UCU members make their voices heard on the picket

By Rothery Sullivan

University staff UCU members have picketed the University amidst a series of strikes related to pay and pensions.

The University and College Union went on strike on 24 November, 25 November and 30 November. The strike included staff from 150 universities across the UK, making it the “biggest ever” university strike in the UK. 

The UCU strike was in response to the way the cost of living crisis has impacted university staff. This year, employers implemented a 3% pay rise, against a roughly 11% inflation rate. The strike was also in response to pension and benefit cuts; according to the UCU website, the “cuts made earlier this year will see the average member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income.” 

Unite the Union, which represents non-academic staff including technicians, operational staff and admin staff, was also on strike at the University for the first time since 2015.

Picket lines, made up of both students and staff, were formed across four main locations on the University of Glasgow campus: the Adam Smith Building, the University Main Gate, the James McCune Smith Learning Hub and the University Library. Groups in attendance at the strikes included the UCU, Unite the Union, University of Glasgow Student Solidarity Coalition, and Glasgow Strike Solidarity. 

Dr Vladimir Unkovski-Korica, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, served as a spokesperson for the UCU strikers at the Main Gate picket line. When asked about the importance of this season’s strikes, Unkovski-Korica told The Glasgow Guardian, “We’re fighting for the future of higher education. With our pensions being severely cut, with pay being systematically degraded for over a decade, with various inequalities in the workplace with rampant overwork and casualisation, I think the future of the higher education sector is under threat. People may think that it’s better to work elsewhere.” 

Unkovski-Korica also described how the 40% increase in student numbers has contributed to the need for strike action: “There are larger student numbers and fewer staff to do the work, which obviously has an impact on the student experience . . . Workloads are through the roof – that certainly has to do with student numbers.” He continued, “I know some people who write to me saying they work until midnight quite a lot just to get stuff done.”

Another UCU member who is currently a research student who works as a tutor for the University, also went on strike last year as a student as an undergraduate at Edinburgh University, yet noted that this year she was striking due to her own pension being cut. Sara stated, “My contract at the moment gives me work some months and then over months where I don’t have work I’m left floating. Especially in the cost of living crisis, it’s really hard.”

There was an increase in student involvement with the strikes this year compared to previous years. A striking member from Unite noted to The Glasgow Guardian that “it’s vital that [students and staff] are all in this together. Our working conditions are your learning conditions. If we’re not all in it together we aren’t likely to see a positive outcome.” A fellow Unite member added that the student action on campus was “heartening”, and that, “A couple decades ago … I remember just a general sense of schism between university staff and students. Students back then were tending to react in a hostile way because strikes were affecting them in a negative way, but what I think is happening now is that the younger generation is more politically aware.” 

Students showed their support on campus through the University of Glasgow Student Solidarity Coalition and Glasgow Strike Solidarity. A student who was striking with Glasgow Strike Solidarity also revealed frustration with the 40% increase in student numbers. Jude stated, “The fact that the uni let in so many students shows that money is their main priority.” 

A spokesperson from the UofG Student Solidarity Coalition also told The Glasgow Guardian that the size of the picket lines “really shows the anger around how tragically staff are being treated by, not just Glasgow University, but every university across the country.” 

Paul Sweeney, Labour & Co-op MSP was in attendance at the picket line at the University Main Gate. Sweeney noted, “We must end the wealth extracting structure of higher education in Britain.”

The atmosphere on campus was full of energy and noise, from cars honking in support to singing radiating from the main campus. The picket lines did disrupt some students from attending class, with one student stating, “I just got here and saw [the protestors]. We can’t get in – only if we physically push through them – and I really don’t want to do that because I do support the strikes. I think I’m going to end up missing class.” 


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Colin McCulloh

What an amazing article! They gave a voice to the strikers and really covered all corners of the issue. Those of us who couldn’t be there in person can really get a sense of what it was like and how much support there was for the staff. Hope to see more articles from this writer!