With over 70% of UCU (University and College Union) members who voted in a recent ballot opting for a strike, today the University of Salford was hit by industrial action as picket lines formed at entrances across its campus.
The strike was called by UCU in response to yet another round of redundancies at the University which has seen hundreds of staff members lose their jobs over the last three years. This time it's believed that around 25 staff will be made compulsorily redundant on top of scores who have taken voluntary redundancy.
"I think staff have been pushed too far, they've have enough and they feel it's time to fight back for, basically their own jobs and dignity" said Glyn Heath, branch secretary for the University of Salford UCU, who was picketing outside the University's campus at MediaCityUK early this morning.
Last time University staff went on strike, as part of the national pension protest on November 30th, pickets at MediaCityUK were ejected by Peel Holdings' security force (see here)
"This time security spoke to us and said we were being monitored but didn't give any indication of intending to escort us off the premises, so we're still here" Glyn explained, adding that many thought the Media City campus was partly to blame for the staff cuts…
"There's a lot of investment in new buildings across the University and I think that is at the expense of staff and jobs. But students require the staff for maintaining good quality teaching and, by losing staff, it's not going to help the University long term - in fact I think it's going to be detrimental to the University's vision of becoming a better university in terms of research output and its teaching."
If Peel Holdings' security was taking a back seat today, the University of Salford's management certainly wasn't. At many picket lines, yellow vested `Picket Marshals' were to be seen standing nearby strikers, monitoring activity. They wouldn't speak to the Salford Star on the record but one Marshal did say that they were there to make sure there was no intimidation either by pickets or against pickets.
Whatever effect they were supposed to have, they just made the picket lines look busier and prettier, and also left many questioning how much the exercise had cost the supposedly hard up University.
Outside the Adelphi arts campus, Phillipa Whittaker, chair of North West Region UCU and a past vice president of the Salford University UCU branch made a passionate and emotional defence of the strike action.
"We're striking today because we've now had seven waves of redundancies, with another big one to come, we fear, in September" she said "At the moment our concern is 25 staff whose jobs have either disappeared or were in competitive pools, where they were in a sort of beauty contest against each other for their jobs. Now we've got people who have not been selected and it's devastating for them; it's a kick in the teeth, because not only have you lost your job but you've been labelled a failure and stigmatised.
"Salford has traditionally never been a militant branch but practically everybody now is looking over their shoulder all the time, and it's having a terrible effect" she added "Originally it was supposed to be that the University was making redundancies for `financial headroom' so it could provide money for new buildings, and it started with Media City, but now its looking at a new library and arts building. It seems to be about 20 jobs going for every £1million the University is spending on new buildings…"
With hundreds of staff already axed, concern is mounting for overworked staff who are left, and the quality of teaching they will be able to provide for students who are paying huge fees for their university education.
"We love this University" explained Phillipa "My father left school at 14 and did his HND when it was Salford Tech, and I was the first in my family to go to university. I came back and was pleased to work here with students not from privileged backgrounds. There has always been a lot of class contact time and tuition time and we want that to continue because we think students have benefited from that.
"Now the university seems to be in danger of using online, and we've always been in favour of this as a supplement for staff - but not a cheap substitute" she added "We think that being taught by inspirational staff is still one of the greatest gifts you can have in your education and we don't want to see that watered down.
"Yes, the University has been hit by funding cuts and the new Higher Education funding stream - and to be fair to our VC he has been one of the most outspoken critics and I would applaud him for that - but at the same time that we are facing financial stringency the University is still pursuing doggedly a very grandiose policy of re-profiling itself by renewing much of the estate. And as a strategist and an accountant I really would question whether that it a wise thing to be doing at the moment."
The fight for jobs at the University of Salford goes on...and on...and on...
Main photo shows pickets at MediaCityUK this morning