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University workers headed for eight days of strikes over pensions and pay

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Issue 2679
UCU members on strike in 2018
UCU members on strike in 2018 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Eight days of strikes are set to hit 60 universities from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December after workers voted for action in two ballots.

UCU union members have voted in overwhelming numbers to stage walkouts to defend their working conditions, pay and pensions.

Some 74 percent of workers across 147 universities voted to strike over pay and working conditions, on a 49 percent turnout.

Workers have suffered a real terms pay cut of 21 percent in the last decade, and are also fighting discriminatory contracts.

And in another ballot, 79 percent of UCU members voted to strike to defend their USS pension scheme, achieving a 53 percent turnout.

Bosses have already increased contribution levels for workers, and now want to transfer them onto a worse scheme.

Strikes over pay and pensions will hit 43 universities. A further three will strike over pensions, and another 14 over pay.

UCU Scotland president Carlo Morelli told Socialist Worker, “The results are very, very good and they reflect how branches and activists have worked really hard to get the vote out.

“Everyone is really excited, the activists are confident and feel emboldened that their arguments are supported by the members. The response is a record turnout. It looks good,” he said.

The UCU Left group said the result was “the highest votes ever in a UCU national pay campaign”.

The ballots were “disaggregated”each university voted separately.  Under the Tory anti-union laws, only universities that reached the 50 percent turnout threshold are able to stage walkouts legally.

Some 44 universities crossed the threshold in the pension ballot. Workers in 54 branches delivered results over 50 percent in the pay and working conditions vote.

Those that didn’t reach the threshold are set to be reballoted so workers can join in with strikes.


Jo Grady, UCU general secretary said the results showed how “unhappy and angry” workers are “at the state of higher education.”

“It’s incredibly frustrating that we had to ballot members again, but universities only have themselves to blame after failing to address falling real terms pay and for refusing to deal with casuality, workloads and the rising cost of USS pensions.”

And Grady, who was elected off the back of the wave of strikes in 2018, warned that if bosses “ignored” the results “then strikes look inevitable”.

The union’s higher education committee met on Friday to discuss the next steps for the campaign. It’s not clear yet when the union will call strike days—but activists should fight to maintain the momentum of a successful effort to get the vote out.

This means calling days of action in workplaces to keep pressure up on education bosses.

And walkouts could be coordinated with the 29 November school climate strike and strikes by postal workers, who are fending off a raft of attacks at the Royal Mail.

Strikes to defend the USS pension scheme last year showed how action can transform unions, and give people the confidence to fight back.

It’s likely similar action will be needed to beat back the bosses’ latest attacks.

“There’s a different feel around this,” Carlo explained.

“The USS dispute felt like a carnival, people felt finally there were able to demonstrate that they could look and feel like a union. They experienced solidarity they’d never felt before.

“Now they’ve got that, and this time it’s more political, and people are more determined to demand real change in the sector.”

UCU in transformation—one year on. Saturday 2 November, 11am-5pm, University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6B

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