Thousands of workers at 58 universities across Britain kicked off a three day-strike on Wednesday with picket line sing-alongs, student marches and teach-outs.
UCU union members mounted lively picket lines across Britain in their fights over pensions, pay and inequalities. And they received solidarity from students, other trade unionists and campaigners.
Outside Birkbeck in central London, activists held signs reading, “No fees. No cuts. No corporate university,” and, “A proud tradition of selling our future.” Tanya, UCU president at the university, said workers were striking because they are under “enormous pressure”. “In the last two years we’ve worked harder than ever before through the pandemic,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We are asking for our jobs to be sustainable, we’re asking for better pay and a reasonable workload.
“And we are asking that we don’t have our pensions slashed.”
Tanya added that university bosses’ attempts to pit workers and students against one another had failed.
In Bristol, up to 100 students marched through the city’s streets in support of their lecturers and Sussex students joined an 80-strong protest.
At York university, workers chanted, “The moneys there—where’s our share.” Strikers from Leeds university gathered for a large rally and organised “running pickets” where strikers jogged between picket lines.
In Leicester workers marched around the campus and there was poetry on the picket lines in Manchester.
UCU members are striking in two connected disputes—the first against a cut to the USS pension scheme. The second over equal pay, casual contracts, workload, and a real terms pay rise—known as the “four fights”.
Tanya explained that “half of the staff at the university are on casual contracts”. “Even those on a full time contracts are reporting that they have to work an extra 20 or 30 hours a week just to keep up,” she said.
Allison, a researcher at nearby UCL university in London, is on a permanent contract, but said she was striking for her colleagues on casual ones. “This entire sector is built on casualised staff,” she told Socialist Worker.
“This is bad for them, it’s bad for full time staff and students alike.”
Jenny, a researcher at UCL, is “constantly looking for other jobs” because of her open-ended contract. “During the pandemic I worked from home, but had to homeschool my children,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I did this with my second child probably for around nine months. But because of childcare responsibilities, I wasn’t able to churn out as much as someone who doesn’t have kids and I didn’t publish so many papers.
“The fact that I have children is never taken into account and I’m never going to be employed above someone who can do more work.”
At nearby Soas university, UCU and Unison union members are striking together for the three days.
Support staff were offered an insulting zero percent pay rise this year and a 1.5 percent increase next year. Lenin, a striking Unison member, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve worked at Soas for 20 years, the number of cleaners has gone down in recent years from 40 to 20.
“And now they’ve offered us a tiny 1.5 percent pay rise. The cost of living and inflation has gone up so much—we want an over 6 percent increase.”
Lenin said uniting with UCU strikers was important because their disputes were part of the “same fight”.
Chris, a UCU member and lecturer at Soas for ten years, said that conditions are only getting worse. “Academia just isn’t a secure job anymore,” he told Socialist Worker. “You are kept on fractional insecure contracts, the benefits in mine have recently been slashed.”
Only escalating strikes will force university bosses to meet workers’ demands—and the UCU leadership must announce more dates as quickly as possible.
Every trade union and campaigner should build solidarity for the strikes. Activists should visit the picket lines, invite UCU strikers to their union branch and campaign meetings and raise money in workplaces for strike funds.
The strike should become a focal point for everyone that wants to see a fight against the Tories and the bosses.
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