Huge turnout marks the beginning of 18 days of UCU strikes in Bristol

Bristol UCU President says strikes are: ‘For the good of all, not just for the good of staff’

Bristol University and College Union (UCU) members commenced their first day of strikes, marching to College Green amongst teachers and civil servants.

The industrial action brought much of the city centre to a standstill as protestors blocked the main roads from Park Street to Cabot Circus. A sea of banners adorned with slogans such as “Rishi you rich rat, pay us our money” and “Stand against casualisation” were paraded through the streets to the sound of samba drums and passionate chants.

Members of the UCU say they are striking against pay, working conditions and pensions following an inadequate three per cent rise and a 35 per cent cut to pension funds.

We interviewed Jamie Melrose, President of the Bristol UCU, about why Bristol University staff were protesting: “We’re taking strike action along with fellow trade unions across Bristol in support of fair pay for all, a proper pension, decent working conditions, a fair and equitable workload and closing gender and ethnic pay gaps.”

Yael Shiri, a Lecturer in Religion and Theology told The Tab: “What’s most important for me is the issue of pensions…It’s so cynical the way that our future is being completely disregarded – it’s insulting and really depressing.”

With 18 days of strike action scheduled for February and March, many students have voiced complaints about the impact on their teaching. According to data collected by The Bristol Tab, 45 per cent of students are not in support of the latest strikes, whilst 96 per cent think financial compensation is appropriate. 

Jamie Melrose said: “I appreciate that this will lead to disruption, and it’s important to remember that this will lead to disruption for my members. But ultimately we believe we are taking strike action for students. To invest in staff, to give them a fair workload, and to be able to teach and support students better. It is for the good of all, not just for the good of staff.

“If that money was invested in staff…you would see a university and an education that students want.”

Another lecturer The Tab spoke to said: “We don’t take strike action lightly…we have been forced into a situation”. Students have been urged to remember that “These cutbacks are affecting student education as well” as part of the “Marketisation of education” which has meant that “Universities keep taking more and more students and we have less time with them.”

When asked about Bristol University’s cooperation with the UCU, Melrose said: “Disappointing, to put it mildly, I think the university could do a lot more. At the moment it’s rather sat in resigned fashion and said it can’t do anything. But we know that the reason our university senior officers … earn so much money is because they are so-called leaders. Well, where is the leadership?”

In a statement, Vice Chancellor Evelyn Welch responded to the protests by saying: “I am very sorry that we are seeing industrial action once again. At the same time, I respect the rights of our union members to act where they feel strongly about issues which affect them and their colleagues.

“I know they care very much about our students and want to see this resolved as much as we do. This is a long-running national dispute affecting more than 100 universities with multiple demands on pay, pension and working conditions. Here at Bristol, we are working with our local unions but we need affordable solutions and to find better ways of resolving this ongoing dispute nationally.

“We’ve been working hard to mitigate disruption to our students, many of whom have already faced numerous difficulties due to the pandemic. I understand how challenging this is for our students and I would like to apologise to those who are affected.”

Strikes will continue throughout the Spring term, for a full list of the remaining 17 dates click here.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Bristol UCU striker says they’re ‘demonised’ by ‘not well informed’ students

• University staff set to strike for 18 days between February and March

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