Published: 5th December, 2019
”Conflict is not abuse, criticism is not abuse…
sometimes parody is all we have left.” – Dr Jo Grady
We gave you a taste of what went on on our picket lines on the last day of #UCUStrikesBack yesterday. There was dance, music and song, there were the usual cakes and samosas, the Christmas Tree of Solidarity and the now ubiquitous Walrus of Righteous Justice.
We also had picket line visitors, including Celia Hibbert, the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Harborough, and UCU’s General Secretary Jo Grady. President and Vice Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah also attended the rally, but did not speak.
Most importantly, though, were the prizes! We gave away yesterday that Millie won the award for the best Jo Grady outfit, but other prizes were also awarded…
Best fancy dress went to Patrick, there was a special award for Richard the Purple Trombone Man and further musical accolades for our Leicester UCU drummers Nico, Andreas, Tiff and Stefano, some of whom, it has to be said, have magnificent Bongos. Chris and Lucy also got a special music prize for supplying our music and PA system.
#ProfessorsOnPicketLines awards went to Anne-Marie, Kevin P, Kevin S, Simon and Gavin, and outstanding student support awards went to Millie, Liz, Keir, Jacob, Victoria and Liz. Emma, Rob, Alex, Deborah, Zoe were awarded prizes for outstanding service across the eight days.
Although no prizes were officially awarded, it would be remiss of me at this point not to give special mentions to our branch co-chairs, vice chair and co-secretaries, who were out of bed even earlier than the rest of us. Thank you Sarah, Deirdre, Helen, Gareth and Nick for all that you do for the branch. Much of it goes under the radar but we love you all lots and appreciate all that you do.
Awards over, time for our daily stroll around campus with crowds bigger than ever. In fact the turn-out was incredible given this was day 8 and most of us were exhausted. But we still strolled, we still drummed, we still blew our whistles and we still had energy to tell out stories. And this was perhaps the most heart-breaking part of the day as members stood up in front of the crowd and in front of the VC and told us why they were on strike. You can hear their voices below.
The grand finale came when our friend, former colleague and comdrade extraordinaire Jo Grady stood up to address the crowd. Jo told us of her frustrations as an employee of the University of Leicester, including overwork, under-recognition, seeing burn-out amongst academic and professional service colleagues alike. She emphasised why we should be proud to take action, why we should be proud to protect our university when management refuse to do so. It is not us that is neglecting our students, she reiterated. Jo also called out the shocking behaviour of the University of Liverpool in threatening overseas students with reporting that could lead to deportations, to which the crowd yelled, and Jo agreed, “We are not border control, WE ARE THE UNIVERSITY”. People who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds to be influential, she said, need to step up – right now they are not doing enough.
A special shout out was also give to students who support our cause and do not allow themselves to be weaponised. Their solidarity, said Jo (and we agree entirely) is beautiful.
Finally, Jo made a key point about the relationship between staff and managers at times of dispute. Conflict, she said, is not abuse. Criticism is not abuse and, when power an inequality is the way it is in universities, sometimes parody is all we have left.
Our huge thanks go to Jo for coming to see us after what must have been a long an exhausting tour of the country over the last week and a half. We hope too that the next time you drop by it will be for a victory party and you, alongside our student supporters, will be top of the guest list.
Huge thanks go out also to every single one of our members who took action, came to the picket lines, observed the digital picket, all of our student supporters, everyone who made or brought us food and drink – and a special thanks here to Ernie and the University of Leicester branch of Unison who supplied us with hot drinks throughout the dispute – over £1,000 was raised for The Bridge charity as a result. Please donate if you can.
It’s back to work for now, but don’t forget, we’re undertaking Action Short of a Strike and advice for all staff about this can be found on our website.
To conclude, as with the 2018 strikes, it feels like we have unfinished business, so I can only close with the words I opened with on Day 1 of our strike action:
We will be back.