The picket line at Sidgwick site this morningRosie Poser

Picket lines appeared across Cambridge today as members of the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike.

This wave of strikes will last 10 days spread over the next three weeks, with staff at 44 universities taking part.

It concerns grievances over pay, precarity, equality, workloads, and pensions, with the latter the focus of five strike days this week.

UCU condemns proposed reforms to the University Superannuation Scheme - the sector’s biggest pension pot - which it claims would see an average member take a 35% cut to their guaranteed benefits when they retire.

The University shares the union’s worries about the plans, with the two co-signing a letter to USS managers in December.

Despite cold and damp weather this morning, over 50 students joined staff on picket lines at Senate House, Downing site, and Sidgwick site.

Oscar, a third-year undergraduate, told Varsity that he was out picketing “because the issues UCU are striking on affect us all. The way staff members are treated directly impacts the level of education we as students receive - there’s absolutely no way of separating these two issues: staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions.”


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“What’s at stake here is the way our University system functions, so it’s just as much of a student fight as a staff one. This morning I was singing and chanting with my friends, lecturers and supervisors because without the short term disruption of the strikes, we will never achieve longer term wins.”

At midday the strikers gathered for a rally on the cobblestones in front of Senate House, where students graduate. One lecturer there was Professor Jason Scott-Warren, a Shakespeare expert and Extinction Rebellion activist.

Speaking to Varsity, he explained that the strikes aim to get a more “credible” pension plan on the table after USS management’s “ideological”, and “completely swingeing and unjustified attack”.

Addressing the crowd, Anjum Nahar, Cambridge SU’s postgraduate president, said that “since the beginning of the industrial action in 2018, Cambridge students have stood in solidarity with striking staff [...] We’ve stood with you on the picket lines, brought you tea and coffee, and even occupied buildings to get management to pay attention.”

The rally on King's ParadeSerge Isman

The SU’s support of the strikes extends to organising breakfast runs to feed picketers, and holding an email campaign for students to “show solidarity”.

Some take issue with this position. In an opinion piece from last term, undergraduates Freddie Poser and Joshan Parmar wrote that “the students’ union must look out for students, not faculty or abstract notions of solidarity”.

The SU says that it will ease disruption to students by lobbying the university for exam mitigations, and “working with student groups and UCU [...] to support all students’ education throughout strike action”.

In a statement to Varsity, SU Welfare Officer Ben Dalitz said: “Staff do not take the decision to strike lightly, and do so because other avenues have failed and because of the precarity that many staff face, especially early career academics and those from marginalised groups”.

“I’ve had a great time on the picket lines – it’s a great opportunity to chat to lecturers and supervisors and hear about why they’re striking. Lots of students are taking part in Cambridge SU’s breakfast runs, and the support from passers-by has been really encouraging!”

This article was updated at 9.25 on 15/2 to include comment from Ben Dalitz.