Socialist Worker

Anger on picket lines as lecturers walk out to demand a real pay rise

The strength of the latest university strikes shows the potential for harder hitting action, says Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2388

Strikers at the School of Oriental and African Studies on Tuesday of this week

Strikers at the School of Oriental and African Studies on Tuesday of this week (Pic: Guy Smallman)


University lecturers across Britain struck on Tuesday of this week in a battle to stop bosses imposing a miserly pay deal.

The UCU union members walked out for two hours from 2pm. It follows a two-hour strike on Thursday of last week.

Workers face a below-inflation pay deal of 1 percent—after years of low pay rises.

Natasha is a learning facilitator at University College London (UCL). She told Socialist Worker, “Some workers in universities don’t even receive the minimum wage. 

“And new people face temporary or zero hours contracts.”

Caitlin O’Neill, a geography postgraduate student at UCL, said there was a lot of support for the action among students. “I benefit from the work that lecturers and cleaners do,” she said. “I’ve paid a lot of fees to be here—where have they gone?”

Like many in the union, Natasha had been concerned about the limited impact that a two-hour strike would have.

“I wasn’t too keen on it,” she said. “But when around 25 of us stood up in our open plan office and walked out, we got lots of attention. I hope we can make a difference.”

Some bosses said they will withhold a full day’s pay for the strike—including at the University of Dundee.

Dock

Carlo Morelli is assistant secretary of the UCU there. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s common sense to people that they should strike for a full day if management are going to dock a full day’s pay.

“People are really angry about it.” 

Strikers at the University of South Wales met during last week’s strike. They voted to escalate future action to full days unless bosses drop their threats to deduct a whole day’s pay for two-hour strikes.

Malcolm Povey is an officer of the UCU at the University of Leeds. He said the action was a success despite concerns about the union’s strategy.

“Two hours on strike is better than no hours on strike,” he said. “But I know some people who didn’t come out who would have if it had been a full day.”

Patrick Connellan is branch secretary of the UCU at Nottingham Trent University. He said, “People are saying they support the dispute but don’t want to strike for just two hours.

“Yet the mood on the strikes was really good. Lecturers are very angry—but they want and deserve better leadership.”

The success of the strikes shows the potential to win the dispute. Union leaders had previously agreed on an escalating programme of action after two successful 24-hour strikes last year.

But the further education committee of the UCU last week narrowly voted against calling further action over pay. 

Several UCU consultation meetings took place last week—and many activists argued for escalation. 

Lecturers were set to walk out for 24 hours along with members of the Unison, Unite and EIS unions on Thursday of next week.

As one UCL lecturer put it, “The union is mandated for escalating action. The two-hour strikes can’t become a substitute for that.”


Vote left in UCU elections

Elections are set to start in the UCU lecturers’ union for vice president and the national executive committee. Socialist Workers Party members support the UCU Left. It is backing several candidates including Loraine Monk for vice president.

Elections begin on Tuesday of next week and end on 28 February.

Go to uculeft.org for details and election materials


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