UCU members are taking strike action across the University for eight working days from Monday 25th November.
We support the strike!
UNISON members at the University voted 78% in favour of strike action over pay, with a 51% turnout. Our members feel exasperated about real-terms pay falling over the last ten years and wanted to campaign for something better, but the fact that UNISON nationally did not achieve a turnout above 50% means that we can’t legally organise for strike action.
However, we absolutely support UCU’s strike and we’ll do everything we can, legally, to make the strike successful and bring the employers’ body back to the negotiating table for meaningful talks over pay and the other issues that UCU are striking over.
UNISON remains in dispute and will continue to do so until this is resolved. We are happy to talk to the employers’ organisation (UCEA) to resolve this dispute, but we cannot accept another year of pay cuts.
Please read carefully our guidance on what UNISON members can and cannot do during the strike.
UCU picket lines
We expect UCU members to form picket lines at each University entrance. These will be UCU members who are tasked with asking others to join them in refusing to work that day.
Picket lines always come with strikes. The idea is that some union members (and some people who could and arguably should be union members) will not want to lose pay and join the strike, so the pickets are there to try to persuade them to join in. In fact UCU members who do go into work are not accepting the democracy of their union which did vote overwhelmingly to strike. We’d politely encourage them to join their fellow UCU members.
Some workplaces have a tradition of one union and one solid picket line. Brighton bin workers take strike action by forming one mass picket at the depot gates. (The police know better than to make a fuss about the number of pickets.) Some sections of workers have a long tradition of respecting picket lines and not exercising the individual “right to work.” The tradition of the organised working class is that you have no right to deliberately weaken the strike if your union has democratically voted to take action, just as you have no right to strike if it hasn’t.
(The “right to work” is a Thatcherite expression that was designed to promote the individual rights over the collective, which suited a government trying to break strikes. Ironically, mass unemployment meant that millions of workers had no right to work during large parts of the 1980s.)
It’s a slightly different situation at the University, with a history of different strikes over various issues and multiple entrances at each University site.
What makes this complicated is the fact that there are two unions at the University, one with a legal strike mandate (UCU) and one without (UNISON). This is further complicated by the overlap of potential membership. (Whilst we say that UNISON is the union for support staff, UCU will accept membership applications from support staff above a certain grade.)
So, the picket line is there primarily so that strikers can ask academic staff and UCU members (and potential members) not to cross it.
For UNISON members, it will be necessary to work on strike days, unless you’re on leave or off sick, and if we need to cross the picket lines then we’ll explain the situation, whilst adding that we fully support what UCU strikers are doing. Going into work does not mean that we don’t support the strike.
Whilst UCU pickets may ask us to stay away from work on strike days, they will respect the fact that as UNISON members, we have no legal mandate to do so.
UCU strikers will welcome anything we can do to show solidarity. This could mean bringing pickets cups of tea or stopping for five minutes to talk to them. If UCU organise events during strike days then we can attend them, provided we’re doing so in our own time.
Given that UCU strikers will be losing eight days’ worth of pay, we’d encourage all UNISON members to consider donating to their hardship fund which is designed to alleviate some of the worst cases of UCU members managing without being paid.
The web address is https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/brighton-ucu
If we are asked to specifically cover the work of a UCU striker, then there is grounds to suggest that this request may be unreasonable. Managers should know that trying to get you to cover for a striking colleague is inappropriate, and they should not ask you to do work that a striking UCU member would have done.
Obviously, we are obliged to carry out “reasonable management instructions” and may be asked to do work as a result of the strike. If you have any doubt, please contact us for advice.
Students and non-union members
If students ask, we should explain that UCU have voted to strike and that whilst we have also voted to strike, the method by which we held our ballot (aggregate rather than disaggregate) prevents us from taking action. We support UCU and would urge students to support them as well. It is in the interests of students that all university staff are well motivated and properly paid.
As always, we think that non-union members should join one. If UCU members succeed in winning a better deal over pay, we will all benefit.
We appreciate that this is a complicated situation. If you have any questions at all then please feel free to contact your local steward or branch rep.