UCU members on the picket line outside Queen Mary University in east London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Every striking worker must push to set up a strike committee. It’s a key way to drive up involvement, energise picketing, increase democratic participation and contest national officials’ control of strikes.

Strike committees have existed for some time in some places in the UCU union. But as a planned 18 days of strikes continue, the need to organise from below has become critical. 

In Liverpool, university workers are organising strike committees on campus and across the city. Branch secretary of Liverpool John Moores University UCU, Saira Weiner, told Socialist Worker that this city-wide strike ­committee met for the first time on Tuesday of last week.

“About 20 strikers from four universities met over coffee for the first joint Liverpool strike committee,” she said. “We kept the meeting not too structured to encourage everyone to speak. Those who attended brought a wealth of ideas. We’ve discussed events we should put on over the strikes, the best place to picket, and how best we can engage students. 

“Strikers feel more positive and confident about the dispute after these meetings. Several people were texting their colleagues and friends to come to the pickets during the meeting. They know that the big question at the moment is how do we get more on picket lines and how can we make them stronger.”

But the committee is not just to discuss tactics, “Strikers have been able to talk about the limitations of the trade union bureaucracy at these meetings,” Saira added.

Branch co-chair of Leicester UCU, Joseph Choonara, told Socialist Worker that a strike committee “has met three times, including twice on strike days” at his university. The strike committee has been useful in helping to organise our activities around the strike. They have mobilised a broader group of activists than the existing reps and committee members. 

“It’s been a modest success so far. But, if the strike wave continues, I can see these bodies becoming important in allowing ordinary union members to take the initiative, coordinate with other striking unions and shape the action.”

UCU strike committees have also been founded in areas including Bristol, Cambridge and Imperial College in London. 

Members of the NEU union have also begun to organise strike committees. Teacher and NEU activist Tom Woodcock told Socialist Worker that the district-wide strike committee in Cambridge is helping to “strengthen union organisation.” 

“Our strike committee has been meeting on Zoom for over a month, every week,” he said. “We’re a big district with lots of schools, some of which are very geographically far apart. 

“But these strike ­committees mean we have reached people that have never previously been organised, including many new young reps. I think confidence is ­building, and the strike committee has helped. We now have workers at schools who didn’t picket on 1 February saying they will the next time we strike.” 

Tom added that it’s vital that this strike committee exists separately from union structures and is different to routine branch meetings. Saira agreed, adding, “Strike committees can be the place where we have arguments about the limitations of the union leaders, and for us in the UCU, that’s essential. 

“We need to make sure we have democratic control of this dispute and our union. We can only do this by organising on the ground. 

“When push comes to shove, members need to be more confident and go our own way if we need to. This will probably be the only way we can win.” 

Already existing strike committees are showing that organising in this way can boost workers and give them a sense of ownership over their disputes. More of this is needed for workers to win. 

Are you setting up a strike committee? Send us your experiences to reports@socialistworker.co.uk

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