On 4 October Middlesex University academic and administrative staff, organised in the University and College Union (UCU) and Unison respectively, were out on strike against compulsory redundancies. Staff had first been informed of the threat of these redundancies in June, and by mid-July 300 staff had found themselves in “at risk” groups. It was not an easy time of year for staff to organise resistance to this onslaught. But throughout the summer holiday both union branches kept the union offices open, supported individuals affected and simultaneously began to organise collective action.
In June a UCU annual general meeting had passed a resolution asking the branch executive to plan for action if compulsory redundancy was threatened. This meant that the branch was able to plan for a ballot. But the management’s timing resulted in the ballot being conducted before the term had even begun, and this meant that ensuring a good turnout would be a logistical challenge. In the event the turnout at 52 per cent was one of the biggest at a ballot in the union’s recent history: 80 per cent voted for strike action and 94 per cent for action short of strike.
Having got the successful vote, the challenge for both unions was to organise quickly in order to make an impact. It was therefore decided to take action in the University induction week. This action was formally supported by the student union, a significant move forward after some years of student union reluctance to support action by staff. This time the student union clearly understood that what the management proposed would have a profound impact on the quality of their learning.
The joint union pickets were effective on the strike day, and after a period of refusing to speak to the unions, management have returned to the negotiating table. As yet no compulsory redundancies have been declared. However at least 100 staff have opted for voluntary redundancy. The staff involved would characterise this as jumping before being pushed. But the stark fact is that every voluntary redundancy is still a future job lost. ■