Featured in Issue XII – June 2021
Why are you on strike?
Primarily to show solidarity with the 32 workers targeted for redundancy in the faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Hopefully to prevent those jobs from being needlessly lost. But also to make a stand against this kind of attack on education workers generally.
What kind of tactics are being used?
The union members at the university started ASOS (Action Short Of Strike) on 10/05, meaning we withdrew all labour that goes beyond our contracted work. We stop volunteering for additional responsibilities, stop covering for other staff if they’re ill, stop working outside of our normal contracted working hours, etc. Given how much the university relies on this kind of voluntary labour, this should already have quite an impact.
Then on 17/05 we began three weeks of full on striking. Although there are many kinds of labour being withdrawn (and the impact of non-teaching staff striking shouldn’t be underestimated or underappreciated!) one of the main reasons this period was chosen was because it coincides with the marking period for a lot of courses. During these three weeks a lot of staff spend far beyond their regular hours completing their marking loads for their courses’ exams. Instead, for union staff mem-bers, none of this will get done until after the strike – and even then it’ll only get done at a regular pace during contracted hours, as we return to ASOS.
The union (UCU) is currently discussing what action to take next if the university fails to accept our demands.
I remember in the 2020 strikes some students were occupying the rooms where scab lectures were taking place. Playing music to stop them and getting away with it. Despite support on the picket line, they stopped at the request of UCU.* Have you noticed any similar problems with UCU?
This is my first strike with the Liverpool UCU branch, so my insights will be a little limited. It’s also very difficult to tell what things limiting our strike action are caused by Covid, and what the strike would’ve been like under different circumstances.
I’ve done one day’s worth of picketing on campus, and it was mostly just hanging around Union Square with a sign. But there’s some targeted picketing too – we hear from someone about some activities still going ahead on campus and we dash over to picket the entrance for it. I think I’d have felt a bit better about it if we did more – if we talked to more students as they went to their classes, talked to the people who walked by. There seemed to be a lot of reassuring each other that our actions were meaningful, but without much actual action.
A lot of the meetings at the moment are fairly large – a couple of hundred people – and it seems like it’s very difficult to make any suggestions without someone raising objections to it. And some of these objections definitely seem less well-meaning than others.
Has the strike had much support? How can people help?
The students have definitely been incredible. They’ve set up their own twitter account supporting the strike, organised a rally, and they also speak at any events we host. The university management are really trying to frame this dispute as staff vs students, but the students are making it clear that that isn’t the case – we are both united against them.
There’s also been a lot of support from other unions. Even though solidarity can be difficult to show when the “picket lines” are mostly online, they’ve still done a great job – at one offline rally I saw members show up from SolFed, the IWW, and Acorn, and online messages of solidarity get through at a number of online events too, and plenty on Twitter.
As for how to help? People can learn about the strike: there’s information about how the job redundancies are most likely illegal, and plenty about the absurd amounts of money that the management are being paid to make up restructuring projects like the one that they’re proposing. Then if you can, contact the Vice Chancellors at the university and let them know what you think of their plans.
There have been some successful strikes this year, like the bus drivers in Manchester or bin workers in Thurrock. Do you think you will be joining them?
I hope so, and there’s definitely a chance. The circumstances aren’t exactly straightforward – I think the pandemic makes it much easier for management to give us the impression that we’re isolated, and to divide us, and they’ve tried really hard to take advantage of that. But we do still have strength in numbers, and we are still united. We just need to remember that.
* After further investigation we must retract this sentence since it is false. The occupiers did not stop at the request of UCU, instead it was due to burnout and the strike coming to a close. We can only apologise for printing inaccurate information and will mention the retraction in the next issue.