Academics and academic-related professional services staff across the UK will once again be leading the fight against neoliberalism, marketisation, and commercialisation. University and College Union (UCU) members at 74 university campuses will be on the picket line across four weeks of escalating strike action later this term.
There will be 14 days of action in total, beginning on the 20th February, and ending with a week-long walkout from 9th March to 13th March. There are two mandates for strike action at Lancaster University: over the pension scheme USS, and over the 'four fights' - pay, equality, casualisation, and workloads. UCU members at Lancaster walked out for eight days last term, from 24th November to 4th December.
Spineless has previously covered the second report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), which examined and criticised the governance of the USS pension scheme. The group Divest USS has been organised to try to force the pension scheme to divest from over £1 billion in fossil fuels, £400 million in tobacco companies, and £200 million in arms manufacturers.
The decision to strike was made by UCU's Higher Education Committee (HEC), on which Lancaster UCU branch president Dr Julie Hearn sits. It follows negotiations over both USS and the 'four fights'. UCU's four fights negotiators released a statement on their progress on 27th January:
We believe that we can achieve more in further negotiations, and that this offer does not yet meet our members’ justified demands, nor progress for the HE sector. It cannot represent a win for members who have taken – or will take – part in industrial action.
The higher education sector has been one of the frontlines of the labour movement for some time, taking the fight to management and against creeping privatisation. It is a fertile ground for grassroots trade unions like United Voices of the World (UVW) and Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB). Spineless recently covered the police intimidation directed towards striking UVW members at St George's, University of London, which resulted in their head of legal being arrested then de-arrested.
IWGB led the biggest strike of outsourced workers in higher education in November 2019 at University College London (UCL), while UVW was the first union to beat outsourcing at London School of Economics (LSE) in 2017. It is clear grassroots trade unionism activism works on University campuses. UCU members should remember that 'The longer the picket line, the shorter the strike', and should encourage their colleagues to join the union and to strike on the strike days. Only collectively can academics and academic-related staff stick it to the fat cats on D Floor.
During the previous industrial action at the end of last term, Lancaster University UCU organised regular teach-outs at the Gregson Centre. These teach-outs were on topics as wide ranging as bullying, managerialism, the climate emergency, institutional racism, and the marketisation of higher education. News has reached Spineless that one of the teach-outs this year could be a workshop on organising private renters put on by the newly-founded Acorn Lancaster and Morecambe.
The decision for further strike action comes when student dissatisfaction with Lancaster University is at a high, following the Sugarhouse Scandal last term and the refusal to declare a Climate Emergency (or even involve students in the discussions). Undoubtedly, students at Lancaster have developed a greater understanding in the past few months of exactly whose side University management are on.