Brighton university workers are going on an all-out strike to win against compulsory redundancies (Picture: Brighton UCU on Twitter)

Trade union activists debated how strikes can win and how workers can challenge their union leaders on the third day of the Marxism 2023 festival.

Amazon striker, Darren, told the meeting, “Those in power are telling us we need to get used to being poor, and they are holding firm and not giving us the pay rises we need. This means we have to act now.” 

Clinical nurse and member of the RCN union, Harry Eccles, said, “It was a big deal for RCN members to strike for the first time in 106 years. You can’t underestimate how huge that was. 

“We made this decision because the quality of care we can give our patients is so poor. We have 140,00 vacancies, and nurses are going abroad because it’s possible to make twice as much money.  We received a crap deal, and the leadership of the union said we should accept it, but the majority voted against the deal. 

“Unfortunately, more recently, we didn’t reach the turnout threshold mandated by anti-trade union laws to strike, but it has to be said that 106,000 nurses still voted for strikes.”

Postal worker Alex also said that workers must organise to vote against bad deals. “We are facing a lousy deal that the union leaders want us to accept. I think that there is a real chance that the membership could reject this deal,” he said. 

Alex added that when union leaders are slow to call action or refuse it entirely, workers must push for it from the ground up. 

“Every time the membership has voted for strikes, we have returned a bigger mandate. We currently have a mandate to strike until August, but what is general sectary Dave Ward doing with that—nothing. 

“I was talking to one of my colleagues about the last seven months of strikes, and he was much happier being on the picket lines than waiting.

“We are too tied into trade union laws at the moment. They need to be broken.”  

Teacher and NEU union member Jodie told the room workers must sometimes “battle” with the bureaucracy. 

“The trade union leaders called three days of strikes, and then that was reduced to two. This decision was made without debate from members. A few strikes days here and there aren’t enough. 

“We need to go out in September, and we should stay out until we get what we want. 

University worker and UCU member Peta Bulmer echoed this sentiment. “We’ve managed to beat the Tory turnout threshold three times. But we haven’t won because of two factors. The first is because of the strength of the employers, and the other is the tactics that union leaders have put forward. 

“Our general secretary Jo Grady was voted in promising that she wouldn’t capitulate. But Grady and others don’t see industrial action as a way to win. At best they see it as a way to force negotiations.

“But in the UCU, we aren’t sitting around and listening to what the bureaucracy says. 

“We helped to set up the UCU solidarity network to boost strikes and build ballots. We have done this because we know that strikes aren’t won in the boardrooms. They are built on the picket lines.” Peta agreed with Jodie in saying that indefinite strikes are the most likely way to win.

Workers also spoke from the floor of the meeting. Mark Abel, a UCU activist at the University of Brighton, said, “We need to up the stakes. In my union, the national executive voted for indefinite action last year. But our general secretary managed to manoeuvre and overturn it. 

“From Monday we’ll be on indefinite strike at Brighton. We need to make the argument that strikes should be all out.” 

Teacher and NEU activist Lucy Cox added that creating democratic bodies inside unions is essential. “Strikes committees can make a real difference,” she said.  “These are the places where you can debate with other workers about how to win.” 

Members of the PCS, Aslef and Unite unions also spoke at the meeting. 

The battle for effective strikes means workers organising from the ground up. 

Join the Workers’ Summit on 23 September in London. To book go to To add your union branch to the supporting organisations, or for a model motion, contact
Support the Brighton UCU solidarity fund. Go here


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