Higher education workers in the AUT and Natfhe unions struck over pay on Tuesday.
They held a day of action, involving pickets, rallies and protests. The action was part of an attempt to claw back wages and conditions, which have been declining for decades.
Professor Malcolm Povey from Leeds university said, “We have over 100 pickets out. It’s really brilliant. The mood is good and we’ve been getting a lot of support from university staff, students and the public.”
The strike action, which will be followed by a boycott of assessment and appraisal work, came after managers rejected the unions’ pay claim.
This was despite the vice chancellors who run universities awarding themselves a 25 percent pay rise over three years.
“I think the stakes are high with this dispute,” said Malcolm. “Management are not going to back down easily. But we are up for a fight.”
Unfortunately, some of the information put out by unions suggested that staff should earn more because of the money flowing into higher education from student top-up fees.
But on the ground there was unity between workers and students over both pay and fees.
At Glasgow University, students organised in support of the lecturers and sent representatives to speak at the rally.
Raymie, a student at the university, said, “The strike seemed to be pretty solid. It is important that students stand with the lecturers. We don’t want them to be underpaid.
“The government has plenty of money for war, but says it can’t afford to pay staff a decent wage or provide a free education for all. So we need to stand together.”
At Aberdeen University, despite the snow, lecturers and students were out picketing together across the campus.
Penny Howard, a student at the university, described how student groups had put posters up supporting their lecturers’ pay claim.
She said, “The mood was really good on the picket lines. I visited two, and there were about 25 lecturers picketing.”
The newest AUT branch in Scotland, at Glasgow School of Art, reported a solid response. Some 42 lecturers joined the union in the build up to strike action at Strathclyde University.
Around 300 people attended a rally in Newcastle. Geoff Hubbard said, “The mood here is really excellent. We got to the picket line at 6.30am—in time to turn back the post and the delivery lorries.
“We invited the fine arts students to join us, as they’re currently fighting the closure of their library.
“The next thing is the marking boycott and the strike today has really set people up to fight.”
The militancy of the action bodes well for the new higher education workers’ University and Colleges Union, which will be formed by the merger of the AUT and Natfhe.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the Natfhe union, told Socialist Worker, “I’m hearing from all over the country that this is the best turnout we’ve had on picket lines for a while.
“I’ve heard that in Cumbria 50 percent of lecturers are on the picket line. Central Saint Martins college in London has been closed.
“The employers are saying that action is premature. But there is a history of vice chancellors spending all the money available to them before we get around to talking about pay.
“We are not interested in Mother Hubbard talks – where you get invited in, but the cupboard is bare.”
Lecturers and students together on the picket line
The strike action affected universities across the whole country. Gareth Jenkins, from Greenwich University in London, said, “We have pickets covering several gates across the university.
“A lot of students have come out to support us as well. The strike is pretty solid. Only a couple of people have crossed the picket line.
“Natfhe produced a leaflet to give out to students that argued that the strike is not about taking money from students’ tuition fees. It’s about proper funding for higher education. It’s about a government that has money for war, but not for education.”
Shirley Franklin, from the London regional executive of Natfhe, was at the Institute of Education in London. She said, “The mood is very buoyant. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to students. There are a lot of student teachers here.
“I think you have to take the time to talk about the pay and conditions of teachers and how they were achieved. There is a generation that doesn’t know about strikes and picket lines.”
At University College London 50 staff, supported by students, rallied in the morning.
Karen Evans, a lecturer at Liverpool University said, “All three universities in the city are out. We have lots of people picketing around campus.
“Some departments are closed completely, and a lot of students have stayed away. One problem we’ve had compared to last time is that the unions have based this campaign entirely around pay.
“The last strike tied in with top-up fees and funding, making it a lot easier to pull students on board.”
At Bristol University the students’ union opposed the strike. But on the ground it was clear that the majority of students supported the lecturers.
When the local radio station came to interview the head of the students’ union he didn’t turn up, so instead they interviewed a pro-strike student.
At Stirling University in Scotland the turnout for the picket lines was very good.
Iain Ferguson said, “Very few people crossed the picket lines. People are ready for the next stage of the action.”
The unions’ campaign has been backed by 130 MPs and 27 members of the Scottish parliament who have signed motions of support.