Thousands of university workers in Scotland began strikes on Monday. And tens of thousands more in England and Wales were set to walk out for five days next week. But leaders of the UCU union have stabbed the crucial action in the back.
The strikes are a continuation of a long campaign over pay, equality, casualisation and working conditions. In some universities the strikes are also combating punitive deductions from pay because workers carried out a boycott of marking and assessment.
At one of them, Liverpool John Moores, branch secretary Saira Weiner said, “We’re out over vindictive deductions for not marking. We’re out for eight days in total. University management are bullies, happy for staff to use foodbanks rather than negotiate.” At Brighton university, students went into occupation to support an indefinite strike against redundancies.
They said, “We have occupied Pavilion Parade, and reclaimed it as a space for students and the community. This building is among several due to be sold by the university.” The decision to call the national strikes came from a meeting on 11 August. At that meeting, delegates from branches across Britain voted two to one for action.
But UCU general secretary Jo Grady agreed to a special meeting of the higher education committee (HEC) last Friday to ram through an attack on the strikes. An attempt to call off all the strikes failed. The strikes are still on. But the HEC agreed, with Socialist Worker supporters voting against, to allow any university that wished to drop out of the action to do so.
It’s a green light to every right winger to extract their university and leave behind a fragmented, divided and disillusioned union. UCU members should argue hard to stop their branch pulling the plug on the five-day action, and argue for the strikes now as a precursor to an indefinite strike.
Those fighting to maintain the strikes are the sole obstacle to the effective destruction of the union. They are not formally the leadership, but in a real sense they are. The official position now is, “Strike if you want, scab if you want, pull your university out if you want.” This is the worst position of all the union leaders in 2022-23.
The CWU union didn’t say, “We’re having a strike, but we know it’s difficult so it’s fine if you want your mail centre to work”. UCU leaders have now, at last, agreed to a national strike ballot that opened at 143 universities this week. But it runs until 3 November. The delay in launching it means no national strikes during the universities’ key time at the start of term.
Grady has spent months overturning democratic votes. Workers could have won months ago if she had enacted the decision of the HEC to call indefinite strikes. She has left branches isolated to face 100 percent pay docking for not marking. The reason to vote Yes in the strike ballot is to push for indefinite action.
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