Members of the two University and College Union branches from the city met for a joint rally in Barkers Pool this afternoon, Thursday 28 November.

Students joined striking staff from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University as they marched from their respective institutions up to a heavily-attended rally outside the City Hall, where they heard speeches from political and union figures from around the city and further afield.

Staff are currently in the midst of strike action over changes to their pension schemes, as well as a separate ballot in which they’re striking over pay equality, casualization of the sector and increasing workload for staff.

Students and UCU members from the University of Sheffield marched through campus to the city centre rally. (Image: Ben Warner)

A few of the Sheffield Students’ Union’s Officers led the march from the concourse outside the SU, through campus, down Mappin Street and along Division Street to meet striking staff from Hallam at around 12.00pm.

A number of speeches were given and messages read out, with contributions from Paul Blomfield, Louise Haigh, Baroness Natalie Bennett, Cllr Olivia Blake, Liz Lawrence – the former president of Hallam’s UCU branch, Martha Foulds – Chair of the SU’s Disabled and Dyslexic Students’ Committee, Sophie Wilson, Unite and Unison’s branches at the University of Sheffield, and a closing speech from Dr Jo Grady, a former UoS staff member who is now General Secretary of the UCU.

Afterwards, Dr. Grady told Forge Press: “The dispute that connects everyone across the UK is about pay and equalities, about the four major issues affecting all staff in Higher Education: casualization, workload, equality pay gaps and actually, just complete stagnation and cuts to our pay.

UCU General Secretary Dr Jo Grady spoke to the gathered crowd about why the union is striking. (Image: Ben Warner)

“There’s no other way of resolving it, we’ve tried all negotiation and our employers just keep refusing on a national level to fix these issues. Regarding the pension dispute, we’ve reached a level now where our contribution increases are to the extent that they’re pricing out younger and lower-paid members, which makes the scheme completely unsustainable.

Read more: Forge Press statement in support of UCU strikes

“What we’ve seen is a lot of support from students because students understand that a lack of investment in staff is a lack of investment in students. They also understand what it’s like to be bullied around by universities. This week, what we’ve seen in Liverpool, threatening international students with coded threats about deportation if they don’t comply with attendance monitoring, that’s bullying.”

The issue Dr Grady is referring to regards a letter which was sent to students at the University of Liverpool, telling students it was unlawful for them to join pickets, and that international students could ‘jeopardise their visa’ if they chose to join staff on strike.

In a statement in response to the Liverpool Echo, a spokesperson for the University of Liverpool said: “We are committed to supporting our students throughout industrial action and ensuring they have accurate information.

“We undertake regular monitoring of all our undergraduate student attendance. This is not only to ensure we fulfil our duties on international student visas to UKVI, but is also vital as attendance is an important student wellbeing.

Staff at the University of Sheffield are currently striking over two UCU ballots: one on changes to pension schemes, and one on pay equality, casualization and workload. (Image: Ben Warner)

“Monitoring information enables us to follow up patterns of non attendance with students so that we can provide them with appropriate support, should they need it.

“As such, attendance monitoring must continue throughout industrial action and it is important that our international students are aware of this.

“We respect our students’ rights to support the industrial action, should they wish to do. However it is important that they have the necessary information to do so lawfully.”

Members of the UoS UCU will be picketing outside university buildings again on Friday morning (29 November), before joining students from the University for the climate strike and rally in the city centre.

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