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First day of Bristol UCU strike action begins

By James Dowden, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The Bristol branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) undertook the first of a scheduled 18 days of strike action, with many members of university staff going on strike across a range of departments.

The UCU is taking strike action over a number of issues including involving pay, working conditions and pension cuts.

The strike action took place in conjunction with 150 universities across the country, involving more than 70,000 members of university staff nationwide.

Strikers gathered outside of a number of university buildings including on Woodland Road, the Arts Complex, the Merchant Ventures building, the School of Geography as well as outside of the Richmond Building.

Both the history department and modern languages departments recorded their biggest ever picket line for strike action.

Ruth Glynn, a professor in the School of Modern Languages, said that during her time at the university working conditions had decreased.

‘It’s something that we don’t want to be doing but we’ve been forced into with the increasing attacks on our conditions, on our pay and on our conditions in general. I’ve been at the university for over 20 years. Over that time, I’ve seen conditions get more and more difficult. There’s a lot of fatigue, and stress amongst staff.

‘I’m striking to make sure that we can improve conditions so that the best people come to work in this profession and continue to develop and motivate students. So that students get the best experience and so the UK as an academic environment continues to be competitive in the global sphere.’

‘We’ve also seen for the first time this year much harsher messages about non-conformance and threats to reduce pay if we don’t put up slides. We’ve never had that kind of escalation in the discourse before. The vice chancellor is taking a harsher line than in the past and we don’t think it’s deserved.’

Matthew Brown, a fellow professor in the School of Modern Languages, said that ‘students’ learning conditions are our working conditions. I feel like I’ve been saying that for many years. When our working conditions get worse, student learning conditions get worse.’

He implored vice chancellor Evelyn Welch to do more to take action.

‘Come and talk to us for longer than half an hour. Listen to people's concerns and take a public stance on working conditions and pay.’

Welch, who was seen on the picket line speaking to members of staff, spoke to Epigram saying that ‘to be blunt I’m not that confident about a national resolution. Here at Bristol, I think people are really willing to roll up their sleeves and come together for local solutions over things that we have control over. By working together, and by being open think we can make a real difference going forward.’

UCU members made their way to the Victoria Rooms before continuing down Park Street to College Green where they linked up with other union groups taking strike action including the National Union of Journalists, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), National Education Union (NEU), Unite and Unison.

The march finished with speeches on College Green from a number of unions. Bristol’s UCU President Jamie Melrose spoke last saying that staff needed ‘pay in our pockets rather than pay in profits, surpluses or tax cuts for those that are profiting, not suffering, from this cost of living crisis. The road ahead is a tough one but united and acting in concert we can and must win’

Further strike action is next scheduled to take place on Thursday 9 February and Friday 10 February.