By Jack Parker, Anna Marshall, and Tom Saunders
Industrial action organised by the University and College Union (UCU) is reaching the end of its third week, with many staff still manning the picket lines. Over 100 members and supporters of the ongoing UCU strikes gathered in Durham’s Market Square to raise visibility for the industrial action, as it approaches its final week.
The event saw multiple speakers, including Sam Johnson-Audini, the Students’ Union Undergraduate Academic Officer, Dr Sarah Uckelman, Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy, and Vicky Blake, the President-elect of the national branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), amongst others.
Johnson-Audini told the crowds that “your working conditions are our learning conditions.” Dr Uckelman said: “Year in, year out, our working conditions are making it harder and harder to do our jobs. We have to do this for future students.”
Other groups also present at the rally included members of the Communication Workers Union, whose members have been refusing to cross the picket line to deliver mail.
Dr Baker, the chair of the Newcastle branch of the UCU, said: “We will continue until we win, and the sooner that the vice chancellors understand that, the sooner we can all get back to work.
“I want to call out Stuart Corbridge and Chris Day personally to take responsibility, earn the big salaries they’re getting, and stand up for their institutions.”
Student groups such as Durham University Labour Club are encouraging support for the strikers, and Durham Students’ Union has been providing free hot drinks for striking staff.
Third year History and English student Neve Ovenden has been organising support with Durham Student Worker Solidarity: “People have been bringing hot curry, sausage and bacon sandwiches, pancakes and homemade cakes to the picket-line. There’s been people playing live music, and really rallying to raise morale and sustain numbers on the picket lines and show the strength of the movement and organisation against the University”.
Ovenden told Palatinate: “Quite a lot of academics in Durham live most of the time elsewhere, so for instance I know some staff from Leeds and from Edinburgh who can’t afford to travel to the picket-line but are doing action in their hometowns instead”.
Those within the UCU are hopeful this week after reports emerged of a leaked email, which suggested that Universities UK are attempting to negotiate with their pension provider.
Meanwhile, on 26th February, the UCU tweeted: “UCU met Universities UK this afternoon for constructive talks on a range of issues […] #UCUStrikesBack.”
In a statement to Palatinate Professor Alan Houston, ViceProvost (Education) said: “We are encouraged that negotiations are continuing at a national level and we urge both sides to enter into further discussions in the spirit of compromise.
“For some time we have been working closely with colleagues and Durham UCU to improve arrangements for how we engage casual workers and also ways in which we can reduce our gender pay gap.”
A survey by Palatinate found that 70% of respondents want some form of compensation from the University following disruption from the strikes.
When asked whether the University was planning to compensate students, Professor Houston told Palatinate: “At this point in time, we do not know the precise impact of strike action on individual students. We are focusing our efforts on issues needing immediate attention, particularly putting in place measures to ensure that students can meet the learning outcomes of the programmes on which they are registered.”
Some students are showing their support for the UCU by boycotting the NSS survey for final year students, and by continuing to not attend contact hours while the strikes are ongoing.
Professor Houston said that “students are expected to attend all lectures, classes and tutorials that are not affected by the strike, and to submit their assignments by their deadline as normal. If a student chooses not to do so in solidarity with UCU members, then this will be considered as an absence and the consequences of this will be determined by their course or module requirements.
Photography: Tim Packer