Scenes of defiance, anger and determination erupted across Sheffield City Centre today as hundreds of students and striking lecturers marched in unity against cuts to staff pensions.
Hailed as “brilliant” and “powerful” by the organisers, the march saw several hundreds of students out in force despite the blizzard snow and freezing temperatures.
The event began at the Information Commons library, before marching past the Diamond, across West Street and along Division Street, before congregating outside Sheffield City Hall.
A series of speakers rallied to the masses outside City Hall, including a striking lecturer, local Labour politician and SU President Kieran Maxwell.
Speaking to the crowd, Maxwell said: “The University of Sheffield isn’t like other universities – it was founded by the penny donations from the people of Sheffield. It was founded to benefit the people of the city through ground-breaking research and education that is accessible to everyone, no matter where they came from and how far it has fallen.
“I say to Sir Keith – you’ve told us before to get on the streets and fight marketization, we’re here – where are you now?”
A samba band and flares whipped up a passionate atmosphere, and local businesses workers were seen stood admiring the march whilst others tooted their horns in support.
Sarah Staniland, a lecturer in Chemistry, helped organise the march as Branch Secretary of UCU Sheffield. She told Forge Press: “They’ve both been excellent events, brilliant, and we’ve been really impressed with the turnout for the two of them. I would have been impressed if only 20 people had turned up but we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people, so really good turnout considering the weather.
“We need to be showing the city, we need to be showing everybody through social media, walking through their streets, whatever way we can, to make sure they’re aware of this issue.”
Speaking to Forge Press on the march, Information Studies PhD student Penny Andrews said: “I’m both a PhD student and I teach, and the academics get payed lower than they would in other industries on the basis of having a decent pension, and we’ve been lied to by UUK before when they said it wouldn’t change back in 2011. Now I’ve come into academia later and all I’ll have is a pension and I don’t want to die with no money.
Alex Stevens, an MA student in Speech Therapy, said: “It just sends a message that actually we’re all united to support the lecturers because some of us might be lecturers in the future, and these are people we aspire to be and look up to. I just think we should be here to stand up for each other actually.”
One History lecturer on the march told us: “We certainly hope that the negotiations will lead to a good outcome and that our pensions will be saved, so in that sense we would really like to go back to work. But we’ll do this as long as necessary.”
In a statement, Vice-Chancellor Keith Burnett said: “The University of Sheffield welcomes the news that discussions between the UUK and UCU in relation to the dispute about pensions continue and that further talks are being arranged with the involvement of ACAS.
“Reaching agreement will require serious negotiations in good faith. I will therefore again convey to UUK our concern that talks are genuine and without preconditions. We also believe it is vital that colleagues involved engage positively with the Regulator, including seeking adequate time to properly address the issues at stake. We would welcome the involvement of an expert group to advise on the modelling of the scheme.
“I understand that this is an issue of very real concern to staff and to students. The University is keen to see a resolution which secures the long-term future of the USS pension scheme, and which would bring to an end the current dispute. We will continue to make every effort to work with others to find a solution which can be supported by all.”
Without a resolution, strikes are set to continue from Monday through until Thursday next week, and all five working days in the following week. UCU Sheffield have told Forge Press that they have more action planned in the coming weeks, including pickets and another possible rally.