By Holly Beaumont, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The first day of the UCU strike action in Bristol began today due to disputes around pensions and the ‘Four Fights’: pay, workload, equality and the casualisation of contracts.
UCU members at the University of Bristol began the day by standing along the picket lines outside of university buildings. Crowds gathered along Woodland Road and Priory Road from 8:30am, before moving to The Victoria Rooms at 11am and then down to College Green by midday.
A group of nearly 20 lecturers from the School of Humanities gathered outside of 3/5 Woodland Road and spoke openly about their frustrations. English Tutor, Dr Matt Prout, told Epigram, “The main two things that affect me from the ‘four fights’ are workload and casualisation.
“I’m casualised, so by the end of 11 months I’m going to be looking for another job and that job could be anywhere. I’m also just really over-worked. I would say last term, there wasn’t a weekend that I wasn’t working.”
Senior English lecturer, Dr John McTague, also told Epigram, “We are striking again. There’s a huge gender pay-gap, big race and ethnicity pay-gap, and a big disability pay-gap.
“The University were like ‘we’re going to lose so much money because of the Pandemic’ but they didn’t, they made loads of money because they recruited more students because of the A-level f*** up,” he continued.
Outside 13 Woodland Road, Hispanic Studies lecturers chanted “We won't go away.”
One Hispanic Studies tutor told Epigram, “Fundamentally, we are all really quite sad. We don’t want this to impact our students. A lot of us won’t take the whole 10 days because we don’t want to disappoint our students. But our morale is at an all-time low. I’ve been in academics for 25 years and I’ve never known it to be like this”.
One @Bristol_UCU placard reads ‘Trying to steal my pension? Kiss my USS’, in reference to the dispute over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the @ucu claims could see the average guaranteed retirement income of a university staff member reduced by 35% pic.twitter.com/SsjBKRXJRc— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) February 14, 2022
Another tutor, from the School of Sociology, Politics, and International Studies, voiced skepticism, assuming that Epigram had received information from the University.
When asked to comment about why they are striking, they said, “I want to get this right as I imagine university management have given you a seven-page printout of what they want included.”
‘It’s scandalous’: student fees funnelled into fossil fuel sector through pension investments https://t.co/EdL4CcJ1A1— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) February 13, 2022
“It is about pensions, but it’s also about gender and racial equality and work-loads and casualisations and using the time of Covid to build back better and be a fairer, more equitable university that works for everyone involved, not just higher-level management,” they said.
After 11am, the strike moved to outside the Victoria Rooms where several speeches were given to supporters. The speakers included Jamie Melrose, Bristol's UCU President; Dr Neil Davies, Bristol's UCU pensions officer; and a student from the university.
Jamie Melrose began the speeches, telling crowds, “Our simple task this week: take strike action, put pressure on employers and they will change their mind.” This was received by applause from crowds.
Another speaker, Alison Chapman, the UCU Regional Support Officer in Exeter, deemed the situation “a crisis” and thanked students for ‘standing in solidarity.”
“It's the youngest members amongst us that have to stand here because we know, it's not just their pensions they are fighting for. They are fighting for their contract of employment, for pay and equality pay, which is what we are all out and will be out again next week for,” she said to crowds.
Dr Neil Davies also called for crowds to show “appreciation” to students.
He said, “We are not asking for much. They need to accept this deal. They need to agree to pay a very small amount more. We are talking a few million pounds which is maybe a fraction of a per cent of the University's revenue.
“They can do this if they want. We are going to talk to them tomorrow and we'll give it the best shot we can. They are much more likely to do it with your support and that's why I am so grateful for all you turning out today.”
Following the speeches, the crowds made their way down Park Street towards College Green.
The march reached College Green at midday. Those in support congregated on the Green and soon after, the first day of proceedings came to an end.
The strike will continue with a virtual picket line on Tuesday 15 February and UCU teach-outs on Wednesday 16 February. The physical picket lines and march will resume again on Monday 21 February.
Featured Image: Epigram / Holly Beaumont
How do you feel about the UCU Strikes?
Information on FAQs about industrial action by students to the University can be found here.