UCU union picket line at Oxford university on Monday

Thousands of workers joined picket lines on Monday—despite the attempts by UCU general secretary Jo Grady to sabotage higher education strikes. There were big picket lines at the University of Manchester and University of Brighton. Strikers held strong rallies in several places.

Workers at 42 universities were planning to strike for the full five days this week, and at least a further ten universities planned to strike for at least one day. Unison union members at seven universities were also set to strike this week, with national days of action planned on 2 and 3 October. 

This comes after union leaders desperately tried to stop strikes last week. Grady called a special ­meeting of the union’s Higher Education Committee. It didn’t completely call off the strikes but did vote to allow branches to withdraw from strikes. 

This meant UCU leaders ­deliberately split up united action by saying individual universities could decide for themselves whether to pull out of the action or not. The UCU Left organisation said, “The employers are rejoicing at the self-inflicted and unnecessary retreat in the dispute led by the general ­secretary and her acolytes.

“What kind of union calls action and then asks branches whether they would like to opt out on the eve of the strike, indeed, when many Scottish universities were already out the door? Unions are nothing without ­collective action.”

Richard from The Open University explained that workers in his branch felt confused following this decision but wanted to keep on fighting. “We had a meeting of over 200 people last Wednesday, and 70 ­percent voted to strike,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Members were angry at how management treated us for participating in the Marking and Assessment Boycott (Mab) and their refusal to withdraw punitive deductions. People in my branch are really concluding that we’ve tried everything. We’ve tried a Mab, we’ve tried a few days of strike. Members are now saying we need indefinite action

“Those who are saying this are those I would have never expected to two years ago.” But Richard added that members are also “confused”. “They don’t understand how our general secretary can hold off calling an HEC all summer and then suddenly call one to try and call off the strikes.” 

To add to the confusion, UCU’s head office wrongly sent a withdrawal of action notice to bosses at the University of Newcastle and London South Bank University. UCU was forced to print an apology to workers at both universities who will officially not be allowed to strike under the anti-union laws during the five planned days. 

The UCU’s leadership has behaved in a disgraceful manner. At every turn it has tried to sabotage a strategy of effective resistance. It has never been so crucial for workers to reject the strategy that Grady and others have put forward and hold them to account for ­undermining democracy. As UCU Left said, “Indefinite simply means that the members stay out until they win. For this type of action to work, members have to be in control.”

For a list of where Unison members are striking, go to tinyurl.com/UnisonHE2023

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