Socialist Worker

University strikers take on zero hours and low pay in Winchester

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2507

On the picket line at Winchester University

On the picket line at Winchester University (Pic: Socialist Wroker)


Workers at the University of Winchester are on strike today, Friday. The UCU union members are fighting a measly 1.1 percent pay offer—and want equal pay for women and an end to casualised contracts too.

The walkout is the first in a series of planned individual university strikes and follows a two-day national strike last month. The UCU is set to confirm strike dates for several universities planned for next week.

Pickets were out in force at Winchester, covering all entrances as parents brought their children to an open day. UCU branch chair Mick Jardine told Socialist Worker that bosses were spending money on "beautifying" the university instead of on staff.

He said, “They could pay for a good pay rise. But all they care about is appearances.”

Striker Sue Anderson-Faithful agreed. “We have got money in the sector," she told Socialist Worker. “But a lot of it is being invested in infrastructure.”

Workers have suffered a real terms pay cut of 14.5 percent since 2009. Mick said, "We've been told pay cuts will go on until 2020. How much can you take? You either stand up and fight or roll over and accept education is going to be battered.”

Like many pickets, Mick said the action was also about “fighting for education”.

Striker Lucy told Socialist Worker, “We have a huge amount of casual contracts. People can’t afford to live in Winchester so they commute in. It’s especially hard for people with young children.

“Conditions are making it difficult to attract the best people—so what kind of education are students going to get? This is not only about pay—we are here for education.”

Action

Pickets explained to visiting parents and students why they were taking action.

They pointed out that top vice chancellors grabbed a pay rise of 6.1 percent this year while workers’ pay has been squeezed. Many visitors were sympathetic to the strikers. As one parent put it, “It really pisses you off, doesn't it?”

Pickets had support from other trade unionists too. UCU branch secretary Simon Boxley told Socialist Worker, “We've been buoyed by the level of national support we've received. We've had messages of support from around the country.”

The higher education white paper aims to drive more competition in universities and will mean a worse deal for students. Attacks on pay make the sector more appealing to private vultures.

Women in universities are paid 12.6 percent less on average than men, and some 75,000 university workers are on casualised contracts. Until recently striker Robert Gray was one of them.

“I went through short-term, temporary contracts for eight years,” he told Socialist Worker. “I was only made permanent last year.

“It’s usually assumed that zero hours contracts are just part of your training. But they can last for years. It means that, at this time of year, you're wondering if you'll have a job next term.”

Striker Catherine said her partner was an hourly-paid lecturer. “He doesn't get paid for one to one tutorials with students, but he does loads of them,” she told Socialist Worker.

“He gets some money for marking and preparation, but it doesn't cover what he actually does. There isn't time to do everything. This affects permanent staff too as we have to pick up the slack. And we've had some really talented people leave as they can't afford to stay.”

Pickets also discussed how to take the fight forward. Some UCU branches could choose to strike in early July, when the NUT teachers’ union plans an England-wide strike.

Many pickets were enthusiastic about the idea of coordinating action. Striker Matt said, “It makes sense for us to be out together.”

A teacher who came to the picket line to support the strike added, “UCU members face the same pressures as teachers. We need to stick together.”

Some names have been changed

Week of action

Strikes planned this week in UCU’s ongoing campaign

  • Tuesday—University of Edinburgh, University of Kent
  • Wednesday—University of Sussex
  • Thursday—University of Glasgow, University of the West of Scotland
  • Friday—University of Bath, University of Bristol

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