“At graduation our students wore sashes, chanted no cuts as they walked on stage and snubbed the pro-vice chancellor as he tried to shake their hand. They even cooked a big meal for all their lecturers who were out on strike.”
By Kevin Biderman, Brighton UCU Branch Representative
Since Monday 3 July members of the University of Brighton UCU branch have been taking indefinite strike action fighting against mass redundancies. Now we need your help to keep going.
In May 2023 we were told the university was proposing to make 130 of our colleagues redundancies, saving £7.3m in academic staff costs, with 400 people in the redundancy pool. Our managers wanted us to be complicit in throwing people out on street when they had been working all the way through lockdown. We told them we don’t want to see 130 compulsory redundancies… we don’t want to see 100 redundancies… we don’t want to see 50 redundancies… 25 redundancies… 1 redundancy. We want to see zero redundancies.
Our branch has been incredible. People we rarely saw previously have stepped up and our union meetings have been going into the 100s. We’ve seen fantastic solidarity from across UCU and the wider union movement.
The thing people find it hard to get their head around is that our Senior Management Team (SMT) want to save £7.3m in staff costs but they’ve spent £50m on building projects over the last two years. New expensive buildings don’t teach! Now these building projects were part of a plan to grow numbers but you don’t need to be a maths genus to work out 130 fewer lecturers plus more students equals worse conditions for all.
Our Student Staff Ratio was already one of the worst in the UK Higher Education sector. If anything we need more staff. Instead management is trying to break the backbone of institution – us the staff. Our SMT is nothing but a badly organised managerial framework without us.
Our university has £250m in reserves. These redundancies are a choice not necessity. It is our labour that keeps the university going and that is what management has forgotten. You know who hasn’t forgotten that? Our students! When they found out about the proposed redundancies they organised a march through streets that ended with them calling for the Vice Chancellor to resign. On the 25 May students even decided to occupy the Vice Chancellor’s office with one demand… no redundancies! Students have been at the forefront of the battle to save staff because they know it is their learning conditions that will be affected. They’ve been saying ‘fire management not front line staff. Let’s throw them out on street and take the university back!’ Our Vice Chancellor lost a confidence vote where 94% of staff and students declared they have no confidence in the Vice Chancellor.
Despite having received more than 81 ‘volunteers’ for redundancy, the University is still insisting that 22 more must be forced out of their jobs. We cannot allow this to happen. It is forcing conditions down with heavier workloads, creating precarity where there once was permanency and an attempt to break union. Our members know this and that is why when we balloting them over two short weeks we got a 90% vote for strike action on a 61% turnout.
We told the university and the students coming here in October that if SMT do not back down the academic year will not start. Nationally UCU has greylisted our university and started a boycott of Brighton asking members in other branches not to: apply for any advertised jobs at Brighton and to refuse to collaborate on research projects with Brighton University.
It has been a long summer in Brighton but we’ve keep the pressure up. We also organised Turner prize winning artists, curators and nominees to sign a letter of protest against the cuts to the Art department including the closure of our Centre for Contemporary Arts. We named and shamed our Dean of Art and Media – Tamar Jeffers McDonald – for callously going along with these cuts and this act of vandalism against staff, students and the wider city community. When we were protesting open days over the summer one of our members even dressed up as Mickey Mouse and gave out fake degrees for ‘Lecture Free’ BAs to prospective students. We raised awareness of our plight and put pressure on management through student complaints.
At graduation our students wore sashes, chanted no cuts as they walked on stage and snubbed the pro-vice chancellor as he tried to shake their hand. They even cooked a big meal for all their lecturers who were out on strike. It is this kind of support that keeps us going.
Our members have not only been deducted 100% of their wages for the national MAB, but they are also facing further 100% ongoing deductions for our local battle, too. Some have received nothing in their pay packet for months on end. They are trying to starve us out but it will not work. From Liverpool to Belfast UCU branches have sent in money to support our hardship fund. We know the big fight is coming at the beginning of term. The first few weeks will be crucial and financial support makes all the difference to keeping members going. This is the fight of our lives and we will not stop until every job is saved.
- You can donate to the Brighton University and College Union (UCU) hardship fund here.
- Kevin Biderman is a Brighton UCU Branch Representative.
- You can show your support for Brighton UCU members on strike on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.