Week Three begins with much milder temperatures but the same fire in the belly of UCU picketers. As Sally Hunt, UCU Secretary General, put in her e-mail this morning, “For the avoidance of doubt, this week’s strikes continue.” Here in Cardiff, we saw some strong turnout, no doubt in preparation for the big meeting with our vice-chancellor. But a nice showing for Mick Antoniw AM for Pontypridd who came to visit many of the school pickets. He will ask for a statement on our predicament from the Welsh Government this week in the National Assembly.
Rally at Main Gate
We had a good turnout again for the 11am rally with speeches from Kerry Hood and Mary Heimann, and a reminder of the arrangements for Question Time by Marc Beuhner
The main event for the day was an hour’s session with Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan and chief financial officer Rob Williams, chaired by Cardiff UCU’s own Paul Brennan and Nicky Priaulx. We were at capacity in the main hall of Cathays Community Centre with 200 present – at least 60 were turned away, but we were able to record it. That recording is now available.
The tone was deliberate but respectful, and we appreciate the Vice-Chancellor meeting us face to face and hearing our concerns. Certainly, there was a lot of expertise in the room on these issues, and I think we made it clear that we see alternatives to this pension valuation. Remember this great video, with a choice analogy from Biz School’s Woon Wong. Always worth watching and definitely good for sharing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PY84vOnFSk&feature=youtu.be
The VC was repeatedly urged to add his name to those of other UK Vice Chancellors willing to come out publicly in support of university staff and join UCU in pressing UUK/USS for a better pension deal. The VC repeatedly expressed the view that he would favour an alternative solution to the pension problem, could a practical alternative proposal be found.
In a statement on Twitter, Colin Riordan called the meeting constructive and highlighted the forthcoming work of a group of experts including UCU members and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Karen Holford. This group was, in fact, formed before the strike began and hasn’t yet met. Snow prevented their first scheduled meeting last Friday, but we hope that today’s session will provide significant impetus to make meaningful progress. Colin Riordan promises to bring the results of that group’s work to USS and UUK. It is essential now that everyone (especially the University’s senior management team) moves quickly to make this a reality.
Following the meeting, we sent this text, intended as a joint statement, to the Vice-Chancellor:
Today the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer of Cardiff University accepted an invitation from Cardiff University College Union (UCU) to meet with staff and students of the university to account for the Cardiff University position in the current USS pensions dispute. Following discussions at the meeting, the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University joins with the Cardiff Branch of UCU in calling upon UUK to ask USS to commission immediately a new and independent valuation of the USS pension scheme to inform current negotiations.
By end of day, we had not heard back from his office. We do hope that the vice-chancellor’s comments to us today were more than just warm words before a frustrated crowd. Agreeing to this statement would be a reasonable, concrete first step, and we hope we get his written agreement soon.
Thanks to everyone for a strong presence and questions!
The Work Continues
Meantime, we’re not out of the woods. We love the continuing presence on the lines at individual schools and sites. If you haven’t been down, now is a great time to start. The spirit is good, and you’re likely to get someone’s home baking to keep you going. Check with your school picket supervisors: some people are putting rotations through so we don’t exhaust everyone but keep a steady presence at the doors.
Teach-outs continue this week, which is another way to take part. It keeps the enthusiasm going, builds more bridges between staff and students, and shares ideas that will sustain us as we take this fight past the state of our pension fund and right to the heart of what it means to be a university.
- Tomorrow’s theme is mental health. Join Ben Hannigan, Lucy Series, Steven Stanley, Michelle Huws-Thomas, Thanasi Hassoulas, and Kerry Hood to look at the issue from a variety of angles. If you’re nursing private worries amidst all this public enthusiasm, please consider taking part. 1-4 at Cathays Community Centre on 6 March.
- Wednesday, Lydia Hayes leads a workshop on the powerful and relevant theme of Civil Rights and Liberties. That’s at Cathays Methodist Church on Crwys Road, 1-3 on 7 March.
As always, we’ll meet at the gates of Main Building at 11 for a group rally, and as always, we’ll make the last one for the week of strike action a big one. So be sure to join us Thursday for the rally. We already have some strong speakers lined up, including Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff North, and Adam Price, Plaid Cymru AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team
Further images from today: