PICKET’S GOT TALENT
Picture it: The angry mob of workers, wearing dirty hi-vis jackets, furiously clutching placards as, with red faces and protruding eyes, they scream ‘SCAB!’ at passing colleagues who dare to go into work. Now picture the exact opposite, and you might have some idea of how Lancaster UCU does pickets. All picket locations were well attended, but the focus of activities was undoubtedly the main drive, which saw dozens of colleagues and students from across the University on each strike day, even edging up over 100 some days.
Beginning with the event on the eve of the strike last Wednesday, a beer-fuelled banner-making session in Lancaster’s newest real ale pub, 75 Church Street, creativity and high spirits have characterised Lancaster’s approach to picketing. Banners included the expected slogans (‘Campus closed’, ‘Staff and students unite’, ‘Support our staff’, ‘Don’t axe our pensions’), along with some more… creative offerings (‘UUK: Putting the “n” in “cuts”’ raised a few eyebrows). What particularly stood out was the crafty design of the banners – the banner-making session involved lots of cutting, sticking and sewing, and even ornate calligraphy, going well beyond the usual hastily scrawled bedsheets seen at most picket lines.
Once the strike started in earnest, things got even more creative, with members showing their talents at baking, music, dancing, and even sculpture: highlights included a scratch band that worked through a repertoire of Billy Bragg and Pete Seeger songs, a picket Zumba class that had everyone jumping around, and, on the last day, snow sculptures (a mini-picket line featuring its own banners, such as ‘UUK: Cold as ice’, which caused one observer to comment ‘but not willing to sacrifice’).
Alongside the picketing, UCU also organised a ‘Teach Out’, featuring a programme of talks and workshops, mainly at the Gregson, which allowed discussion and reflection of the strike and the wider causes of the strike (see also our review of Bob Jessop’s talk, below).
Despite the all-singing and dancing picket lines, the fun did not detract from the seriousness of the pensions dispute, and UCU reports that it continues to gain new members each day of the strike.
ESSENTIAL READING FOR THE PICKET LINE
subtext is pleased to announce a vibrant, up-to-the minute competitor publication has started up on campus. The Lancaster UCU’s daily strike update has been a simple, single-side-of-A4 publication, but it has quickly become essential reading – as well as ensuring that those crossing the picket line can’t just say ‘I’ve already got your leaflet!’ and drive on. Well done to all concerned.
SAMBA UP THE TOWN HALL STEPS
Following the last of the UCU ‘teach out’ sessions held at the Gregson on Wednesday (28th February) a spontaneous (well, almost) unauthorised march took place through the city centre towards the town hall. Forty or so ‘raggle-taggle’ folk trotted, skipped and samba-ed their way accompanied by drums, maracas, bits of wood that made noises, washboards, whistles and squeaky toys. They tramped through the streets to congregate on the town hall steps for an impromptu rally. They were joined by members of the National Education Union (formally the NUT) and a smattering of other trade union members, and quite a large number of students who supported the strike – so not quite as unplanned as was made out! Cue lots of speeches, calls-to-arms and witty chants, accompanied by a surprising number of motorists blasting their horns in support. However, it was jolly cold and after participants had fun photographing their fellow frozen demonstrators it was felt that they had made their presence known (before the police had got to twig what was going on). Banners were packed way and folk hurried home to a hot cup of something. Grand turn out for a (sort of) spur-of-the-moment event, but for folk to stand around in the bitter cold for so long says quite a lot – although exactly what is open to debate!