Lectures and seminars across the University were cancelled yesterday as lecturers and staff took to the streets over cuts to pay and working conditions.
Pickets were held at every entrance to the University followed by a march from Parkinson steps to Victoria Gardens. The strike marks the first joint union protest in Leeds for 16 years.
Staff had been offered a 1% pay rise this year whereas the Vice Chancellor now receives a reported £250,000 annually, up by £5,000 from the previous year. The pay gap between the highest and lowest paid staff in higher education is now the biggest in the public sector.
Students also demonstrated their solidarity by protesting. The president of Amnesty Society said: “I’m joining in because I think it’s wrong that higher tuition fees are not benefiting staff salaries.”
Many students were notified that their lecturers or seminars would be cancelled prior to the strike. The shortage of support and administrative staff also saw several University buildings including the School of Business close, while both libraries shut early.
The closures also resulted in 11 Union societies with pre-existing room bookings being unable to use their reserved space.
Theatre Group was one of the societies unable to use the space they had booked. However, society President Lucy Troy told LS that “it didn’t really cause that much of a disruption,” adding: “It was easily solved by booking another room.”
Not all staff took part in the strike action or protest. Alison Johnson, a lecturer in the School of English, said: “The University directive is that for students, life continues normally unless you’ve been told that your session is cancelled. For me, as a non-union member the reality is that life continues as normal.”
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) also took a less favourable view of the strike, stating they were “disappointed” by the action.
Ann Blair, senior lecturer in the School of Law and President of UCU at the University of Leeds, expressed satisfaction with the strike action’s impact, saying: “We have closed the libraries, lectures have been cancelled across the campus and there has been no teaching in the School of Psychology.”
She added: “We don’t like individual students to suffer, but you can’t achieve a world-class education system with a demoralized staff.”
Jo Westerman of Unite agreed, saying the strike was intended to “try and get university employers back round the negotiating table.”
Westerman also stated that if the union’s demands were not met they would “act again before the year is out.”
Negotiations are scheduled to re-open between universities and unions following the strike. If an agreement cannot be met, all three unions involved have threatened further action.
Protests took place on campuses across the country, co-ordinated by trade unions UNISON, Unite and University and College Union (UCU).
A lecturer striking from the School of POLIS said: “For me this is a broader political issue about the politicalisation of higher education.”
Photo: Leo Garbutt