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USS – UCU concerns regarding member survey

Branch officers recently wrote to the Vice-Chancellor raising concerns about the current survey of USS members.  Our letter and the VC’s response can be found below.

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Victimisation of trade union representatives – motion passed at EGM 26 February 2021

The following motion was discussed at an emergency general meeting held on 26 February.  The meeting voted overwhelmingly to support the motion and to withdraw from the Partnership Charter with immediate effect.

Victimisation of TU representatives

UK employment law provides a robust framework of protection for trade union membership, duties and activities.  This includes:

  • Legal protection for taking part in strike action or action short of strike action if all statutory requirements are fulfilled (for example a ballot, notice to the employer)
  • Victimisation from an employer on the basis of trade union duties and activities
  • Dismissal on the grounds of trade union membership

The University notified UCU of a disciplinary investigation against one of our reps in May 2020 and in November 2020 wrote to state that they would be brought to a disciplinary hearing for what amounts to participating in lawful ASOS as part of industrial action.  These allegations have been reviewed by UCU National and Regional Officials, including the national UCU legal team, and all are in full agreement that the University action against our member is unlawful on the basis that it constitutes victimisation.

The first disciplinary case against our representative has concluded with no further action being taken, not because the University accepted that they acted unlawfully, but because of their failure to follow proper procedure. It should be of concern to members that the University was prepared to seek to dismiss a long-serving employee without following the procedures, regardless of the subject matter of the allegations.  To be subjected to an investigation for so long, with such grave potential consequences, has understandably cast a long and stressful shadow over the working life of the victimized rep.

Following the failure to discipline our member due to procedural irregularities, University of Southampton management have chosen to continue with a second disciplinary against the same rep for activities which relate clearly and directly to their union Health and Safety brief. Again, UCU Officials are of a view that this is unlawful.  This second investigation is being carried out by an external investigator—presumably at some cost—which is outside of the procedures negotiated by UCU, and raises serious concerns about fairness and transparency.

SUCU condemns the victimisation of our rep in the strongest terms and has sought to resolve the issue through negotiations with the University over the past 9 months, but to no avail.

This branch calls on The University of Southampton to:

  1. Immediately cease the disciplinary action and investigation against our representative.
  2. Give assurance that University of Southampton will comply with the procedures agreed for disciplinary matters, which does not include the engagement of external parties to conduct investigations.
  3. Make a meaningful statement to all three campus trade unions that the university understands the seriousness of trade union representative victimization and provide assurances that it will not victimise trade union members or representatives.
  4. Apologise to our representative who has been subject to this victimisation.

Following the EGM on 26/2/21, this branch resolves to immediately:

  • Issue a public condemnation of the University of Southampton’s victimisation of our representative
  • Withdraw from the Partnership Agreement, originally ratified in September 2019: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/hr/services/tus/index.page
  • Call for an Emergency JJNC to discuss the case and its negative effects with regards to the lawful exercise of workplace rights by union members
  • Write to the General Secretary and President of UCU, notifying them of this victimisation case, and formally seeking national UCU support

If the University of Southampton does not carry out the actions set out in 1-4 above by  3rd April or they move to dismiss our rep, the branch executive will call a further EGM to discuss next steps, which could include the following proposals:

  • Make a public media statement about victimisation at the University
  • Write to elected representatives, such as local MP and City Councillors, to ask for their public support.
  • Enter a trade dispute with University of Southampton
  • Consider escalating collective action

Proposer Lucy Watson                  Seconder Claire Le Foll

Motion passed overwhelmingly.

Motion result:

Yes: 81%

No: 5%

Abstain: 13%

Correspondence with senior management regarding return of students in 2021

Response received from Alex Neill and Richard Middleton on Monday 21/12/2020 to concerns raised by UCU (original email also included below).

Dear Southampton UCU executive committee,

Thank you for the message below.  We believe that our plans for the return of students to campus after the winter break are indeed aligned with Government guidance, as it was when you wrote your email.  Events, information and Government responses have been changing since.  We therefore remain prepared for changes in guidance and in our plans.  The aim of the guidance you referred to was to limit the numbers of students travelling at the same time in January by staggering the points at which they will need to be back on campus.  Our plans will help to achieve this.

With regard to testing, we are strongly encouraging all our students to participate in our testing programme.   We have plans to further reinforce that message and the importance of testing.  We will continue to do all that we can to encourage and assist students to behave as responsible members of our (University and wider) community.

As we discussed at our meeting on Wednesday 16th December, when the University reopens after Christmas we will be happy to share with you details of our arrangements for students moving back into halls of residence, and our analysis of student movements on campus given our plans for their return to their studies.

With all best wishes for a peaceful and restorative break,

Alex and Richard

Professor Alex Neill
Vice-President

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

 

—————————————————–

We continue to remain concerned at the University’s stance on the return of students to campus after the Christmas break.  We have today (14/12/20) written to the Chief Operating Officer, Richard Middleton, and Alex Neill.  Cc’d to the Vice-Chancellor, Mark Spearing and Roberta Head

 

Dear Richard and Alex

We write to express our concerns about the University’s response to the latest government guidance regarding the return of students after the Christmas break.

To date, senior management have regarded government guidance as binding, over-riding the relative autonomy of the University—even when guidance has been open to interpretation and where other universities have made different decisions around teaching and learning. However, it seems that this latest coronavirus guidance is open to interpretation by University management and will not be strictly followed.

In the latest guidance, a staggered return of students to campus is recommended. A comprehensive list is given of the courses which should be prioritised, including ‘work, clinical or practical placements, courses requiring practical teaching or learning’, and ‘courses requiring access to specialist or technical equipment’. In addition, the guidance states that ‘HE providers do not have to allow all courses that fall within this list to return during this time and should consider whether any courses may be better delivered online at the beginning of term. For courses that meet these criteria, but that providers deem not to have practical elements, the return of students should take place from 25 January 2021’. The guidance clearly states that ‘the remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so that students can continue their studies from home’. Moreover, while it is accepted that some students may need to return to campus earlier for a variety of reasons, the guidance states that ‘their courses should not resume face-to-face teaching, unless they study one of the practical courses defined above’.

Yet, the latest email from Alex Neill to all students says that ‘Students who have on-campus teaching sessions timetabled from week commencing 4 January are advised to return to campuses in time to allow them to participate in those sessions’ (09/12/20). There is no attempt to discriminate between those courses which have a practical element and those which do not. In fact, as the UEB blog says, the staggered return of students is expected to be achieved through a ‘natural phasing’ due to the differences in students’ timetables across the University (07/12/20). It is extremely disappointing that the University is making no attempt to exercise any control over the movement of students on campus when the government guidance asks them specifically to do so.

Importantly, the guidance also says that students who do return ‘should be tested as soon as they start accessing university facilities’ but with no controls in place around who is coming back and when, how can the University be sure that students are being tested before they access the facilities? This seems to be a significant flaw in the University’s claim to be maintaining a ‘covid-secure’ environment. Staff will, moreover, certainly have to deal with more emails from students unsure whether they should return or not given the contradiction between the widely-publicised government guidance and the University’s statement.

UCU believes that this latest guidance should be followed for clear public health reasons. The University seems worryingly complacent as a result of its good fortune in not experiencing major outbreaks in the Autumn. However, conditions in January are significantly different to those in September. Overall case numbers in the communities from which our students will be returning are higher, and students will be returning to University following free social mixing with up to three other households over the Christmas period. The decision to allow students return to accommodation and teaching on 4 January therefore risks a large outbreak on campus, in residential accommodation and, because of the shared use of community resources such as buses and shops, in the wider Southampton community.  If the University is expecting to manage this risk through its testing programme, it first owes both its staff and student unions a detailed explanation of its plan as to how all returning students will be tested before returning to accommodation in the weekend of 2-3 January, and to teaching in the week of the 4 January.

We urge the University to re-think its decision for the sake of the health and safety of its staff, students, and the wider Southampton community. We also note that the reputation of the individual institutions and UK HE sector as a whole has been seriously damaged domestically and internationally by the behaviour of some institutions during this pandemic. A serious January outbreak attributable to the University’s failure to follow government guidelines could be catastrophic for the University’s reputation as a safe institution at which to study and work.

To ensure that the branch’s communication with management remains transparent, we will be sharing this correspondence with our members. We look forward to your earliest response.

Southampton UCU executive committee

 

 

Motions passed at General Meeting 10 March 2020

The branch recently held a wel- attended members’ meeting at which the following motions were passed:

Local branch motion: Covid-19 and Casualised Workers

SUCU notes the advice offered to staff and students on the University of Southampton COVID-19 information and guidance webpage though it urges the University to accelerate its rate of updates. However, SUCU is concerned about the financial impact on hourly paid staff and those on casual contracts who may not receive sick pay or paid leave to care for dependants in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure. SUCU calls on the University to immediately clarify its policy towards its casual workers in the event of sickness, quarantine or institutional closure, and to offer parity of rights in terms of sick pay (from day one of isolation or sickness) and paid leave to care for dependants, across all staff. SUCU resolves to defend all staff from being pushed into financial hardship, or feeling unable to follow public health advice in the forthcoming period.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Megan de Bruin Mole

Passed unanimously

 

Local branch motion: Future of the dispute

This branch notes the sacrifices that members have made so far during this period of strike action over the Four Fights and USS dispute and thanks them sincerely. This branch also notes the support of students, the Southampton University Students’ Union (SUSU) and several student societies, and thanks them too. It also notes that UCU’s negotiators have made concrete proposals to employers’ representatives. This branch believes that our action so far has been effective in pushing employers (and the wider public) to take the Four Fights and USS disputes seriously. This branch believes that universities cannot be allowed to evade action on these problems any further, and that tangible and measurable commitments must be secured for our colleagues and the future of the sector. This branch resolves (i) to think creatively about how future action can be planned and targeted to have maximal impact, and to feedback this to national UCU; (ii) to encourage members to vote in favour of further industrial action in the re-balloting period, and (iii) to support the call for a National Education Demonstration to rally our forces and coordinate action – to be organised in conjunction with the National Education Union and any other education union, and the National Union of Students.

Proposer: Bea Gardner

Seconder: Claire Le Foll

Passed overwhelmingly

 

Motion for Congress: The Climate Emergency

Congress notes with gratitude the support of NUS, other student unions and societies in the Four Fights and USS disputes. Congress believes that UCU should build on its positive relationship with students by advocating for joint action on the most pressing issue of today: the climate emergency. It further believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in bringing about urgent climate action and a worker-led transition which is rooted in workers’ rights and social justice. Congress resolves to (i) pressure the senior management of Universities to make firm and binding commitments to meaningfully reduce the carbon footprint of Universities, to divest from carbon intensive businesses, and to record the climate impacts of their collaborative projects with businesses within their sustainability reporting. (ii) To continue UCU’s active support for the youth climate strikes taking place, building on the UCU’s work stoppage for earth strike, and calls upon other unions to do the same. Congress also supports the notion of working more closely with NGOs and environmental groups to exchange ideas and implement solutions.

Proposer: Lucy Watson

Seconder: Dario Carugo

Passed: Overwhelmingly

OPEN LETTER TO MUSIC STUDENTS ON UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION – Southampton, 19 February 2020

Dear Music Students,

We, staff and PhD students in Music, are writing this letter to explain our position in the upcoming University and College Union industrial action. Many of us will be striking. Some will not, or not the whole time. All of us sympathise with what the UCU is asking for in the disputes, which involve 74 UK universities.

First, we know that this means trouble for you. None of us who are striking take this lightly. Indeed, we are not getting paid for the days we strike. We believe that strikes are a last resort. Unfortunately negotiations have not yet achieved a result that the UCU and its members feel they can accept, for themselves, for you and for the future of higher education in this country,

You recently received a communication from the university claiming that the strike is over “pay and pensions.” Actually it is about more than that:

  1. Casualisation. In our department most classroom teaching is still done by staff on full-time contracts. The national trend, however, is for universities to use more “casual” teaching staff on yearly, academic-year only or even zero-hours contracts, despite the introduction of £9K+ home and large increases to overseas student fees. The effect, especially on younger academics, has been impossibly high levels of stress. We know that some of our own graduates, top students who went on to do PhDs, now earn less than the “living wage” as lecturers at prestigious institutions.
  2. Workload. Compared to ten years ago, before the increases in fees, British universities spend less on people. There have been significant cuts to crucial front-line administrative staff and widespread hiring freezes. The result is more work for fewer workers. It is no surprise that academics and academic-related colleagues across the country are reporting record levels of stress, and increasingly stress-related illness. Most of us will tell you that the price of giving you the education you deserve is longer hours, frequently in excess of the 48 hours per week laid down by the European Working Time Directive, which remains British law. All of us want to do our very best by you, but the price is getting higher every year. Our working conditions are your learning conditions.
  3. Pay equality. At many British universities, including ours, there is a disgraceful gap in pay between men and women, and between White British colleagues and members of racial and ethnic minorities. At the University of Southampton across all subjects men earn 16% more than women on average. For years our employers have agreed with us that this is unacceptable–and not enough has changed. We demand action.
  4. Pay. Senior academics earn good money. But many of us did not find secure employment until we were older, and when we did we worked for low entry-level salaries. We accepted these conditions because we were deeply committed to our work, and knew that pay would improve with seniority. Yet in the past decade, since the increases in student fees, by conservative estimates our average pay has fallen 15% behind inflation, and behind compensation for similar work in the private sector. We ask that this loss be made up.
  5. Pensions. Academic pensions are attractive, roughly comparable to those of teachers or local government employees. But they are under pressure. In 2015 we accepted a significant decrease in our pensions to make them more affordable (we understand that people are living longer!). The result for all but the most senior of us was a substantial loss (£100s per month) in future pension income. In 2018 our employers tried to impose a “defined contribution” (instead of “defined benefit”) model, which would have resulted in losses of up to £1000 per month for mid-career and even more for junior colleagues. As a result there were strikes at many universities, including this one. These strikes ended when the employers withdrew their plans. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative.

Some of us took action over all of these issues in November and December. Since then there has been some movement on casualisation, workload and equal pay. The UCU are happy that employers now recognise these as national issues, and have made specific suggestions to address them. But union negotiators cannot accept these without mechanisms of enforcement. On pay the offer currently on the table (1.8%) is not acceptable because it is below most measures of inflation and does nothing to address the many years of relative decline. Employers have made a series of alternative suggestions about pensions, but are refusing to agree to pay for what these would cost.

Negotiations are in a critical phase. Those of us who are going on strike do so because we believe that only pressure on employers will convince them to move the short distance that separates us. If they do, and the UCU accepts their offer, those of us who plan to strike will return to work immediately.

What you can do if you support us:

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark E. Smith (emailvc@soton.ac.uk). Although he has not been here long most of us have experienced him as a friendly and open person. Let him know, politely, and in your own words, that you are on the side of your teachers and the staff who support your learning, and that you would like him to use his influence to end this long and draining dispute.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Educate yourselves and them about what is at stake here: your learning conditions, and those of the students who come after you.
  • Come out and support us. This Thursday, 20 February, Music staff will be picketing near Building 2 from 10-11 and then attending a rally in Jubilee Plaza. Show your support. Bring your instruments. Come and sing with us!

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Irvine

David Bretherton

Dan Mar-Molinero

Valeria de Lucca

Ben Oliver

Richard Polfreman

Drew Crawford

Francesco Izzo

Mark Everist

Bastian Terraz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Jane Chapman

Diana Venegas

Kate Hawnt

Ryan Ross

Peter Falconer

Catherine Fabian

Jeanice Brooks

Anisha Netto

Clare Merivale

Gintaré Stankeviciute

David Alcock

Clarissa Brough

Mary-Jannet Leith

Jamie Howell

Andy Fisher

 

UCU meets V-C to discuss current strikes

Officers from Southampton UCU met on the morning of 8 January with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith and Anne-Marie Sitton, Executive Director of Human Resources to hand over our petition (of 1242 signatures), asking for a proper settlement on the current pension and pay disputes. During a 45-minute meeting we discussed a range of issues relating to the ongoing industrial action, including casualisation/precarity, workload, and the Joint Independent Panel (JEP) reports. From SUCU’s perspective, the meeting was positive and productive. The VC and Exec Director of HR indicated willingness to consider a range of options for tackling casualisation and excessive workloads, and there was a clear recognition on the part of the VC that you as members had communicated to him on the picket lines that these issues need to be a priority. Both were open to address staff concerns. They are open to exploring ways of replacing future fixed-term contracts of more than two years with permanent contracts (triggering redundancy when the funding ends) and turning zero-hours contracts into permanent contracts with annualised hours, reviewed annually.

While we were not able to cover all aspects of the dispute within the time available, we took the opportunity to ask for the VC’s views on the JEP 1 and 2 reports. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof. Smith indicated general agreement with the main recommendations of JEP 2, as well as recognising the importance to UCU and to the sustainability of the scheme of keeping individual members’ contributions to affordable levels. He has also agreed to take the issue of the University’s position on JEP 2 to University Executive Board very soon once an analysis and paper could be prepared. SUCU hopes that this will lead to a public statement of commitment to its aims on the part of the University. We also hope that the VC will take the concrete ideas discussed at the meeting to inform national discussions, in his capacity as chair of UCEA.

SUCU looks forward to further constructive engagements with Senior Managers to help turn these positive aspirations into concrete actions.

 

Campaigns Officer Dr Claire Le Foll hands SUCU’s petition for action on pay and pensions to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Mark E. Smith.

 

 

You can read more about the HE disputes on USS here and Pay & Working conditions here , and via the UCU Twitter account.

The case for climate action

Guest blog from Dr. Philip Goodwin, Associate Professor in Earth Systems Dynamics,  School of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

 

As a scientist working in the field of climate change and the carbon cycle, I believe strongly that urgent action is needed.

The truth is, climate change is not a new problem. People have known about the potential for human-caused changes in Earth’s climate for a very long time. The ability of different greenhouse gasses to trap heat was measured back in the 1850s and 1860s. It was quickly realised that if the atmosphere held more of a particular greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, then the climate would be generally warmer.

People have also known that burning fossil fuels, and clearing and burning forests, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured continuously since the late 1950s. By the late 1970s it was obvious that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was going up year-after-year, and that human emissions were the cause. Measurements now show that carbon dioxide levels are rising ever faster, because each year more fossil fuels are burnt and more forests are cleared.

A big problem with carbon dioxide is that it is difficult to remove from the atmosphere once it has been put there. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean, and some gets taken up by land, but the rest will stay in the atmosphere keeping the Earth’s climate warmer than it would be naturally for thousands of years.

Daily temperature records at many locations across the globe have been taken for a long time, with a number of records going back as far as the 1850s. Different teams around the world have looked at the available temperature measurements, and all have agreed on what they mean for Earth’s average surface temperature: so far, temperatures are around 1 degree Centigrade warmer than they were in the late 1800s. The only way we can explain this 1 degree warming is by considering the impacts humans have had on the atmosphere, principally the increase in carbon dioxide.

If nothing is done to limit fossil fuel use and the clearing of forests, then the further increases in carbon dioxide are due to cause Earth’s temperatures to rise by another 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. Such additional warming would have drastic and devastating consequences. To avoid the most serios consequences of man-made climate change, most of the world’s nations have already signed up to keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees warmer than it would naturally be, and take steps to achieve just 1.5 degrees warming.

All this shows why it is so important to act quickly now, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit every year. The less carbon we emit now, the less warming future generations will have to cope with. Eventually, to stop climate warming further, we will have to live in a completely carbon-neutral society.

The more quickly we can achieve a carbon-neutral society, and phase out fossil fuels altogether, the less warming future generations will face. Urgent and significant action is now required: to stop warming going above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, assuming we start emissions reductions now, we will need to reach a carbon-neutral society by the year 2050.

All the information needed to make good decisions for our future climate is out there, and has been for a long time. This is an urgent problem that is only going to get worse unless good decisions are made, both on individual and governmental levels. This is why I am keen to see meaningful action on climate – now.

 

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

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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.