Hundreds of strikers marched around central London on Wednesday demanding big changes in higher education.
The day marked a walkout by members of the IWGB union at University College London (UCL). They are battling for an end to outsourcing and zero hours contracts, and demanding that UCL brings their jobs back in house.
At the same time, UCU union members in 60 universities across Britain marked the end of a fantastic eight-day strike. They are fighting unequal pay, casual contracts, spiralling workloads, real-terms pay cuts and attacks on pensions.
IWGB and UCU members marched to UCL headquarters chanting, “Two strikes, one fight!” and, “UCL you’re out of time – outsourcing is a crime.”
Security worker and IWGB member Tatiana told Socialist Worker, “Ten years ago I was earning the same wages as I earn now – between £10 and £12 an hour. But ten years ago that was a lot higher than the minimum wage, now it isn’t.
“It’s not fair. We provide a public service and we work in very busy places. We have to fight for our rights.”
Outsourced workers have fewer rights than those directly employed. They don’t receive the same sick pay, holiday entitlements, pensions or parental leave.
IWGB rep and security officer Abdul told Socialist Worker, “I’ve worked at UCL for ten years. We are the first people you see when you come onto campus, but a lot of students don’t know how we are being treated.
“A few months ago we got together and decided to launch a campaign. We had a big meeting of security staff and voted to launch a committee. Cleaners and porters had their own meetings and voted to start campaigning too.”
Workers rallied outside the Universities UK bosses’ headquarters before heading onto UCL HQ. They chanted, “Who’s the university? We’re the university!”
Adam from the IWGB told the crowd, “I had a lung infection for one month and a half and I didn’t get paid. Nothing at all.
“UCL is one of the most prestigious places in the world. We need to tell people the truth about how they are treating us. We are fighting for something we deserve.”
Farhana from the IWGB added, “Let’s show them what unity looks like and what everybody can do together.”
Workers are confident that their struggles can win. “They’ve brought outsourced workers back in house at King’s College London and at Soas,” said Abdul. “So we know it can be done.”
UCU striker Catalina agreed – and said the struggles here are part of a wider battle to win radical changes. “The same kind of social uprisings that are happening across the world are also found here,” she told Socialist Worker. “They are showing that the system is crumbling.
“All the struggles are connected. I’m from Colombia, and it’s incredible to come all the way to London and find similar conditions or worse than the ones you left.
“I’m a full time associate professor and I can’t afford to pay for a flat.”
UCU members marked the end of their eight-day strike with big rallies and protests across Britain including in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Warwick, Brighton and Nottingham.
UCU members were set to discuss the next steps in their pensions dispute at a conference in Manchester on Friday. There’s a clear mood to keep fighting.
In Dundee, a strike meeting voted to support a further 15 days of escalating strikes. And UCL striker Josh told Socialist Worker, “Our eight days of strikes have been solid. People are quite resolute.
“We discussed our strategies at a strike meeting on Tuesday, and a majority of strikers were for escalating action.”
Catalina added that the fights are about more than just pay or pensions. “Across the world it’s the same story,” she said. “All we want is dignity.”