UCU members, with banners, march along Oxford Road, Manchester.

The University and College Union (UCU), the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), UNISON and the National Union of Students (NUS) joined forces for a march on Friday 25 November, travelling along Oxford Road to hear impassioned speeches in Manchester’s St Peter’s Square. The Meteor joined the rally to talk to those involved.

Stuart Anderson, University of Manchester (UoM), who works at the School of Arts and Languages, explained his attendance:

“Some of us are on decent salaries, but graduate teachers are on £16,000 a year. I am not getting paid for today but there are people here, on zero hour contracts, with the casualisation of working conditions, who are making real sacrifices.”

Stuart explained how working conditions had deteriorated since he had started employment. New staff face difficulty coping with the cost-of-living crisis, and with the insecurity of their work they are finding it impossible to consider entering the mortgage market.

As the protesters snaked down Oxford Street, banners and supporters joined from the TUC, the People’s Assembly and from further afield as members of the Ver.di Union from Germany arrived.

When the crowd reached St Peter’s Square they were welcomed by an array of speeches, including from Jay McKenna, TUC Regional Secretary, who echoed the cohesion of those gathered:

“This isn’t a new crisis. It’s one that we knew was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fix. What we have seen though this year is the RMT, CWU and UCU all starting to take action nationally. We have seen a lot more people encouraged to do something about it.”

McKenna emphasised the need for solidarity as he explained the government do not want to give in and the bosses are clearly coordinating together:

“All of us coming together show there are more of us than there are of them.”

Laya Hooshyari, an Iranian Ph.D student from UoM, spoke of the oppression of people around the world and drew similarities with the UK:

“Oppression is everywhere, oppression has lots of faces. I see lecturers and university staff work hard without having proper conditions. This is not a university; it is a profiteering company. I learned the real meaning of casualisation: low pay, insecure housing and disrupted communities. As a student not only do I support the UCU strike but I support all other strikes that are happening inside the UK.”

Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, who had already visited two picket lines in the morning – Royal Mail in Salford and the UCU picket line in Salford – urged listeners to protect not just pay but services for the community:

“How are we going to be able to innovate and develop for the future, when the staff who work at universities are so ground down and demoralised? Firstly because they don’t get paid enough, secondly because their jobs are casualised, and thirdly because they have so much work to do people are having to take time off with stress.”

“The same is true for our public sector workers.”

John Morgan, Manchester Trades Union Council, added his voice:

“I could be here as a normal rank-and-file trade unionist, I could be here as a member of the public who is worried about their children’s education in general, I could be here as a student who is worried about how their course will run, or finally I could be here as a member of the public who is worried about the economic maelstrom that has been dropped on our heads by the Tory government.”

Carl Webb, Regional Secretary CWU called for public action:

“Postal workers can’t rely on politicians to come to our aid. It’s down to the trade unions, the workers and the people who support us. My members worked through Covid, they made record profits for the company.”

Linda Holden, Branch secretary of MMU Unison asked for the students to organise:

“They [the students] are supportive but they are not organised, at the moment, for the February strike wave.”

Saira Weiner, Branch Secretary of a UCU branch in the North West, called for solidarity and urged on members:

 “We can win this.”

However, Salford Councillor, Andrew Walters, warned listeners against complacency.

“For evil to prevail all it is required is for good people to be quiet.”

Unscheduled speaker MMU student Naytanael Israel, took to the microphone echoing feelings of those gathered:

“Technicians from MMU striking are being replaced by students on £9 per hour. We are here to fight. We are here to stay. We ain’t going nowhere. We are only going up.”

As the crowd dispersed, to home and picket lines, one wonders if the palpable discontentment will permeate through to Downing Street.

Marchers hold a large UCU banner in front of the University of Manchester on Oxford Road.
UCU strike with UoM and MMU staff and students

To support and join future planned strike and campaign actions see upcoming dates.

University and College Union (UCU)

Communications Union (CWU)

UNISON National Union of Students (NUS)

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All images: Gary Roberts

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  • Gary Roberts

    A photojournalist and writer who covers conservation and social issues worldwide. Founder of worldwidefeatures.com. Education background includes BSc Zoology at Leeds University and an MSc at The University of Manchester in International development poverty, conflict and reconstruction. Gary studied and later taught photojournalism at Speos Photographic institute. His work has involved numerous conservation and social justice groups including The Fairtrade foundation, Oxfam, ABRU Animal Behaviour Research Unit, SOS Lynx, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, TANAPA, and APOPO. Publications include UK National and International Press.

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