On Thursday 8 March, The Student spoke with picketers around George Square on UCU’s action, student involvement, disruptions to lectures, and the crossing of picket lines to enter university buildings. 8 March is International Women’s Day. To demonstrate the significance of women involved in picketing for the UCU, a rally gathered outside George Square Lecture Theatre on Thursday morning. Picketers discussed influential women, such as Eleanor Marx, and celebrated their work to fight for gender equality.
Newly elected rector Ann Henderson also gave a brief speech highlighting the significant role women have historically played in social activism — even when they did not have the right to vote.
Raquel Ribeiro, Portuguese lecturer, spoke to The Student from the picket lines, commenting: “Women’s working conditions are affected directly. We have women here with their children so [the strike] is about fighting for equality and fighting for distribution of wealth. Women, in a way, are a more affected group, I would say.”
George Square was filled with strikers holding signs and banners throughout the day. Richard Shillcock, Informatics and Psychology lecturer, remarked that “the UCU was previously seen as not really the strongest Union, but this is a really strong action. More people have joined…we’ve had a real collegial time on the picket lines.”
Picketers were also asked on their thoughts about the current status of the strike at the finish of its second week. A general consensus was reached that the strikes have been fairly effective. Neil Thin, from the Social Anthropology Department, stood outside of Appleton Tower for most of Thursday, confirming that “there have been at least proper consultations happening, and even at the start of the strike, the UUK was looking more stubborn than it is now. There’s been some sign of movement. Our Principal has come out and made some noises in a good direction.”
Picketers have also expressed gratitude for student support, which has included providing coffee, hot chocolate, and porridge. However, a number of picketers also encouraged students to be more involved and voice their shared concerns about the UCU action. Peter Ackema, of Linguistics and English Language, stressed that:
“Students should write to the Principal, and the Vice Principals, stating how they are affected by this action, that they are worried about it, and that they should start negotiating.”
Jean-Benoit Falisse, a lecturer at the Centre of African Studies, suggested students could also be supportive through “[Signing] a petition by the Student Union to use unpaid salaries for hardship funds for lecturers.”
Picketers were apologetic when asked about how disruptive the strikes have been to students and University Administration. However, they explained that in order to be effective, the strike would need to be disruptive. A PhD student outside 50 George Square said: “I think that there is a big misunderstanding amongst students that particular lecturers are being mean and choosing to not help them.”
The local UCU contact for the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, Kirsty Day, told The Student: “We want to do this ultimately because we believe in the university as an institution and we want to ensure that it continues. We do recognise in the short term, the disruption for students is tough and it’s something that’s easy for us to say, ‘Oh but we’re disrupting for something important,’ but I think most staff that I’ve spoken to have been very conflicted about it.”
Finally, The Student asked for the picketers’ thoughts on students that do decide to cross the picket lines in order to attend lectures and tutorials. Neil Thin voiced that: “I hope that I haven’t given any student the sense that I blame them for wanting do their studies. They aren’t on strike, we are. And it’s absolutely their choice and it’s a free choice.
“Personally, I haven’t got the sense that students felt harassed if they’ve had to go in to use a lab, and it’s a nice gesture that this university has kept the library open.”
When discussing the same concern Kirsty Day said: “I think that absolutely no one should cross picket lines and it shows you’re not being supportive if you do. But I do think we need to consider that for students and colleagues with disabilities and illnesses, breaking routine can be quite difficult.
“So, my line is that students shouldn’t cross picket lines, but I’m also sympathetic to the many reasons why this is difficult.”
Those out on picket lines on Thursday all shared their appreciation for student involvement in the UCU’s efforts and encouraged students to continue showing support. It was made clear that students need to fight for their education by challenging authorities working towards the marketisation of education.
Standing through all weather types, picketers continue to show their concern for the state of our education system.
Photo by Caroline Bernet.