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The Dinosaur is extinct, but Solidarity is forever.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_dinosaur) was a surprising, joyful, hugely inflated, creation, born out of, and in, the strike to defend our pensions in 2018.

Just typing these words feels like a lifetime ago.

The Dinosaur has been ‘mostly sleeping’ since the strike ended, but it is with sadness that we announce today that we will be deleting the Twitter account and that the Dinosaur Of Solidarity will make her last appearance at the Southampton UCU summer celebration on 20th June.

For those that don’t know, the idea for the Dinosaur of Solidarity came from a joke started by our former UCU Branch President, Laurie Stras. Laurie was recovering from a serious operation over the early months of 2018, leaving me in the Presidential hot seat to oversee the strike. Her surgeon advised her to restrict her arm movements, with the suggestion that she should ‘think T-Rex – teeny tiny arms’; the rest, as they say, is history.

A package arrived at the Southampton UCU office, containing a gigantic inflatable dinosaur suit, and a plan was hatched to use this to rally the strikers, and to have a bit of fun. Members of the branch exec set up a Twitter account with the loose aim of supporting the strike. We naively imagined a few of our 1000+ strong membership might engage with the account and that it might inject some humour into our information sharing.

During the strike the ‘live’ dinosaur addressed the assembled pickets across our campuses, each day, usually providing an update on the pension negotiations, and sometimes instigating dancing or call and response chanting. Alongside this our ‘DoS social media team’ put out Twitter updates, some factual, but many simply dreadful puns or satirical comments. Expertise in the team meant we had some great photos, video clips and an unexpected wealth of knowledge relating to palaeontology (oh, the things you find out about your colleagues when you actually have time to talk to them). We also had the benefit of humorous responses to our tweets, which kept our spirits high.

Inspired by the LadyBird Books for Grown Ups that filled stockings everywhere over the preceding Christmas, I found an old Ladybird book, and in the evenings, after strike planning, picketing, rallies and attending teach outs, the Ed the Badger book was created as a Twitter meme. The text accompanying the 1950s illustrations of mice and woodland creatures was tried out on the social media team; if they laughed it went out. Again this was simply an attempt to keep our spirits high through the campaign. One of my most joyful memories in the strike was sitting upstairs in union house, pressing the Tweet button, and hearing the ping ping ping ping as people liked and retweeted the book pages.

The strike was hard. We were a small local team, few of us had experience of major strike action.

It was cold. It snowed. It rained. People were angry about their pensions.

Our local management were very much aligned with UUK, and unsupportive. But the strike held. We had pickets across campuses, some in venues that had never had a picket before. We had the largest and longest supported industrial action in the history of the branch. And the Dinosaur was part of that. She was shared with a few thousand people on Twitter, and encouraged some fabulous imitations (Picketing Panda became a friend) but above all she was ours, she belonged to Southampton UCU. The branch activists were clear that she was there to amplify the messages about the strike, and to boost morale. She did her best to do just that.

Behind the scenes the DinoTeam learnt on the job. Sometimes we made mistakes – learning quickly that we should read to the end and view all videos before ReTweeting, for example. Occasionally the tone of a Tweet or a comment at a rally was wrong. We apologised, amended and tried to do better. We talked as a team about how best to use the Twitter account and what was ‘allowed’ and what did not feel right. I will always have positive memories of this time because we were the union and the university at its best, we were a learning collective working for and with each other, acting with integrity, and with joy.

In the months that followed the strike, the EC lost several members, including two of the three members of the DinoTeam. I stepped into the President role. Meanwhile the Dino slumbered, and there was less room for comic interludes as the branch dealt with rising casework, severances, the VC’s early retirement and the fallout from a devastating staff survey.

We are aware of other branches where UCU members have been subject to victimization for posts made on social media in periods of strike action. Recently a Times Higher editorial criticised ‘trolling’ of University managers by parody social media accounts, claiming that these undermined the sector. These events and discussions remind us that words and ideas are powerful, and can serve multiple interests, and so need to be used with care. Latterly a disturbing parody of the parody emerged as a ‘fake dino’ Twitter account began injecting negativity into the General Secretary election campaign. This was not associated with anyone involved with the Southampton @of_dinosaur team and was, we felt, an extremely unhelpful intervention in an important democratic process.

At a branch executive in May we discussed the closure of the @of_dinosaur account and the ‘death’ of the Dinosaur of Solidarity. This decision was linked to my own departure from the University. Branch executive members agreed that the Dinosaur had been a marvellous vehicle for ideas and humour in the strike but that the responsibility for the Twitter account and the ‘creation’ could not easily be transferred. In the event of a future strike or action new approaches would be needed, and these would necessarily be supported by a new team.

The departure of the Dinosaur is tinged with my personal sadness at leaving the University of Southampton, and the local branch after 16 years, but I am proud of what we achieved in the strike and of the part that @of_dinosaur played in our success.

News last week from USS indicates that we have more to do defending pensions, but also on pay, fighting for equality, job security and better workloads. The work continues and will go on. I am leaving the branch in strong capable hands. The next generation of activists and volunteers will take us forward without the Dinosaur. And that feels right. The Dinosaur understood extinction from the start. Together we were always clear that it was the living mammals that mattered.

RIP The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_Dinosaur).
Years active, 2018-2019.
T-Rex, UCU member, humourist, and defender of USS pensions.

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