Strikes Day Two: Everything that happened at the York Uni picket line today

‘Staff really are at breaking point and it worries me’

The second week of lecturer strikes organised by the University and College Union (UCU) started today as part of 18 days of action at 150 universities in the UK, including The University of York.

Picket lines were set up at several locations across York including King’s Manor, Heslington Hall and The Retreat. The York Tab attended the picket line at The Retreat where staff gathered to speak to students, hand out leaflets and share messages of solidarity with each other. Here’s what happened at The York picket lines on the second day of strikes:

What is the UCU and why are they striking?

The UCU is the largest trade union for academic and non-academic staff working in Further and Higher Education in the UK. The UCU’s demands centre around pay, pensions, and pay equality, and leaflets handed out today by strikers state that their pay has been cut by 25 per cent since 2009 with pension income cut by 45 per cent. They demand a pay increase and action on equality pay gaps, action on workload, and the restoration of pension benefits.

Poetry at the Pickets

The picket line at The Retreat began to gather around 8:30 am where protestors held signs with slogans such as “UCU and Proud”, “We’re at breaking point”, “We are fed up” and “Treat our lecturers fairly.” Then at 9 am, “Poetry on the Pickets”, organised by York’s English Department, began with all staff and students encouraged to make a reading of a resistance poem. Several poems were read including Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” and a member of the Politics department started a chant of “Victory to the UCU”.

Professor Helen Smith, Head of the Department of English and Related Literature, was present at the picket and spoke to The York Tab about the importance of union action: “I believe in collective action and I believe in Trade Unions and I think it’s really easy to forget what Unions have won for us. I know it’s oversimple, but the fact that we haven’t got people dying in machinery every day, the fact we haven’t got kids going up chimneys, the fact that people have got the protections that we’ve got are because of the unions, it’s never been because of the employers and this union has won things for people too.”

She continued: “The university runs on the passion and enthusiasm of all of its staff and I think that’s what students love about being here and it’s certainly what they love about our department – that sense that the staff are so invested in what we do. But students need to be taught by someone who’s not worried about how their next bill is going to be paid or about whether they can eat or heat their house. They’ve got to have a sense that the people teaching them are able to do the best possible job they can do.

“Staff really are at breaking point and it worries me, it really worries me that we’re going to see people hurt and damaged and broken and that there isn’t a willingness to take that seriously. There isn’t a willingness to say actually we need to make this a better place for everybody.

“The more we do now and the more we actually get the chance to win this and make a difference and make the sector better then we can stop doing this. None of us wants to be on the picket line but we have to do it and we have to get everybody out here if we’re actually going to end this.”

Uni of York Labour Club at the Pickets

The Uni of York Labour Club were present at the picket line showing solidarity with the striking staff. Ralph Noble, a first-year student of the Labour Club, said: “I think it’s really important that we as students take an active role in our education and try and participate with staff standing here who want reform and who want change.”

Dr Clare Bielby a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Women’s Studies also spoke to The York Tab about why she was striking today. She said: “I know it’s always said but our working conditions are your learning conditions. We’re not able to give our best to students. Obviously, there are lots of other issues including the gender pay gap, racial pay gap, and disability pay gap that we’re fighting for. Pensions are another, obviously complex, matter but our pensions have been gutted and when we took on our jobs pensions were part of the deal. It’s not an incidental thing.

“In the context of the UK with the strikes taking place and the cost of living crisis, it feels like a really powerful moment to be doing this and to be fighting against the Tory Government and saying no to the Tory Government. We’re saying that we need change and we’re not putting up with it anymore.”

Rally at Heslington Hall

At 10:30 am the strikers made their way across to Helsington Hall for the rally. At the rally, speeches were heard including by Ben Yannowitz, the Trade Union Liason Officer for The University of York Labour Club.

Another lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous, told The York Tab: “We don’t want to be striking today, I don’t want to be losing pay and standing out in the cold, I want to be in the classroom teaching my students. But we can’t because we’re at breaking point and change needs to happen.”

Lots of dogs were seen out supporting the strikes

They added: “Staff at the university literally cannot afford to heat our homes. How are we expected to provide quality level teaching to our students in these conditions?”

The University of York has been contacted for comment. 

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