STRIKE 2019: Get the pickets out resources

BSN is hosting a collection of images, emails, suggestions, videos (when they’re made) and anything else to help branches prepare for the forthcoming strikes. Send your material to us at Here’s our first batch.


Guidance for members

What are the issues? Slides for students

UCU branch information for students

Warwick strike FAQs for students

Cambridge UCU 4 page strike explainer (PDF)

Cambridge UCU 4 page strike explainer EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)

Cambridge UCU 2 page support the strikes EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)

Leeds UCU strike explainer for students

Goldsmiths UCU letter to students

Warwick UCU Strike FAQs for students

Model branch announcements about the action

Brighton statement here

Royal Holloway statement here

Ulster statement here

Model out of office messages

Out of Office message from Brighton UCU

Guidance on picketing

Very detailed guidance on how to organise your picket lines by Jo McNeill, former president of Liverpool UCU

Information for non-EU staff

See lots more information here from UCU

How to respond to a manager asking if you plan to take strike action


Employers’ responses

A comprehensive set of responses from university has been assembled by USS Briefs and can be accessed at

Fourteen days, hold tight: reflections from Leeds on the 2018 USS strike

For many branches, we have two weeks in which to prepare for eight days of strike action; for other branches, it is a time to think of how best to show solidarity and to prepare for re-ballots. We thought that now would be a good time to learn some lessons from the 2018 USS strikes in terms of how best to involve members and students, organise teach-outs, and to think about what demands we need to place on management. We are therefore reproducing Lesley McGorrigan fantastic account of how Leeds UCU mobilised members across the fourteen days of strike action.

From now on, BSN will be publishing emails, letters, images, posters, and memes that can be tailored for individual branches ahead of the 2019/2020 action. Please send materials to

Mobilising members

A defining element of the USS dispute was that, from the outset, UCU branches operated like we were the winning side.  The union nationally was organising well and sending out the right messages and this gave us confidence.

In the run up to the strike our branch committee organised extra meetings and sent frequent member emails. These showed that the branch was making serious plans. The emails anticipated and responded to questions that people were asking.  We held general meetings where we reassured members that a hardship fund was being created; this meant we could reach out to those who were financially vulnerable and may otherwise have felt excluded.  We gained agreement from the branch to spend our local funds – that rainy day had arrived (it snowed too!).  We bought a pink gazebo for our picket muster point, we hired a van for the fourteen days, we bought a new PA system.    It was evident that UCU was taking this dispute seriously and our members responded in kind.  This led to the most exhilarating fourteen days of union solidarity we have experienced.

As soon as the strike started, it was clear from the social media reports and images that we were part of something massive with the potential to win.

At Leeds, we’d had a dry run back in October when we went on strike over changes to University Statutes.  The press had already witnessed that we could organise well and, on the first USS strike day, Channel 4 News and BBC Look North sent their camera crews to the Leeds picket lines.  Our branch President, Vicky Blake, had a comment piece in the Guardian and featured on the Today programme as members were waking up and getting dressed to join day one on the picket lines.  The more exposure we received, the more our members wanted to be part of the action.  New faces joined the picket lines every day during the fourteen day period.

We have an incredible diversity of talent on our local committee; our branch president harnessed this to the full with her own skill, dedication and drive. Our endeavours became infectious, we re-wrote and dubbed the lyrics to the Spice Girls, creating the infamous ‘Strike up Your Life’ video which we sang on a massive rally at the front of the University.  The next day, members turned up with their own dubbed song lyrics and branches up and down the country began creating their own picket line anthems.

Taking action, day after day, was in itself a mobiliser.  The dominos began to fall: On day two Sheffield University reversed its punitive pay docking policy for lectures cancelled due to the strikes.  A twitter campaign amongst alumni had forced their management to cave in.  St Andrews was next, then Keele.  Loughborough management and several others agreed to spread pay deductions for the strikes over 3-4 months. Some VCs were clearly breaking rank and sympathising with staff, chatting with them on picket lines. Two Cambridge Colleges spoke up to say that the view from Cambridge submitted on their behalf to the USS consultation did not represent them ie the consultation process was being exposed as a sham. A Congregation meeting of over 400 staff outside Oxford University forced Vice-Chancellor, Louise Richardson, to urge Oxford Senate to reverse its position on the USS valuation.

After saying they were imposing the defined contribution scheme on us, UUK now agreed to talks with UCU.  We were winning.  We knew it was up to us to ensure that those inside the talks knew we were not backing off – we had everything to win.  

We stood, sang, danced and ‘taught out’ on picket lines for fourteen days in defence of our pensions. But it was apparent very early on that this strike had created an outlet for so much more.  It brought members together in ways that allowed them to express their feelings of anger, frustration and disdain towards the effects of marketisation on their jobs, lives, students and the sector as a whole. This was evident from the sardonic messages on home-made placards that members brought along, from the magnificent flourishing of song, poetry and verse that we witnessed and through the ubiquitous social media.  Not only had the balance of forces in the dispute shifted, members themselves were changing.  People talked of the confidence they had gained, how colleagues became real friends on the picket lines through fourteen days together; instead of isolated in the office.  Members had found new ways of expressing themselves; new ways to be heard and be listened to. 

Members mobilising themselves

The confidence that members’ had gained through their action was apparent when an ACAS brokered ‘deal’ was announced ten days into the strike on 12 March.  The deal was progress but nowhere near what we were prepared to accept.  

A meeting at UCU HQ witnessed every delegate call for the Higher Education Committee (HEC) to reject the offer. Branches had hastily convened mass meetings from their picket lines on unprecedented scale to debate and dictate how their delegates should respond and their decisions were transmitted into the meeting via social media.  It was clear the deal was dead in the water, that the membership had forced their will when the Chair said:  ‘In recognition of the emerging mandate…’.

The Higher Education Committee met immediately after that meeting and the deal was withdrawn without a vote.  Members had lobbied the HEC  outside of the meeting and via email; it was the most democratic decision making I have experienced in my six years on the HEC.  

The General Secretary subsequently angered many members when she repeatedly emailed them with a steer to vote yes to a second proposal from the employers, despite the union not agreeing a ‘yes’ recommendation.  In the absence of the heightened engagement through strikes and picket line democracy, members felt less confident to overturn the GS this time round and voted for the deal.  We will need to work hard to turn the massive progress into a full and concrete victory. 

The post-strike machinations of many on the HEC are a grave worry.  Apparently oblivious to the transformation in our union, they are carrying on with business as usual.  However, there are layers of newly engaged members with awakened confidence who are seeking to hold the GS and UCU leadership to democratic account.  Congress 2018 needs to be a forum to push for the democracy, transparency and accountability that we desperately need.

Worker/Student unity

Our students played an amazing role.  The dynamism of this strike struck a chord with many, themselves facing debt for exorbitant fees and little prospects of jobs with salaries to pay them off.

In many ways the management at Leeds helped build worker/student unity.  They had nothing original to say during the whole dispute. Their anodyne announcements to staff and students appeared bland and boring in the face of the creative space that became our picket lines.  Many students were drawn to the open, democratic and inclusive agenda thrown up by our strike, the picket lines, the teach outs and our social media.  They brought us snacks, made banners and placards, stood with us in solidarity, leafleted and led our marches into town.  

It felt like, not only our students, but the whole Leeds community was behind us.  Workers from Unison, Unite and the NEU invited us to speak at their meetings and collected donations for our hardship fund.  The Unison branch at our University provided a strikers breakfast to round off the final strike day.  

At each post-picket rally dozens of cars, vans and lorries drove past, beeping their horns in solidarity. They probably didn’t all know what we were fighting for but they knew we were workers because we had placards, banners and picket armbands and they knew we were fighting back against our employers.  We looked numerous, strong, energised and happy. Moreover, they were witnessing the vibe that we could win and they wanted to be on our side.

Lessons from the USS Teach-Outs

Our afternoon teach outs kept people connected after the unity of the morning picketing sessions. At Leeds we’d had experience of organising successful teach outs in our recent local strike over changes to university Statutes.  The sessions were both edifying and liberating; we got to know what our colleagues and students were genuinely interested in, their ideas and passions, unfettered by the strictures of the lecture theatre, standardised learning outcomes or the lens of lecture capture.  A student captured the dynamics: ‘Can’t we do this more often; I’ve never felt so close to my lecturers, normally you are up there and we are down here but today we’ve all been so much closer’.

The strike threw up anger at the inequalities of VC pay, the gender pay gap, that University buildings are mostly named after men. The energy and imagination from the picket lines and rallies spilled out into the teach-out spaces.  We wanted to talk about everything, we wanted to take on everything that was rotten about the neoliberal university and the world beyond.  The USS debacle had highlighted that, for management, staff and our pensions are their liabilities whilst iconic buildings are their assets. But this powerful strike had confirmed that ‘We are the University’.  

Alaric from Leeds UCU organised our Teach Outs.  He outlined reasons doing them:They show students that their teachers aren’t just putting their feet up. We care about students’ education and are willing to educate unpaid — just not to do the kind of educating we’re normally paid for. We only go on strike when bad things are happening, but promoting the teach-out allows us to focus conversations on a positive activity. Attending allows students (and anyone else!) to show support for the strike. The teach-outs also give members a communal, productive activity to do on strike days that builds ideas, capacity, and community — and reminds us what higher education is really all about. Not all members are willing or able to be involved in picketing, but are happy to participate in teach-outs, broadening the possibilities for activism on a strike day.And luckily, organising teach-outs is very easy! Almost everyone in UCU organises conferences, open days, meetings and talks professionally. Moreover, it’s in the nature of teach-outs that they’re ad hoc, a bit improvised, even carnivalesque. So basically, it’s about doing what we’re good at, yet no-one minds if it goes wrong!Alaric’s guide for organising a teach out is here: . We shared this with other branches via the national UCU activist list and encouraged them to put on teach outs; they did and they flourished. 

Lesley McGorrigan, Leeds University UCU Campaigns Officer and NEC. Reproduced with her permission; originally featured in UCU Left’s Another Education is Possible magazine, 2018

New Get the Vote Out Resources (updated 10 October)


Brand new from Goldsmiths UCU

Thanks to Goldsmiths UCU, Sheffield UCU, Brighton UCU, Dundee UCU, Royal Holloway UCU and Sussex UCU

FAQs, slides and other documents

Organising to beat the Trade Union Act 2016, James Richards, VP Heriot- Watt UCU

Great poster from Sheffield UCU

Cambridge UCU FAQs here

Exeter UCU FAQs here

Warwick UCU Get the Vote Out page here

Obviously, USS branches need to read Sam Marsh’s latest for USS Briefs

Slides from Nottingham UCU




Please send more materials and we will upload them –

Get the Vote Out for pay and pensions ballots

Ballots for both the HE pay and pensions disputes have started today. Members in over 60 USS institutions are urged to vote YES to defend our pensions, to oppose increased contributions and to reject the shenanigans of the USS itself. UCU members across the HE sector are also urged to vote YES for action in the ballot, along with members of four other campus universities, to fight for fair pay, to demand an end to gender and ethnic pay gaps, to address the scandal of casualisation and to confront rising workloads. It’s crucial that we don’t take success in either dispute for granted. The Tories’ disgraceful industrial relations law which requires participation of above 50% in each institution means that we have to launch a programme of action in every branch to reach every member before the end of the ballot on 30 October. Just because members have every right to be angry about what’s happening to our working conditions doesn’t mean that they will automatically take part in the ballot nor that they will support strike action. We need a Get the Vote Out campaign that doesn’t just rely on the odd email but mobilises members, answers their questions, reaches out into canteens, staff meetings and offices and shows that only defiance and industrial action will secure the pay and pensions we deserve.

We reproduce below part of the action plan – including a weekly calendar and communication to reps – from Goldsmiths UCU that gives an idea of what we should be doing right now to raise the temperature and to deliver strong yes votes in our ballots.

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Dear UCU Department Reps,

UCU’s ballot over pensions and over pay & equality officially started today, so members will be receiving their ballot papers in the post from Wednesday. Earlier today we sent an email to all members outlining  the key issues in relation to the pay/equality negotiations here and the USS here. There will be two ballot papers which must be returned in one envelope.

Publicity for both issues is now available, and will be distributed at Wednesday’s pre-strike committee meeting. The idea of the meeting is to brief members, and build a team in each department that will work with you on getting the strike out – please try and encourage people to come along.

Getting over 50% turnout

It is important to note this is a disaggregated ballot, so in order to take part in action, we must reach over 50% turnout so Getting the Vote Out, really matters.

Of course the key will be to engage and listen to members and seek to persuade with the strongest possible arguments.  But we also want to make sure that we take organisational steps to ensure as many members as possible have direct communication with UCU members regarding the ballot. In relation to this we are asking department reps to coordinate with other activists to talk to as many members as possible and encourage them to vote.

On-line membership & ballot list

Department UCU membersthis afternoon, our membership officers will send you a link to members in your department. Please check it is accurate and think about how this could be divided in your department to make sure everyone is spoken to face to face, over the phone, or via personalised emails.

Asking members to vote: This is not about hassling people but seriously engaging with the current situation. The branch recommends VOTE YES, but ultimately asks members to VOTE as we must reach the threshold. Failure to do so will have an extremely detrimental impact on our ability to be effective at a volatile time nationally and locally.

Keeping us updated: The GTVO committee will be reviewing the voter turn out each week and we ask that you help us by updating your department members spreadsheet when people let you know they’ve voted.

Door knocking/dep walkabouts – in particular we advise this approach as it has been very effective in other ballots. If you can let the branch administrator know specific times you plan to do this, then we can arrange members to come and help.

Posters/flyers – it would be great if we could get members to put a poster on their door, and help distribute, generating an atmosphere will encourage and remind people to vote.

Department meetings – The branch president has written to HOD’s requesting a UCU slot at any staff meetings taking place during the ballot. It would be helpful also if we had union specific meetings in departments – if you are able to organise one, we’ll arrange an exec member to speak.

Communication in general

Each week we will be sending specific local emails out to members. If there are issues you think need to be covered, please let us know.

We will also be linking the national issues such as casualisation, workload etc to the local situation. This includes special anti-casualisation publicity.

Opting out of Vote messages

From Wednesday, we will also be sending a link to members which they can click to tell us they’ve voted – they will then also be taken out of any ‘VOTE’ messages.

Reaching the 50% threshold – things you need to know

  • Anyone who joins up to 23 Oct, will be added to the ballot list and able to cast a vote.
  • Members who have not received their ballot papers, should request a replacement online. The link for this will be available from 17 Sept.

One month on: what does the election of Jo Grady mean for UCU?

One month ago today, Jo Grady was elected as our next General Secretary. Three activists tell us what they think this means for rank and file voices in the union and for our prospects of beating back the employers’ assault? Send us your thoughts:

Lesley McGorrigan, Leeds University UCU Campaigns Officer, Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Secretary, National Executive Committee member (2019/20)

Jo Grady’s election as UCU’s general secretary (GS) is to be celebrated; it symbolises the transformation within our union triggered by the USS strikes.

Eighteen months ago, without agreement from our elected bodies, the then GS, Sally Hunt, promoted a yes vote on a sub-standard USS proposal. One year ago, Hunt and the bureaucrats surrounding her felt confident to trash our democracy by walking out of 2018 Congress.  They even sabotaged the sound system to prevent delegates debating motions criticising Sally’s conduct and calling for her resignation.

One year on, Jo Grady, a rank and file candidate, a product of the USS strikes, has been elected GS on a left platform. Many had assumed that Hunt’s right hand man, Matt Waddup with a long career as a union official, would win.  Seventy four percent of members voted for one or other of the left candidates on an unprecedented turnout. This shift is a direct result of the increased member engagement during and since the USS strikes.  This gained us 16,000 new, young, diverse and energetic members. This mood has inspired FE where a wave of lively pay strikes have recently won victories.

This transformation in the union was reflected throughout the recent 2019 Congress. The grouping to the right of the union, the Independent Broad Left, appeared subdued.  One of their motions which, if passed, would have reduced FE representation, attracted only its author to vote for it! The debates were full, friendly and fruitful with a healthy degree of unity amongst the supporters of the two left candidates who had contested the election. Jo McNeill, the candidate of the organised left who I voted for, delivered a message of solidarity and support to Jo Grady, in the face of criticisms from the Daily Telegraph.

If the left can maintain this unity, we have a lot to gain in the months and years ahead.  We can transform our neoliberal universities and colleges and challenge the ‘hostile environment’ imposed upon staff and students. I voted UCU Left as my 27 years in the union has taught me that we need to be organised. When I observe what Corbyn is subjected to from the determined right in his party, it is clear that a disciplined, united left is necessary to avoid being crushed by the custodians of the status quo. I look forward to being part of that unity.

Andy Williams, Media and Communications Officer, Cardiff UCU

Before 2018 I was never the most active or enthusiastic union activist. I was a department rep, I voted when asked, and I observed industrial action (even that time UCU tried to weaponise the extended lunchbreak with a series of cringe-worthy two-hour strikes over pay). The USS strike changed all that.

Significant numbers of us became much more active, and have been through an intense process of political education. The union, at branch level at least, felt less like a service provider and more like a space for active, member-led campaigning. The manner of our collective strike action in defence of pensions has since boosted our branch-level struggles over dangerous workloads, the scourge of casualization, fighting cuts, and resisting redundancies.

The participatory spirit of the strike showed us what we can do when proper numbers of our uniquely diverse, expert, influential, and persuasive members stand together and use their skills and knowledge to improve our collective lots.

Jo Grady, for me, is one of the individuals who most embodies and represents that spirit, and her manifesto presented a convincing and exciting plan for making UCU into a different kind of union, one which is a more democratic, collaborative, credible, and militant fighting force.

We face huge challenges, no doubt. Our Universities and colleges have never been more marketised, our members more over-worked or relatively under-paid, our students more positioned as consumers in the classroom and competitors in an unjust and precarious job market.

But with Grady as the gaffer, buoyed by a re-energised and bolshy rank-and-file, we’re also better positioned than ever to fight back and improve further and higher education in the UK. And in doing so, we’ll also be giving our students a different kind of education: one which leads by example and shows how solidarity, mutual aid, and collective resistance for the common good gets results, even when the odds are against you.

Marian Carty, President, Goldsmiths UCU

The election of Jo Grady, in a record turnout, as UCU’s new General Secretary heralds the beginning of a new era for the union. with members resolved to fight the attacks on Prison, Adult, Further and Higher Education.

We have seen transformative and unprecedented resistance in both further and higher education over the past two years.  The campaign in Further Education for better pay and conditions continues with strikes taking place throughout the country,resulting in a number of significant victories. There can be no let up as more and more colleagues are at risk of redundancy, and colleges, such as Stourbridge College are threatened with imminent closure due to asset stripping employers’  incompetence.

The debates at this year’s congress showed that members are united in their resolve to mount campaigns to fight the privatisation and commodification of tertiary education in all the nations of the UK.

There is so much to do. Continued threats to the USS pensions and renewed attacks on TPS, will mean stepping up pensions action in higher education. This includes GTVO for a USS strike ballot next term, should the employers persist with their intention to raise our pension contributions again in October.

Congress voted decisively for BAME and gender pay gaps to be addressed in this climate that sees increasing far right narratives coming to the fore. This must be accompanied with resolute and imaginative campaigns to fight the curse of increasing casualisation of education, redundancies  and excessive workload. Our refusal to go along with employers efforts to worsen our pay and conditions in preparation for further privatisation of our sectors, is crucial if we are to defend public education for future generations of students and university workers.

Jo Grady ended her speech with these words ‘…we are one union now, from professional services staff to prison educators, from the regions and nations to Carlow Street. We are the people who will stand up for tertiary education and research in this country, and we have each other’s backs.’

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Some media reaction

FE week, 24 May 2019

FE Week, interview with Jo, 9 June 2019

TES, 24 May 2019

TESinterview with Jo, 27 May 2019

Times Higher, 24 May 2019



Resisting Toxic Performance Management

Earlier this year, colleagues at Liverpool UCU balloted for industrial action against a  punitive and unreasonable Research Excellence Framework Code of Practice that was being imposed at their institution. While the branch narrowly missed out on the anti-union turnout threshold by only 39 votes, the dispute remains live. University of Liverpool UCU are opposed to the culture of toxic performance management and unreasonable expectations that academic staff are facing, particularly with regards to research performance. Subjective REF rating, which staff entered into out of collegiality can now be used to ‘manage out’ research active staff. The branch has now produced a fantastic document that outlines how this culture at Liverpool goes against the spirit of new REF rules, and also many Draft REF Codes of Practice at similar research-intensive universities who are explicitly stating that REF preparation will not be used as a tool for performance management.

Access the full document HERE.

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