Socialist Worker

University staff strike back against pay insult

Issue No. 2378

On the picket line at Kings College in London

On the picket line at Kings College in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Higher education workers took part in one of their strongest strikes for decades on Thursday of last week.

The walkout by UCU, Unison and Unite union members saw big picket lines and protests across Britain. 

Strikers won solidarity from other workers and students, some of whom occupied to support the action (see below).

John Parrington, a UCU member at the University of Oxford, said, “The strike was the biggest for over a decade.

“Strikers picketed many sites that haven’t been picketed in previous disputes.”

Strikers at Dundee University said it was the quietest they had ever seen it. 

Car parks at universities stayed empty as workers—and students— refused to break the strike.

Geoff Abbott was picketing at the University of Newcastle. “Delivery vans including Royal Mail and DHL are respecting our picket line,” he told Socialist Worker.

“The mood is lively and morale is high.”

Workers are fighting a below-inflation one percent pay rise. Unions say workers have suffered a real terms pay cut of 13 percent since 2008.

“You go without sometimes,” said Katherine Natanel, a UCU rep at Soas in central London. “My energy prices have just gone up by 10 percent and it’s expensive living in London.”

Expensive

Kelvin Gwilliam is a Unite member and art and design technician at London’s Institute of Education. “The value of what you take home isn’t keeping pace with inflation,” he told Socialist Worker.

“You start wondering if you can afford things like a holiday. It gets a bit depressing.”

A Unison member at the London School of Economics said, “I’m struggling and I don’t have children. My concern really goes to people with families trying to make ends meet.”

But the anger goes wider than just over pay.

Lesley McGorrigan, a UCU member at the University of Leeds, told Socialist Worker, “People weren’t just striking over pay.

“I spoke to people who had never been on any picket lines before. 

“But they took part because they are so pissed off with job threats, bullying, corporate-style 

management, diminished pensions and so on.”

Nadje Al-Ali, president of the UCU at Soas, said the strike was about equality.

“People on fixed term or part time contracts are disproportionately women or from ethnic 

minority backgrounds,” she said.

“Many jobs are becoming more insecure and workloads are increasing.”

The success of the strike shows that workers are prepared to keep up the fight. 

Unions should build on this momentum.

As Mark Campbell, a lecturer at London Metropolitan University and member of the UCU’s national executive committee, put it, “Today has been magnificent.

“But it’s just the start. It’s no good just having a day’s strike here and a day’s strike there. We need to escalate to win.”


Students support the strike

Students at the University of Sussex, the University of Sheffield and Soas in central London held occupations in support of the strike.

In Oxford hundreds of students staged a march that brought traffic to a standstill, then briefly occupied the foyer of the Exam Schools lecture theatres.

Elsewhere joined picket lines and protests. 

Shelly Asquith is president of the student union at the University of the Arts London. She told Socialist Worker, “Today is about a wider fight for a decent education system.

“Underpaid and overworked lecturers aren’t good for students.”

Student Joseph Fox joined an unofficial march through central London, called by the London region of the UCU. “Universities are becoming places where social inequality is reproduced,” he told Socialist Worker.

“It’s part of a broader agenda by the government. I’ve got friends who are teaching and can’t afford their rent.”

Lewis is part of the occupation at Sussex. “There was a big student presence on the picket lines,” he said.

“Students also joined the trade union rally. They spoke about the importance of the unions continuing the strikes and that students coordinate solidarity action.”


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