Staff at the University of Glasgow today joined colleagues across the UK in a coordinated strike action over pay. Members of the University and College Union (UCU), Unite and UNISON called for industrial action following the rejection of a 1% pay rise offered by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).
The University library was closed from 11pm on 30 October and is expected to remain closed until 1 November. This ran contrary to information posted by library staff on social media as late as 5pm on 30 October, which suggested self-service would remain available.
Confirmation of the closure wasn’t made public until posted on the library’s Twitter account at around 7am. However many students only discovered the closure when they arrived in person to be confronted by a locked door and a picket line. An email confirming the library closure was not sent from the University until 12:23pm.
Many students deemed this an insufficient response, particularly those which deadlines after 31 October. Commenting about the library situation on Facebook, student John Jørgensen-McAllister said: “I must have missed the advance email about this closure – oh wait there wasn’t one. They didn’t just find this out today so this is pretty poor. This is the one day I needed to access a book that is on hold for me which is essential for an essay due on Monday. Can’t make it any other day, bloody typical. Poor, poor communication”.
Principal Anton Muscatelli had previously warned of disruption due to the strike in a campus-wide email to University students and staff on 24 October. At the time, precise details of how University facilities might be affected were unknown and there were no specific warnings. This email also granted twenty-four hours grace to students submitting coursework on 31 October. In the subsequent seven days leading up to the strike, the University offered no further information to students by email.
Another student Nicholas Divers commented: “Thanks for letting us know about this six hours before you actually shut the library. Travelled there tonight as I have an essay due tomorrow (no extension given) to find you’re shut. Had I had an email about this or been notified sooner, I’d have made alternative arrangements. Thanks a bunch!”
Other students voiced support for striking staff and even joined them on picket lines. The unions claim the lack of a reasonable pay rise offer equals a 13% wage cut in real terms since 2008. Between them, the unions represent staff across the higher education sector, including lecturers, researchers, technicians laboratory assistants, librarians, managers, administrators, IT and support staff.
Aside from the library, many other University services appeared unaffected. The Student Services centre in the Fraser building was open for business, the University Reading Room remained open and the SRC minibus service continued to operate. Some lectures also continued to be held throughout the day for those staff members who are not members of the unions.
Striking staff manned picket lines at the various University entrances from 8am, with the largest group of around fifty present at the main gate on University Avenue.
Speaking to Glasgow Guardian, UCU branch president for the University of Glasgow, Dr Iain Banks, said that he wanted the unions’ action to have the minimum possible impact on students: “We want to make sure that the impact, as far as we can insure it, is going to be very much on the administration and the management of the University.”
Unions claim that universities have the funds available to make a substantially better offer than the 1%. The UCEA answers that they have twice improve their offer, and that a 1% rise is the most generous deal they can agree to.
Dr Banks continued: “We are very apologetic to the students, it will impact upon them. We are trying to make sure [the disruption] is as limited as we can possibly make it without it being made completely ineffective.”
Dr Banks also suggested that whilst today’s strike will make the headlines, subsequent industrial action is likely to take other forms, partly to minimise impact upon students. He said: “I think [the dispute] probably will be protracted and what you will see is action short of a strike… what will get dropped is the administration – so it’s the management that are going to see that as an ongoing dispute and the students shouldn’t actually notice that it’s happening.”
It is as yet unclear how many University staff did strike today, but nationwide it is estimated to be well into the thousands. Around 17,800 people voted across the three unions for the strike action to take place.