The Cambridge rally was sponsored by six unions. I spoke with people from three of them and two local campaigns.
“Today is the first strike we’ve attended. We intend to strike as long as we need to in support of what we are fighting for. Sadly, we’ve found quite a few of our colleagues have not really been that interested. Within our school, only a few of us have actually gone on strike. But our friends and family and the public have been largely supportive.”
Danny and his partner had children with them. I asked if they were their own or from among those they taught.
“Ours. They go to a school that we don’t work in. The school is shut today.”
I spoke also to Keith Anderson, Regional Organiser for the teachers’ union NASUWT in the Eastern Region. He told me:
“NASUWT are currently not on strike because unfortunately, we failed to meet the threshold – only 42% of our members voted in favour of taking part in the ballot. However, of the members who did vote, 93% were in favour of taking industrial action. So, we are still in dispute with the government over pay.
“We are supporting a sister trade union in the NEU, and other trade unions such as the RMT. Our members will not be carrying out any work that would normally be done by our NEU colleagues. And that in itself is causing considerable disruption within schools. Parents and the general public are very much in support of the industrial action being taken by teachers today.”
Another union in solidarity with those on strike was the community and tenants’ ACORN. I heard about it from Michael Lee.
“Acorn doesn’t necessarily take strike action. We normally work in solidarity with strikers. We have a campaign on HMOs – houses of multiple occupancy, where there are five or more separate tenants in a house. We want them licenced and following the regulations. Our friends and colleagues are taking our involvement in today’s action pretty well. We’ve got a big crowd out here today.”
Cambridge has two universities. It’s no surprise that the University and College Union (UCU) was out in force. Jane, from Anglia Ruskin University, explained:
“We were on strike last Christmas for three days. And now we’ve got 16 days of strike coming up for February and March. Then some further action in April. A lot of friends and colleagues are taking part. A lot of people have joined the Union in recent months in order to take part on account of their working conditions and salary increases below inflation. We were on a picket line outside the university on the road and we had so many people beeping their horns and singing their bike bells. It’s more support than I’d ever seen!”
Another non-Union campaign joining the 1 February solidarity demonstration was Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public.
“We’ve been on the picket lines with the nurses at Addenbrooke’s. We’ve been supporting the physiotherapists who were out striking last week as well. A lot of the problems in the NHS are due to poor pay and poor staff morale. Staff leave because they can get more pay in Sainsbury’s these days. And the safety of the working environment is the big issue for health workers.
“Passers-by have been very supportive, particularly of the nurses. And they will do it for teachers as well. Parents and grandparents know how short-changed children are in the school. They can’t get the right number of teaching assistants. They have supply teachers who are not up to speed on the subject that they’re trying to cover. Those teachers are working long, long hours. You know, like the nurses, they worked all the way through the pandemic to keep things going. And they’re not being listened to. The government’s in hiding. They’re not discussing anything. They’re not negotiating. They’re trying to break us basically. And it’s very, very sad.”
“We’re here to support the strike in conjunction with UCU. The strike that our lecturers are taking part in are in the interest of the students and the university staff as well. When the strikes were happening last year, the Labour Club were again helping out. We believe that the instructors in general are positive towards everyone involved. We have had a very positive response from the students. Most have been in support of us. When they were going towards lectures today, the majority of them actually came and joined us on the march as well.”
John Elworthy in Cambsnews spoke of “large numbers” involved in the demonstrations, Cait Findlay in Cambridgeshire Live of “hundreds“. I wasn’t able to estimate numbers from where I was on the ground. But it felt bigger than any other Cambridge demonstration I’ve taken part in.
DISCLOSURE. Aidan Baker is a member of UCU.
This article has been lightly edited for clarity.