The University recently released plans to restructure support staff, putting 361 staff members at risk of redundancy or cuts to their pay and conditions, disproportionately targeting women and those with caring responsibilities. This is all part of a move to casualise the workforce and move them from fixed hours onto forced shift work. In response we sent the Vice Chancellor a letter stating that if he did not cease the attacks, by today, we would mobilize national days of action on the university’s open days.
The University have, at the time of writing, made substantial concessions. The staff unions are taking the dispute forward through negotiations and, recognising this, we are no longer calling for action on the University’s open days. Thanks to pressure put on the University by students and staff through this campaign, no staff will be forced into shift work or working on weekends, voluntary redundancy will be offered to all staff at risk, which a sufficient number are willing to take. Staff already on shift work will be given more protection, the ability to choose their days off without booking annual leave, exemption from split shifts, and an increased amount of paid breaks. Although we have not yet won all of our aims, these are huge concessions to be granted by a university management that never publicly change their mind, because they think it shows weakness.
This outcome demonstrates that protest and direct action work. Unions were negotiating these issues behind the scenes for two months, whilst the management kept announcing further attacks. As soon as they started to sign up large numbers of new members and talk about strike action, in conjunction with our warning issued to David Eastwood, the University abandoned the majority of their attacks within two weeks. This also illustrates the power of students and staff when working together. We should always remember that staff and students, not management, are what make the University work. If we all recognise this, and the power that we have, we can achieve the conditions of work and study that we want.
Calling off this action is not the end of the campaign. Both staff and students will resume organisation in the next academic year when we are stronger, and we can continue to build a sustained campaign rather than just one big action. The University (and the Students’ Union) are not paying their staff a living wage, they continue to treat workers without respect, and are increasing the number of casualised contracts. These are issues that students cannot ignore. Many of us work in minimum wage, casualised jobs to pay for our education, and we are seeing academic and support staff conditions at the University increasingly degraded. Fighting against casualisation and for better working conditions at the University is part of a broader fight for our own working conditions everywhere.
These concessions have not come from nowhere. They are built on the back of three years of protests, direct action and mobilisation. We would like to thank everyone who came to the national demonstrations in Birmingham last year and Sussex this year. In both of these instances, the student movement showed that a national demonstration is something to be afraid of. When we become involved in organising, we are constantly told that protests don’t change anything, but the actions of this group and the national student movement have shown management that we’re capable of defending ourselves if they try attack the conditions of staff and students.