By Sophie Squire
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Build the university strikes and pressure union leaders for more

‘There is now only one thing that the union can do—escalate strikes’
Issue 2793
Strikers, one with a pink bobble hat, with placards such as  9 percent disability pay gap, 17 percent race pay gap

Pickets at King’s College in London highlight the university strike’s demands (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Workers at 44 universities struck for the fourth day of a five-day strike on Thursday against cuts to the USS pension scheme.

Aggie, a UCU union member picketing at King’s College London, told Socialist Worker, “Precarious workers are having to choose between paying their rent or paying into the pension scheme.

“It’s a vicious cycle of not being paid enough because you’re on a precarious contract and because of that not paying into the pension scheme.”

Daniel, who works in the Geography department at King’s, agreed and added that workers are forced to opt out of the scheme.  “Cuts to the USS scheme will have a significant impact on the sector, especially on attracting new workers,” he said.

Alex, who is also a UCU member at King’s, explained that he had been on precarious contracts for ten years before being offered a permanent job.

“It wasn’t a good way to live,” he explained. “I want to work in a sector that offers workers stability and treats them well.

“And we can’t stop with pensions. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that we haven’t had a real pay rise for a decade.

Daniel told Socialist Worker that he stands to lose 36 percent of his pension. He added that this was a “kick in the face”, especially because conditions at the university are getting worse as a whole.

Dozesn fos triekrs on the steps of an academic building

Rallying in Leeds for the university strike (Pic: Laura Miles)

“Student numbers are going up, which in some ways is a good thing. But it’s just not possible at the moment to give them the best student experience when we are so overworked,” he said.

“Covid really altered everything. Staff stepped up to the plate to move online, but there has been little acknowledgement of our effort.

“There have always been really good things and really bad things in our job. But now the scales have tipped, and the bad outweighs the good,” he added.

The former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, joined the King’s pickets. He told the crowd that, “students, teachers, workers together can achieve a great deal. But, divided, it’s much harder to do things.

“You are going to win.”

At Goldsmiths university in south east London students stormed the university council meeting chanting, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts.”

And at Liverpool university, students occupied the Ashton building in support of workers.

Students should join the Student Strike for Education on Wednesday 2 March and the events which the NUS student union has called.

Four pickets in front of LSE sign with placards such as "Official Picket".

London School of Economics workers are determined to win the university strikes (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Strikers at Leicester university have marched around the campus, and there were big pickets at Leeds university.

With employers threatening to deduct as much as 100 percent of workers’ wages for refusing to reschedule lectures, the need to escalate action is only becoming more urgent.

Sean Wallis, branch president of UCL and national pay negotiator, told Socialist Worker that new tactics are needed to stop the bosses’ attacks.

“UCU general secretary Jo Grady wrote to say that individual branches whose employers have threatened pay deductions could strike as part of a local dispute.

“And branches were in favour of this—in fact, some voted for additional days of strikes.”  

“But this was then was withdrawn by those at the top of the union, and it was then suggested that the branches affected could call a separate dispute.

“It would at least three months to get a mandate, and it would allow the employers to wait out the strikes. So it just wouldn’t be sensible.

“There is now only one thing that the union can do, and that is to escalate strikes. Another strategy isn’t possible.”

“An injustice to one is an injustice to all, and the more the union waits and leaves members in the dark about what to do next, the more demoralised people will become.

“We have a mandate to strike until 4 May. We have to use it.

“Members of the Unison union at nine universities are also planning to strike on days that correspond with UCU strikes. This can boost the strikes.

“Taking the kind of action that union members support, but the top of the union ignored, is the only way to win.”

The present action will be followed by a two-day walkout at 68 universities from Monday. This will unite two disputes—the first over pensions and the second over pay, workload, casualisation and equalities—known as the “four fights”. Workers at 63 universities then plan a three-day walkout over the “four fights” from 28 February.

This must not be the end of the battle. 

  • To see which universities are on strike and on which days go here
  • London Strike Demo, Unite to defend education, Tue 22 Feb, assemble 12.30pm Tavistock Square, WC1 (outside UCEA/UUK offices), depart 1.30pm for a march to the City and rally at Bank. Called by London Region UCU. Details here 

Report from the UCU Solidarity meeting, 21 February

More than 186 UCU union members from some 50 branches met at the UCU Solidarity Movement strike meeting this evening.

Colleagues had a lengthy and careful discussion about the state of both disputes, following the recent announcements about UUK’s refusal to accept UCU’s proposals on USS this week, and also threats of wholesale pay deductions against members refusing to reschedule lectures under the ASOS instruction.

We also heard from City Unison who had won a ballot over pay in the face of the spiralling cost of living, stood up to bullying management, and, with their City UCU branch colleagues, shut the university today and tomorrow.

The first conclusion of the meeting was that UCU HEC (Higher Education Committee) needs to engage far more with striking branches, to gather reports of the action and hear from branches themselves.

Members voted to call on UCU national officials to convene a Branch Delegates Meeting that is able to take votes on proposals prior to the HEC this Friday. This is not a radical step—indeed it is what UCU has done in previous disputes.

The second conclusion was that in order to respond to the employers’ refusal to engage over USS, to prosecute the Four Fights campaign urgently, and respond to their attempt to target members over ASOS on rescheduling, UCU should escalate action before Easter.

Allowing for the 14-day notification to employers, UCU can still call two weeks of action this term.

Members attending the meeting voted overwhelmingly for the motion below. Colleagues are encouraged to take this motion to their own strike committee and union meetings over the next couple of days, debate and submit it to the Higher Education Committee.

Motion to UCU Solidarity Movement meeting, 21 February 2022

This meeting

Calls on UCU national officials to call a Branch Delegates Meeting with voting powers ahead of the Higher Education Committee meeting on 25th February.

Calls on HEC to call additional strike action for four days and five days in successive weeks in Term 2 under both mandates.

The motion was passed as follows:

95 percent Yes / agree

  1 percent No / disagree

  4 percent Abstain

(Several additional yes votes were given orally and in the chat)

We also voted overwhelmingly to call a recall UCU Solidarity Movement Strike Meeting at 6pm on Thursday 3 March to assess the results of the strikes and to consider next steps.

Roddy Slorach (for the UCU Solidarity Movement)

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