Striking outfits and striking staff - we headed to the picket lines to document the best looks of the strikes and some of the personal reasons behind taking part.Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

Photographer Anna Ward and accompanying enthusiast of both protest and street style, Emrys Travis, are hitting up the picket lines this week to find the best of strike style fashion, and giving picketers and their supporters a sartorial megaphone. If communism, in the words of Walter Benjamin, politicises art, consider this pop-up column the sartorial wing of that effort… or something like that.

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

Roseanna, a PhD student in History, stands out on the Old Schools picket line in mustard yellow trousers from the brand & Other Stories. They were a present from her sister, who she names as her style inspiration: “If you think I’m fashionable, you should see her!”. Disposable income for clothes is hard to come by, though; Roseanna highlights that 23% of Cambridge supervisions are taught by grad students, and that when all the hours spent preparing for teaching are counted up, they can earn as little as “around £3 an hour.” “And I love it!” she hastens to add, “and I really want to be an academic, but I just don’t know if it’s going to be possible.”

Anna Ward

Who could miss the vision in purple and pink that is Eleanor, a member of IT staff in the engineering department? The strength of her colour scheme matches the strength of her convictions: “The pensions increases we’re paying have almost entirely wiped out any pay rise we had this year at all, never mind the fact that those pay rises are still below inflation! I’m lucky enough to have a permanent contract, but there are a lot of people in very precarious positions, and I just think that’s wrong.” Eleanor insists, though, that her signature colour combo came before her membership of UCU, whose colours are coincidentally also purple and pink.

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

Tucked around the corner at the picket of Downing Site, Noah, a physics grad student, is going for a more muted Monday morning look. US-born Noah takes after his parents; his mother inspired him with a wish to go into teaching, which underpins his support for the strike - “it’s really a shame to see how many people would like to go into teaching and aren’t given the means because of pay or short-term contracts.” His style inspo, though, comes from his dad: a fan of US-based work clothing brand Carhartt. Noah is sporting one of their practical yet stylish jackets. 

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

For those who don’t recognise this iconic face, Daniel is running to keep his seat as Cambridge’s MP. He sports his well-worn flat cap and Cambridge United scarf on the pickets on Tuesday, and a coat originally bought at a Unison Labour Link conference in Cardiff, which he says “was very nice a few years ago, but has probably seen a few too many picket lines.” His words are, as always, just as inspiring as his classic style: “This is part of a much bigger view of how our world is going to be… This is how, in the past, people have secured through struggle the quality of life that we enjoy today.”

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

Chloe and Rowan, undergrad students in History and Music, brightened up the Old Schools picket on Tuesday with artfully clashing prints. Chloe described her style inspiration as “wood nymph, but in winter,” while Rowan went for the less whimsical “whatever was on the top of the pile.” These students’ political commitments extend to eschewing fast fashion, too; Rowan’s shirt is from a vintage shop in Edinburgh and they picked up their skirt at the Cambridge Vintage Kilo Sale, while Chloe’s skirt is a hand-me-down from her nan (awww). Their message to fellow students? “Support the strikes - stay in bed!”

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

In true picket line style, Geography lecturer Alexander (right) was going for “long straight lines, simple, minimal - and warm!” in his striking (ahem) eBay-sourced coat. Senior lecturer Mia (left) says her style inspiration was strike banners and historical working class protest iconography, plus “red makes you visible!”. It brightens the mood, too; Mia is “so depressed to be out here again!” - but, she says, “I feel like I’m defending our profession. If we don’t do this, the powers that be casualise and make our profession insecure... I’m alright, I’m mid career, but my PhD students and our early career fellows are not - I’m doing it for them.”

Anna ward; composite: Gabriel humphreys

What would a strike style column be without a good pair of dungarees? Sylvie, a medic from Churchill, is sporting this classic blue denim pair which she bought on eBay,“they’ve got bike oil on…”, and an equally classic pair of red Dr Martens boots. She says that as a medic “it’s pretty easy to just not notice the strikes are happening,” but that even though she doesn’t know much about them she thought it was important to come and support (a vigilant UCU member immediately handed her an explanatory flyer!). Her aesthetic inspiration? “Warmth!”

Anna Ward

Ted, the branch co-secretary for UCU, says that as an (presumably less stylish) undergrad he had “a very idealised notion of how universities worked,” but through graduate study and into teaching realised that “although Cambridge pretends to be this utopia of education, it’s subject to the same trends that characterise the rest of the sector” - less pay, more work, and greater casualisation. He got up early to man the pickets - “my style inspiration was the clothes I could find in the dark!” - but decided that with less than a month until Christmas, it was time for the festive jumper,all the way from Norway, to come out. He’s pictured here accessorising with a fresh croissant - “Shout out to the breakfast runs!” Ted’s message for students is short and sweet: “We’re on the same side.”

For more information on the 2019 Staff Strikes, check out our Varsity explains here.

Or see all our coverage of the 2019 Staff Strikes here.

Sponsored links