect.”
His young daughter, who was off school due to the strikes, joined him in handing out flyers to passers by. Mr Stevenson said: “[Standing here] is sending a message to anyone who happens to be walking past that there’s action going on across the city of Nottingham today. We’re just asking people to think about what’s going on.”