Members of Nottingham AF today were down on the picket lines at Nottingham and Trent universities, as lecturers on strike and as students and fellow workers showing their support. This was following UCU members decision to come out on strike.
Where the needs of capital and the needs of us as workers clash, as they always will, we always support workers in their choice to withdraw their labour. A strike is where the implicit tensions between us and them become explicit, where class tensions fissure and manifest themselves. We will support workers who choose this course of action, both inside and outside the union form, where the terms and conditions and wages won by them and generations before them are under threat. Solidarity is our strongest weapon and where there are strikes they should be supported to help people recognise their shared interests.
This Thursday is I arrived down at the pickets at Trent Uni about 8am, about half an hour after they were due to start. I came across a guy by himself outside Loxley house, who suggested I might be more use at another picket line. After heading up to Chaucer house I was both amused and unsurprised to see the head of security having a word with a couple of strikers. He proceeded to lecture them, telling them they needed to keep access to the doorway open at all time and that they had to get their leaflets and placards off the table by 9, as a nearby café was opening. he then finished by saying, “I’m more concerned with the further education students than your lot, but try and keep them under control. I saw what they got up to in London.” LOL
I was surprised by how nonchalantly people crossed picket lines, most not engaging with it all even after being informed of what was happening and that we’d prefer them not to go in. On the few occasions staff did speak to me they told me they either weren’t a member of the union or that they were in a different union, understandable to a certain extent given the lack of union density and recent history of struggle. But obviously for a strike to be effective the idea is to aim for a complete shutdown of the workplace; nobody and nothing works. A group of three foreign students planning a study group, agreed to come back tomorrow after I spoke to them, which was heartening to see.
Another thing I was surprised at was the lack of confrontation by UCU members on the picket line. They also suggested I change my “friends don’t let friends scab” placard, to “friends don’t let friends cross picket lines”. They told me they feared being victimised by management if it was felt they were harassing people, which again is understandable and I guess symptomatic of the state of the British trade union movement.
At this point a couple of SWP members turned up, talked about Libya for a bit and having failed to find purchasers for their newspapers moved on to the next picket line
I decided at this stage to see what was going on in the Newton Building just up the way. Here I found a bigger picket with about 6 UCU members and a group of students with a banner saying “Support the Strike” (and a light sabre) and a mildly disturbing picture of a mother Cameron cradling an infant Clegg. (Prescient, as we later learnt, sadly too late to doing anything, that Clegg and Cameron were at Boots HQ to plug their special enterprise zones. The ones that have been such a success for the Chinese peasantry). They were asking students to support the strike by not going into the university. It seemed the majority of students were ignoring this as did a few lecturers, one of them a sociology teacher. Epic Sociology fail. I’m glad she doesn’t teach me.
There were surges on the hour as students arrived for lectures. Not sure how many were put off by the picket lines but got a non sarcastic shout of, “fuck the scabs” and from a busker “up the revolution”. Talking to students and strikers they did reckon it was a lot quieter than normal and had been pretty well respected by UCU members. Got a couple of dings of support from passing trams as well. At this point I resorted to telling people university was shut, but no one seemed to believe me.
As well as this I interviewed a striking economics lecturer who told me who did Marxist research into surplus value extraction for clients of the university. He was lovely guy but it does help helpfully illustrate that university helps to facilitate capital accumulation as much as any other industry. He also told he felt there was a limited place for markets. Poor Marx.
Security were being security. Firstly by trying to move people off the steps of the uni building because it was private property. The head of security at one point threatened to call the police because he felt a student had been blocking a tram line. He then told us to stop taking pictures (which he has no power to do and we weren’t doing anyway) as we were using it to intimidate students. He then told us we shouldn’t be pressuring and “upsetting” students not to go in because they weren’t on strike. I asked what he though a picket line was for, to which he laughed. There was also a security car constantly patrolling to keep an eye on the picket lines. These petty intimidation techniques helpfully illustrate the contempt management has for its workers.
Disappointingly I was informed that the posties crossed the picket line at Nottingham University three times today (three different posties) even after it was pointed out their union would agree to support them. Apparently they said they had to deliver the post because it was important. Well quite, that’s why you don’t deliver it. Especially saddening as the branch had said to me it was 90% that the pickets would be respected and I strikers were informed of this.
Stuck around for a while before heading to a rally in the square at 11. Thought it was strange and a problematic thing to stop manning picket lines, but had to go back to my own job elsewhere anyway and it was on the way. UCU vice president spoke, PCS organiser spoke to a rally of about 200 people in the glorious sunshine of the market square. Usual sort of stuff as you get at these things. Lot’s of we must win the argument type rhetoric, without acknowledging that society is not a polite debating society rather vested interests of using their leverage to extract concessions from us, the workers. A student speaker was better I thought by openly discussing the increasing commodification of university and the importance of linking up struggles.
And that was the rushed fleeting impressions of my first picket line. May it be the first of many.