By Sadie Robinson
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University and college staff strike to beat attacks on pay

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Issue 2381
Pickets in Newcastle during the last strike on 31 October
Pickets in Newcastle during the last strike on 31 October (Pic: Geoff Abbott)

Workers across four unions in colleges and universities are set to strike on Tuesday of next week. This is an escalation of a dispute over pay.

Higher education workers in the Unite, Unison and UCU unions struck against a derisory 1 percent pay deal on 31 October. Now UCU members in further education, and EIS union members in Scotland, have joined the fight. Further education lecturers face a 0.7 percent deal.

Liz Lawrence is vice president of the UCU. She told Socialist Worker, “The action shows that workers are no longer prepared to tolerate year-on-year pay rises well below the rate of inflation.”

Workers are furious about the attacks on their pay. Unions say they have suffered a real terms pay cut of 13 percent since 2008.

Nadje al-Ali is president of the UCU at Soas in central London. She said, “I thought my job would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about money. But living in London with a mortgage and a child is hard.”

Nadje added that she hoped strikes could win better pay deals for education workers on lower pay. More than 4,000 workers are paid less than the Living Wage in higher education alone. Yet over half of vice chancellors grab over £242,000 a year.

Nadje said attacks on conditions are also feeding a desire to fight.

Gyta Nicola is Unison branch secretary at London’s Institute of Education. “Management aren’t replacing people immediately when they leave,” she said. “It means we end up working longer and longer hours. And now we’re having an efficiency review.”

Rhys Bearder, a Unison member at King’s College London, said, “We’re being asked to provide more and more to students for less money. The education system is being systematically defunded.”

Bosses have tried to set workers and students against each other. They claim strikes harm students’ education. Yet many students visited picket lines and joined protests during last month’s strike. 

They know that the real harm to their education is being done by bosses intent on driving the market through education and making vicious cuts.

Strong votes for strikes among education workers show that they are up for a fight. Escalating the action after Tuesday can pile more pressure on the bosses.

As Liz put it, “Employers need to come back soon with decent pay offers—meeting the Living Wage and reversing the erosion of pay.

“Otherwise UCU will plan for serious escalation of the dispute.”

Tue 3 December. Lobby AoC and UCEA HQ in central London from 12 noon. March at 12.30pm to Defending Post-16 Education rally at Bloomsbury Church (starts 2pm)

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