Socialist Worker

Don’t put universities fight on ‘back burner’

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2697

UCU pickets outside UCL in central London

UCU pickets outside UCL in central London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A number of UCU union branches called off planned strikes in universities last week as the coronavirus crisis grew.

UCU members are in dispute over pay, equality, workload, contracts and pensions. Workers across 74 universities held a series of successful walkouts as part of the disputes.

And reballots for more strikes were set to start at scores of universities last week.

But the union postponed the reballots as more and more universities ended face to face teaching due to the virus.

Workers are now organising to make sure that bosses don’t use the crisis to ram through further attacks.

But some are also feeling in a relatively powerful position.

The UCU Left group, which Socialist Worker supports, said university bosses “know they need our cooperation and flexibility in order to keep even a depleted form of education up and running”.

It said it was “not surprising” that some strikes were called off last week.

But it added, “It is regrettable that the general secretary and others intervened to amplify some voices rather than others in these debates and advocated overriding normal decision-making processes.

“We have a deficit of democracy that must be corrected.”

It warned that casualised staff could be the first victims of the crisis as bosses use the end of face to face teaching “to justify mass layoffs”.

And it feared bosses trying to further push down pay and conditions.

“Already, managers are busy devising new ways to impose their control on us at home,” it said.

“The appetite for the fight has been overtaken by events. But this is likely to be only a temporary respite.

“The crisis carries within it the seeds of new threats and new attacks.” And there’s a danger that bosses will try to make some changes permanent if they find it saves them cash.

“The HE market may well allow space for an expanded segment of online providers staffed by a gig economy of casualised workers,” it warned.

UCU Left urged union activists to find new ways of organising, including online, to continue to defend workers’ rights during the crisis over coronavirus.

“We need to prepare for the struggles to reignite,” it said.

“This is not the time to put the issues we have been fighting over on the back burner for the sake of the national interest.

“We are not all in it together.”


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