Sussex staff set terms for first round of industrial strike action
The University and College Union (UCU) at the University of Sussex announced last week following an Emergency General Meeting that they will go on strike this Thursday 18 March, and again in the summer term. It was also decided that there will be a lobby of the university senate meeting on Wednesday 17.
The decision on 3 March to go on strike came after an overwhelming 76 percent of votes favoured industrial action in response to the proposed 115 redundancies. Eighty-two percent of UCU members voted for action short of a strike. The ballot saw an overwhelming 80.9 percent turn out of total UCU Sussex members, breaking the union’s previous national record. Management seeks a budget reduction of £3m for 2009/10 and a further £5m in 2010/11.
The meeting, opened by the University of Sussex Student Union President Tom Wills, passed a motion that stated there will also be “strike action or action short of a strike in the summer term.” The date for this will be announced in a following meeting.
A spokesperson for the Sussex UCU said: “The strength of feeling at yet another packed EGM was palpable. Despite the ever valid concerns that any industrial action we take must be both effective and sustainable the feeling in the room that management has left us with little option was clear. Now is the time to be heard. It is clear that during this entire process, management has done nothing but increase the feeling of alienation and anger at the
He added that since the ballot “there has been some movement from management.
“We think the Senate Working Group may now see all of the alternative proposals and if that is confirmed then it is clearly good news. However, management has refused the involvement of ACAS [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] as requested by UCU.
“We had an excellent discussion on when and how to take industrial action. There were also a number of questions around support for members who may incur financial difficulties as a result of any strike action.”
Some of the conditions for strike action were also discussed at the meeting, which stated UCU members have 28 days in which to take action; that they must take action to keep the possibility of further action and extension to the 28 days a live option; and they must give at least seven days notice of any action.
The UCU Sussex branch president, Paul Cecil, said: “Industrial action is an absolute last resort, but the university’s unwillingness to enter into meaningful negotiations has forced our hand. The bottom line is that serious job losses will impact massively on the quality of education and services we can offer here at Sussex, which will result in a far worse experience for students.”
The senate meeting this Wednesday to examine the proposal of job losses was originally to be held on Friday 5 March but in light of the ballot of the UCU members voting for strike action, the meeting was postponed.
UCU Sussex aims to negotiate a settlement on the compulsory redundancies at the university, which is supported by the USSU.
USSU President Tom Wills said: “We are right behind Sussex staff. We understand that strike action may be the key to winning this battle and we will do everything we can to support it. We will hold university management responsible for disruption to our education resulting from the strike – but moreover we will hold management responsible for the devastation that will be wrought on our education if they succeed in pushing through their cuts proposals.”
The meeting also focused on the student protest against the cuts held on 3 March outside Sussex House, as well as the reaction by university management. The protest involved around 50 students occupying the building, with two subsequent arrests and six suspensions.
The motion on the student occupation, which was passed unanimously, stated: “Sussex UCU wishes to express its deep concern at the disproportionate response of management to the occupation of Sussex House.
“Occupations are a form of protest, with a long tradition, undertaken by students in many institutions both in this country and internationally. We believe that dialogue and patience should always be the initial response of the institution unless there is an immediate and realistic threat of physical harm. The union fully supports and defends the right of lawful protest.
It described the six suspensions as “a disproportionate response, serving to inflict significant harm to the education of the students concerned and restricting their civil liberties.”
The members also urged Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing to lift the suspensions “immediately” so that the students could continue with their studies, and suggested that the suspensions were in breach of their human rights.
In a letter to the General Secretary of the UCU Sally Hunt on 26 February, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Paul Layzell wrote: “Nothing has changed as a result of your ballot. The University was already engaged in consultation with the three trades unions and had received constructive comments from each of them: the consultation process is the way in which the University’s Proposal for Change may be influenced – not a ballot for, or indeed any taking of industrial action.”
Paul Cecil interview page 6 >>