Socialist Worker

Striking lecturers fight casualisation and demand fair pay

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2505

Strikers at Leeds University yesterday

Strikers at Leeds University yesterday (Pic: Neil Terry)

UCU union members in higher education are highlighting casualisation on the second day of a two-day strike today, Thursday.

The workers are on strike across Britain to demand more than the 1.1 percent pay deal bosses have offered. They also want equal pay for women and staff on casual contracts.

Up to 100 rallied at London Metropolitan University today demanding an end to zero hours contracts and casualisation.

Laura from the Fighting Against Casualisation in Education campaign told the rally, "I'm a student with teaching attached.

"I get £15,000 a year and have to do two jobs. But I have no contract. I'm an invisible worker."

Christina Paine is on a zero hours contract at London Met and has been on zero hours for 12 years.

"We are not paid properly for what we do," she told the crowd. "I'm in a team where men progress and I don't."

Sarah (not her real name) is on a casual contract at Queen Mary's University. "Almost 50 percent of the teaching staff there are on casual contracts," she told Socialist Worker.

"There's serious job insecurity. And the contracts are often not tied to national pay scales. It becomes very difficult to plan your life."

Sarah said casual contracts were "becoming endemic" in higher education. It's hard to get out of them," she said. "You can be on a casual contract for years. It's really discouraging for people coming into the sector."

Nick Countouris, a UCU rep at University College London, agreed. "It's creating a big disincentive for the next generation of academics," he told Socialist Worker.

"People have a long series of casual contracts in the hope of eventually landing a permanent job—but then they will be paid less than their predecessors. I'm on strike because of the unfairness of it all."

Barbara, a student union rep at London Met, told the rally, "This dispute is about our education."

London Met student Jenny Nash told Socialist Worker why she was backing the strike.

"I'm a photography student at the CASS and we've had technicians made redundant," she said.

Most or all of them have been black or ethnic minority. There's an obvious pattern with who's more likely to be on casual contracts."

Management keep making mistakes and we're paying for it.

Jenny added that current planned redundancies at London Met aimed to replace permanent workers with casual ones.

"Management keep making mistakes and we're paying for it," she said. "They're doing my head in."

Strikers are angry at how attacks on education are hitting students.

Jane Coles is the equalities officer at Institute of Education (IoE).She told Socialist Worker, "The cap on students numbers was lifted and we were expected to take more—but with no extra staff.

"Class sizes have got bigger and staff are more stressed."

Around 150 strikers and supporters lobbied the employers' offices in central London on Wednesday demanding an end to the gender pay gap.

And a rally in Nottingham today brought together lecturers from Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities.

Speakers spoke about the effects of privatisation. Many lecturers now work for private firms contracted by universities.

Strikers know that the assault on their pay and conditions is part of a wider agenda to turn higher education into a business.

John Johnson, a programmer at the IoE, said bosses were "asset stripping" the university. He pointed to a recent loan taken by UCL, which has merged with the IoE, to develop a new site in Stratford.

"The whole raison d'etra is cash flow," said John. "It's all about the bottom line—not about the students."

He added that universities were moving into new ways of making cash out of students, such as building student accommodation.

But the support students need can suffer as money is diverted elsewhere.

"Programme administrators are being slammed," said John. "But they are a critical part of universities. For overseas students, they might be the only people they know and trust at first.

"It sucks."

Workers will debate where next after the strikes at the UCU's annual congress in Liverpool next week. Many are clear that more action is needed to beat the bosses back.

Rebecca Lewis is vice president of the UCU at City University. "I'd certainly support more strikes," she told Socialist Worker.

"It is the only thing the management listens to."

Thanks to Richard Buckwell

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