Some 60,000 university workers were set to strike on Wednesday and Thursday.
The UCU union members are demanding more than the bosses’ paltry 1.1 percent pay offer.
They also want to end the pay inequality that blights the lives of women and casualised workers.
Gender pay equality will be the theme of the first strike day, while the second will focus on casualisation.
A protest against zero hours contracts will take place at London Metropolitan University in north London at 1pm on Thursday.
Bosses are targeting UCU reps there for redundancy.
Christine Paine sits on UCU’s national executive committee (NEC).
She told Socialist Worker, “If we don’t tackle low pay and casualisation, we won’t tackle gender inequality.
“At the moment if you become pregnant, you’re very likely to lose your job. It’s outrageous and these are political issues.”
Some union leaders want to focus exclusively on the pay offer. But Sean Wallis, UCU vice president at University College London and and NEC member, told Socialist Worker, “The unions shouldn’t try to narrow the dispute—this is a political fight.”
Many workers are also furious at the Higher Education White Paper (see page 10).
They know that attacks on pay and conditions are part of a bigger agenda of opening up universities to profit-making. But there are some doubts about the union leadership’s determination.
Sean said, “We’ve had disputes where the union has balloted for strikes then ended the dispute, so there are some concerns about being sold out.”
Richard Bradbury is a UCU rep at the Open University.
He told Socialist Worker, “The union called off planned escalation of strikes at the Open University and the momentum was lost.”
But he added, “It’s always possible to win people back to being involved, and people are angry over pay.”
Workers are considering following this week’s walkout with more strikes and action short of a strike.
Some activists argue that the union should name further dates to show that it is serious about the dispute.
Others stress that the union has to have a strategy for dealing with bosses’ bullying when workers take action.
Some bosses have docked whole days’ wages from workers in response to action short of a strike.
Sean said, “The union leadership will not escalate to national strikes in response to such tactics.
“But we need to have a response to pay docking.”
The high strike vote of over 65 percent shows that university workers are prepared to fight.
The white paper shows what’s at stake if the bosses and the Tories get their way.
Strikers should demand that the union builds on the momentum of this week’s walkouts and leads a strong campaign that can win.