Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Union strike virtually shuts down London Met

London Met University came to a virtual halt yesterday as hundreds of workers went on a UCU/ UNISON co-ordinated strike in protest at continued job cuts and outsourcing.

Workers and students honoured the picket lines at every building in both campuses and a lively rally was then held at the Central House building.

Following the rally a delegation then went to hand in a letter and petition to Peter Mandelson urging him to step in and save London Met University.

Speakers lined up to condemn the government, HEFCE and the local management for their failure to keep London Met’s finances in order – and trying to make staff and students pay the price.

See more photos from 'px' on indymedia here.

The pickets were solid throughout the day – and both unions recruited several new members on the picket lines. Postal workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) refused to deliver post to any London Met buildings, honouring the picket lines, and fellow trade unionists from UNISON and UCU branches from SOAS, Tower Hamlets, Birkbeck, Royal Free Hospital, City & Islington College UCU, Barnet Unison and Carshalton college, among others, came to show their solidarity on the day.

Despite management’s attempts to keep it open, the Women’s Library had to close completely after a successful picket and recruitment of new member on the day shut the building.
Despite a few strike-breakers – mainly contracted staff – pickets reported many non-union members also stayed at home, taking annual leave or calling in sick. Students coming in to use the libraries also turned away to show support for the strike’s cause.

The level of solidarity on display reflects the anger at the senior management of the university. Max Watson, of London Met UNISON Branch, introduced the speakers at the rally of over a hundred pickets and supporters. Voicing the anger of staff at London Met, he said:
“How dare they talk about cuts, when they waste millions every year on useless consultancies? How dare they talk about cuts when not a single senior manager or HR director is being made redundant? How dare they talk about cuts when they're paying £276,000 a year for the ex-Vice Chancellor, Brian Roper just to keep quiet. Is that value for money? It’s money for Old Roper, that’s what it is.”

Echoing the widespread feelings of the need for more action, Mark Campbell, Chair of London Met UCU branch, warned management that if they don't rescind the compulsory redundancies that are currently being threatened, then there'll be 'total war' in the new term (watch his speech in full here). Ben Whitham, London Met UNISON communications officer, also said: “We’ll keep taking strike action until the cuts are put on hold and the unions get some input into the running of the university.”

Sasha Callaghan, of UCU, passionately spoke against cuts in education at a time of recession. Cuts at London Met will mean cuts for all workers and the poor of London’s East End.
Jon Richards, national Higher Education UNISON official, also spoke in support of the strike action on behalf of Dave Prentis, General Secretary. He highlighted the irony of a recent book that was published by researchers at London Met on the detrimental effects of restructuring, following a seminar he attended, titled: ‘Restructuring is bad for workers health’.

Richards said: “If only the management of this university had read their own researchers’ work – they’ve not implemented a fraction of the recommendations in this book.”

The BBC News and some others covered our strike (see here, here and here for example). And as usual, plenty of solidarity messages came through (see here), including from ‘Feminist Fightback’ – a member who had come to use the Women's Library was happy to find it closed and to hear that her sisters were all on strike.

The rally closed with chants: ‘They say cut back; we say fight back!’, which continued at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Peter Mandelson’s private secretary came to receive the letter and petition (watch video here).

A new letter was also handed out to all at the demo to send to their MPs and the strikers vowed to return in the new term with further action: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

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