By Sadie Robinson
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Higher education workers strike over pay deal

This article is over 8 years, 9 months old
Issue 2377
Lively picket line at Manchester Metropolitan University
Lively picket line at Manchester Metropolitan University (Pic: Mark Krantz)

Workers in higher education struck around the country today, Thursday, against a below-inflation
1 percent pay deal.                    

The walkout involved lecturers, lab technicians, admin staff and others across three unions – the UCU, Unison and Unite. 

Nadje Al-Ali is president of the UCU at Soas in central London. She told Socialist Worker, “This is about so much more than pay. It’s about equality. People on fixed term or part time contracts are disproportionately women or from ethnic minority backgrounds. 

“Many jobs are becoming more insecure and workloads are increasing. People are living on the bare minimum and they are struggling.” 

At Salford University a UCU rep said, “Our Vice Chancellor got a £12,000 bonus, but we have had 13 rounds of redundancies and downgrading. Some grades have lost £5000 a year. The lowest grades are being hit by the double whammy of low pay and rising costs.” 

Unions say that workers have lost 13 percent of their pay in real terms since 2008. For some this has dire consequences. 

Gyta Nicola is branch secretary of Unison at the Institute of Education in central London. She said, “I know of at least one worker forced into taking out a pay day loan.” 

Workers were buoyed by the fact that three unions were taking action together – and for the support they won from students and other workers. 

Carlo Morelli from Dundee university UCU told Socialist Worker, “The university is the quietist any of us have ever seen it. It’s made a difference three unions taking action together. And lots of those striking aren’t in unions – so there’s a massive potential to recruit.” 

At Soas, cleaners joined pickets while around 30 students continued an occupation in support of the strike. An IT worker at the London School of Economics refused to cross the picket line. 

“It isn’t a straightforward decision,” he said. “If something goes wrong and I’m not there to fix it, it will cause problems. But I want to support people who deserve a decent wage.” 

In Newcastle, workers driving Royal Mail and DHL delivery vans refused to cross the picket line, and sub-contractors lectures were cancelled. 

There was a mood to keep fighting after today’s strike. “I’d like to see more one-day or two-day strikes,” said James Howard, Unite branch chair at King’s College London. 

Sue Parkin, Unison branch secretary of University of East London told Socialist Worker, “Many of our people are on poverty pay especially cleaners and security. One day may not be enough but I hope this is the first of further action.” 

Strikers and supporters plan to hold marches and rallies across Britain later today.

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