Strike Bulletin #12

Pickets outside Law

Pickets outside Law & Politics

Referring to Wednesday as “hump day” is a fairly modern tradition in American English. The term represents the idea that a week can be visualized as a mound or hill that a person climbs, with Wednesday typically being the middle or peak of the week. more… [external link]

Wednesday in the US and Canada1 is traditionally known in 9-5 office parlance as ‘hump day’. This is our only full week of striking in this set of actions, and now we’re over the hump. We felt what was, for many, confusion and despair on Monday night, followed by the collective resolve of Tuesday morning and the sunny, buoyant high of our political lobby.

All these views were expressed at our 11 o’clock rally at Main Building, and we’re sure they were mirrored on all the picket lines as people made sense of what had happened. Our representative to the national Higher Education Committee was Nick Russell, and he brought the strike committee upto date on how that meeting went. Negotiators noted that it was the strength of early picketing that brought them to the table in the first place. UUK’s starting position was the January meeting where the Defined Contributions scheme was forced through. Rejection of the proposed agreement would mean a return to square one.

One speaker at Wednesday's Rally

One speaker at Wednesday’s Rally

However, reject is what they did. Branch delegates described informal votes across the country very like ours here in Cardiff. Every branch but one rejected by overwhelming margin – often unanimous. One rejected but by a small margin. Discussion moved to the whys and hows of the negotiating effort, followed by a consideration of next steps. Nick mentioned focusing on the methodology: that the underlying assumptions are flawed and our expertise can speak to that. It was also encouraging to hear that support for the strike is growing and has grown universally, in every branch across the UK. The HEC heard all of this and voted to reject. Things will be tougher from here, but we have the resolve to see it through. The focus now is on maintaining the status quo of our pension scheme until we get an academically robust methodology to assess the value of the USS.

The forceful nationwide motion to reject was heard not only by our union but by our employers. Late afternoon, Universities UK issued a release saying they are planning more, urgent talks. Their statement notes, ‘We listened to the concerns of university staff, and proposed to increase employer contributions to the scheme to maintain meaningful defined benefits.’ As always, we’ll see what that looks like in practice, but it’s welcome language to hear. Some vice-chancellors have clearly heard the message: Cambridge’s VC suggests amendments to the rejected plan that address some of our own complaints. It’s not *the answer*, but it shows a humbler spirit.

Creative expression
Following the rally, members led small workshops in sketching and photography. As our ace photographer Jonathan Marsh notes, perspective is really important. That’s both a practical tip for snapping compelling shots and a metaphor for how we view this struggle. So take heart!

Others joined the University Matters teach-outs at Cathays Methodist Church. Values were up for discussion: Chris Graves spoke about balancing competing values, so that if you focus on competition and control, losing sight of collaboration and creation, you get out of balance and ultimately fail. One example is Apple, which got so successful it needed the money people to manage it. The result was firing this crazy guy called Steve Jobs and ceasing to collaborate and innovate. The company reversed that decision later on in order to succeed, bringing Steve Jobs back into the company. James Whitley gave this some historical perspective, noting that ‘city’ states in ancient Crete and Greece survived 700-1000 years when they had relatively flat structures. Archaeological evidence suggests that as and when they moved to hierarchical structures, they only survived on average about 150 years. In between, Steve Smith led a whole-group discussion on ethics and values. The key take-away here was that values can be seen differently depending on your perspective. In this way, philosophy can be a lot like photography.  A late session on archeology at Caerau finished just an hour ago.

Picket Support

Picket Support

Taking care of yourselves financially
As we approach the end of this phase of strike action, a reminder about strike pay. You can apply nationally to UCU’s fighting fund. We have a local hardship fund similarly set up, and you should register your interest by Friday 23 March. Details are here.

Cardiff UCU exec members have been canvassing with our comrades in other unions. PCS Wales and Unite both committed to making contributions, and we’ve been hearing generally about how important a victory is for us: if we lose this fight, it will be difficult for other pension schemes to fight back against these incursions.

You’re welcome to share details of our fund with others. Get this message out, as it’s a concrete way that others can support us.

Visits tomorrow
We will have two visits from Cardiff MPs tomorrow.

  • Jo Stevens from Cardiff Central will be our main speaker at the 11 o’clock rally at Main Building.
  • Stephen Doughty from Cardiff South and Penarth will visit us at 12.
  • In between, SocSci lecturer Steven Stanley will lead us on a walking meditation.

So be sure to come to your pickets and then join us at 11. The penultimate day of strike action promises to be a rousing one.

Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

1 We have a Canadian editor this evening
2 We have an honorary Welsh, English editor proof reading tonight and emailing out