High spirits on the picket lines as strikes begin

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Picket lines at Lancaster - photo credit James Gilmour

The first day of strike action out of a planned fourteen began under blue skies today, with around fifty lecturers and students manning the main picket line at the Sports Centre.

The staff manning the picket line seemed more keen on cheerfully distributing leaflets than opposing the entry of strikebreaking staff, facing a leaflet shortage as early as quarter past nine.

One lecturer on the picket line said: “it’s an unhappy situation. I pick up in the atmosphere an uncertainty, a lingering uncertainty. I think the action today is more than simply symbolic. There’s frustration – it seems to be a cycle of re-evaluations and reductions. But I don’t think its an action anyone takes lightly.”

“I think it’d be wrong to read what’s going on today as simply about people who are employed today in the sector in the present. It’s a much longer term concern. I don’t know if I can say (if the employers will cave in), but hopefully it will bring people back around the table.”

Socialist Worker distributing members of the Lancashire District Pensioner Campaign Group claimed that as Britain “has the lowest state pension in the developed world”, academic staff were right to challenge the reforms.

“We’re here giving our full support to the UCU in their campaign to get the employers to sit down and talk to them about it. We think this kind of solidarity is really important.”

I asked them if they thought the strikes would be successful. A long pause followed. “It can be. If there weren’t examples of successful strikes, we wouldn’t be here. Nobody in their right minds wants to go out on strike and lose money.”

Strike official and University and College Union (UCU) Branch President Julie Hearn welcomed the “positive atmosphere. We’re very grateful for student support. Its been really heartening.”

Students supporting the strike on the picket line criticised the Lancaster University Students Union’s equivocation over the strike as “disgusting”. The Union has urged the reopening of negotiations, but has stated it does not wish to see the strike go ahead and has adopted a position of “supportive communication” in providing impartial information.

“They should be standing in solidarity with the staff. We’re paying extortionate fees, and they aren’t even getting their pensions. I don’t think we should be fighting over compensation… unless it’s Mark. E Smith (Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University) who’s sorting it.”

A Yougov poll released by UCU today suggested that 61% of students supported the strikes, rising to 66% in the universities directly affected by the industrial action. Meanwhile over 70,000 students have signed petitions calling for compensation from the Universities.

However some students have been vocal in opposition to the threatened extension of the strikes, with posts on the Overheard at Lancaster Facebook forum describing striking staff as “selfish” and “unprofessional”, while others focused their anger on the uncertainty of the university reaction, describing it as a “fucking joke”.

The strikes are set to continue tomorrow and into the next week. Keep up to date with our strike news hub here.