University workers at over 30 institutions are on strike today, Thursday, as part of a national programme of action over pay.
The UCU union members are rejecting a 1.1 percent pay offer – after years of real terms pay cuts. They are demanding equal pay for women and an end to casualised contracts.
Veronique, branch secretary of the UCU at the London School of Economics, was picketing in central London. “There are 75,000 casualised contracts across higher education, and 21,000 are zero hours contracts,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Our school uses ‘variable hours’ contracts, which means people have little or no guarantee of fixed hours.
“Casualisation makes it very easy to disregard workers’ rights. It’s wrong.”
Indy Bhullar was also on the picket line. “The university sector as a whole has over £1 billion in reserves,” he told Socialist Worker. “Universities are spending a huge amount on capital and their estate.
“But their attitude to staff is derisory.”
Paul Bracken, who was picketing at nearby King’s College London, agreed. “When we see the pay increases that vice chancellors get compared to the fall in our pay in real terms it’s totally wrong,” he told Socialist Worker.
“The powers that be have decided that universities should be run like businesses. That means bringing in managers who need ‘competitive salaries’ to ‘attract the best’.”
University workers are often portrayed as relatively well off. But pickets said the image didn’t match the reality. “Personally, I won’t be able to afford to live in London if this carries on,” said Paul.
King’s College striker Joan added, “Rents and travel costs keep going up. The lowest paid are especially vulnerable. And people worry that, if the economy gets worse, inflation will go up.”
Workers in Derby, Cambridge, Belfast, Bolton, Surrey, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Falmouth, Cardiff, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Sheffield were among others striking today.
UCU members plan to strike in Loughborough, Newcastle, Northumbria and Cardiff tomorrow, and in Durham on Saturday. The pay dispute kicked off with a two-day national strike in May – and the union could call further national walkouts in the autumn.
Indy said he would support further strikes if bosses don’t back down. “I support a union being strong and standing up for its members,” he said. “It’s hard for some as they are already struggling and worry about losing pay by striking.
“I think we need to have more support for the lowest-paid with a hardship fund. We all pay into the union after all.”
Paul said further action could help build the union. “I only came to King’s a couple of weeks ago and joined the union last week,” he said. “Maybe more will become involved and join the union if we keep fighting.”