Today was an important day – probably the most crucial day of our strike action so far. As probably all of you know, UCU and UUK reached a proposed agreement that went out yesterday evening. Response on Twitter was strong and consistent, but many of us were worried and confused. Was this really the deal we took such unprecedented action over? And what were the implications for us, our students, our employers, and the public by rejecting such a deal?
This was the feeling on the picket lines this morning, and no amount of home baking could soothe the unease. Nick Russell, our Cardiff UCU delegate, was already on the train to London to carry our response to UCU headquarters and the Higher Education Committee. So what would we tell him?
Move 1 – Responding to the offer
We met at the Cathays Community Centre, but strong numbers meant we had to move on. The bingo hall has a limit of 200, and given our impeccable attendance at rallies and pickets, it’s no surprise we exceeded that. We took a slow march to Alexandra Gardens, where several members expressed their views: their determination to reject, their ambivalence about the deal, and their constructive desire to accept as a step to greater change. It was then put to a vote (with our feet), and the 250 members in the park gave an unambiguous steer: Cardiff University UCU rejects the proposed agreement. See the attached document for a more thorough summary of that decision.
Move 2 – Lobbying the politicians
We then piled on coaches, bicycles, and other sets of wheels to meet outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. The sun sparkled on the water and warmed our faces, and we had a warm reception, too. Trade union representatives were there in solidarity, and politicians from Labour and Plaid Cymru came out on the steps to speak to us. They told us they understood our difficulties, that we were right to reject the offer, and that they would support us to get an acceptable deal. Throughout, we heard a litany of responses from other UCU branches who sent representatives to the Higher Education Committee meeting – at least 47 branches rejected. UCU rejected the offer, noting an ‘overwhelming’ response to reject from the members.
Some of us took the chance to speak with individual AMs and press our case. We received support and also good advice, such as building bridges with Scottish branches and organising a meeting of Wales vice-chancellors at the government’s behest. All ideas that we can take forward, because the fight is on in earnest, now.
Move 3 – Listening to the students
Many of us are worried about what we now say to our students. We have rejected a deal that would have brought us back to work this week. Some staff attended the teach-out sessions on neoliberalism at the Cathays Methodist Church. Alongside diverting discussions from Jan Machielsen about spin and discourse during the Protestant Reformation and from Val Walkerdine and Surhan Cam about the individualising aspects of neoliberalism – how it erodes our mutuality – we had constructive workshops with students, postgrads & precarious workers, and academic staff. This was our first chance to talk with students about this.
We heard again the message that they wanted their lecturers to speak more openly about the issues surrounding the strike before we went out. Some expressed as well a lack of consideration for students amid the rhetoric of protecting our pensions and winning our dispute with management. Certainly, if neoliberalism works to isolate us and pit us against each other, we all recognised the need to communicate well, to respect different views and not judge, and to put our own struggles in a wider context.
To quote UCU HQ, for the avoidance of doubt, this week’s strikes are on.
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team