Socialist Worker

Higher education unions strike to demand a decent pay rise

After years of below-inflation pay rises unions in universities are striking for a real pay increase. Many are demanding that the unions escalate the dispute, says?Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2390

Unison and UCU union members on strike in Leeds

Unison and UCU union members on strike in Leeds (Pic: Christian Hogsbjerg)

A university strike united four trade unions across Britain on Thursday of last week.

The walkout, by UCU, Unison, Unite and EIS union members, was the latest action in a fight for decent pay. Bosses have offered 1 percent—after years of below-inflation deals.

Many strikers said it is increasingly hard to get by as their pay dwindles.

Kelvin Gwilliam is a Unite rep at London’s Institute of Education (IoE). “The value of our pay keeps going down while energy bills and accommodation costs go up,” he told Socialist Worker. “If you don’t put a line in the sand, it will keep getting worse.”

Gyta Nicola, branch secretary of Unison at IoE, added that workers are also worried for their jobs.

The university announced plans to merge with University College London (UCL) the day before the strike.

“People talk of it in terms of a takeover,” she told Socialist Worker. “They’ve got a timeline for it and it’s meant to be completed at the end of this year.

“It makes a joke of the idea that there’s any consultation.”

At Wolverhampton university, Unison and UCU pickets offered a dish of peanuts to students asking, “Would you like some of our pay rise? This is what they think we are worth.”


Strikers were angry that vice chancellors on massive salaries are getting rises of over 5 percent.

Research by the EIS found that Scottish universities had record cash reserves of more than £90 million last year. The fact that bosses can afford to pay decent wages is infuriating strikers.

Malcolm Povey, a UCU officer at the University of Leeds, told Socialist Worker, “Workers feel that the pay deal is about humiliating us.”

He added there was “real traction” for arguments about escalating the action. “People were saying last week’s strike should’ve been a two-day strike,” he said.

“Pickets were confident and strikers also want to set up a strike committee to run the action. People are joining the union. Managers will not have liked the strike.”

UCU union members in higher education have taken part in a series of two-hour strikes as part of the pay campaign (see box). But many strikers want union leaders to escalate.

John Yandell, a UCU member at the IoE, told Socialist Worker, “People join the two-hour strikes but that doesn’t mean we aren’t critical of the leadership’s strategy.

“I don’t think it’s strong enough. At a regional briefing recently the mood was very much for escalation. And people want a marking boycott to start earlier than April too.”

Strikers mounted picket lines across London despite difficulties with travel because of a solid Tube strike (see page 20). Students and other workers turned out to support the action.

One student at UCL told Socialist Worker, “Students and staff shouldn’t be pitted against each other. We have the same enemy—the bosses—who are taking £9,000 in fees from us while paying lecturers low wages.”

Lecturers' strike - 'the anger hasn't gone away'

The UCU union called a two?hour strike over pay in higher education on Monday of this week. 

But in 11 institutions where bosses said workers would lose a full day’s pay the union struck for the day.

These universities were Aberdeen, Bradford, East London, West of Scotland, Greenwich, Staffordshire, Leeds College of Art, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Trent, Robert Gordon and Queen Mary University London.

Patrick Connellan, UCU branch secretary at Nottingham Trent, told Socialist Worker, “This dispute is not just about pay. People feel universities are preparing for 2015 when the cap on fees is lifted and we expect more attacks.

“The two-hour strikes have demoralised some people—they feel sorely let down by the union. But the anger hasn’t gone away, if anything it’s increased.”

The UCU’s higher education committee was set to meet on Friday of this week to discuss the next steps in the campaign. 

It should escalate the action and coordinate action with other unions fighting back, such as teachers.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 11 Feb 2014, 16:32 GMT
Issue No. 2390
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.