Around 60,000 UCU union members in universities were set to begin a two-day strike on Wednesday of next week. Workers want a decent pay rise and an end to inequality in pay – particularly for women and casualised staff.
Sara Weiner is joint regional secretary of the North West region and is on the UCU’s national executive committee (NEC). She told Socialist Worker, “Real terms pay cuts over the last six years mean I’m around £5,000 a year worse off.
“Inequality is a real issue. There are just 13 women out of 131 professors where I work at Liverpool university. The higher up you go, the fewer women there are.”
Workers plan to theme their strike days, with the first focusing on the gender pay gap and the second on casualisation.
Christina Paine is a zero hours lecturer at London Metropolitan University. She is one of several union activists facing redundancy (see below).
Christina told Socialist Worker, “A lot of women are already in low-paid jobs. But zero hours contracts trap a lot more and mean they just can’t progress.
“The contracts mean that a lot of people can’t get mortgages. You can’t claim tax credits because you can’t say exactly how many hours you work.”
Sean Wallis is vice president of the UCU at University College London and an NEC member. “A lot of people are stuck on these crappy jobs,” he said. “And it’s not only for a short time. It becomes a way of life because these become the only jobs available. It also affects the quality of education.”
Christina said these issues mean the dispute is “very politicised”. Like many lecturers, she said the union should use the anger this generates to mobilise people. She said the union shouldn’t narrow down its rhetoric to simply focusing on a pay rise.
Carlo Morelli is assistant secretary of the UCU at Dundee university and a member of the NEC. “Pay is symptomatic of wider problems in the sector,” he told Socialist Worker. “The more we talk about political issues, such as women’s inequality, the more we will mobilise people.
“The junior doctors’ dispute and the teachers’ battle over academies have shown that.”
Many lecturers report that some activists feel demoralised after recent sellouts by the union leadership. Some aren’t confident that the union will pursue a strategy that can win.
Christina said, “My worry is that the UCU will settle the pay claim without addressing the gender inequality or casualisation.”
Carlo said, “It’s understandable that some are cynical. Workers have suffered a lot of attacks and that can affect confidence.
“But the ballot result exceeded everyone’s expectations and it does show the mood to fight. Workers should demand more control over the dispute.”
Sara agreed – and said that there is potential to build a real fight. “Our ballot result of 67 percent for strikes was significant,” she said. “And the turnout was higher than in recent years.
“It’s indicative of the mood among people, which is partly linked to other struggles such as that of the junior doctors. People feel less isolated in challenging things.”
UCU members said calling more action could help convince union members that the leadership is serious about the dispute. The union could call further strikes and also unveil a plan for action short of a strike to hit the bosses.
Workers should also fight to involve students in the struggle as the attacks harm their education too.
Sean stressed that the stakes in education are high. “The White Paper aims to allow new academy universities to be set up,” he explained. “That will eventually lead to profit-making institutions.”
He said the union could use next week’s strike to build a bigger fight to defend education. “We need a maximum turnout on the strike days,” he said. “We have to create a political crisis for the other side – and have a strategy that rebuilds confidence.”
Strikes can beat union-bashing bosses at London Metropolitan University
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has given his support to workers facing redundancy at London Metropolitan University in north London.
McDonnell said, “London Metropolitan University is an outstanding widening participation university.
“It is an outrage that once again staff and students at the college are under attack.
“It is equally appalling that well respected lecturers and union representatives are being targeted for compulsory redundancy for carrying out their legitimate trade union duties.”
Bosses are targeting UCU union activists for redundancy. They include branch chair Mark Campbell and branch secretary David Hardman.
David told Socialist Worker, “It’s our firm belief that London Met management are picking off union officers and outspoken members as a precursor to a further wave of cuts.
“Management have said there will be further job losses and we expect these to be in excess of 100 staff.
“We fear that the workforce will be increasingly casualised.”
The UCU at London Met was set to meet as Socialist Worker went to press to discuss resistance to the attacks. Strikes could stop the bosses.