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Posted on 16 May 2013 at 15:58 GMT

Birmingham university backs down: students and workers win!

Edmund Schluessel, NUS NEC-elect and UCU member

Maintenance and support staff at University of Birmingham are celebrating near-total victory as university management has abandoned restructuring plans. 361 Hospitalist and Accomodation Services (HAS) staff faced compulsory redundancy, pay cuts and being forced to work anti-social hours under plans announced in March; the 407,000-a-year pay packet of the vice-chancellor would have been unaffected.

The university also planned to force staff to work at weekends and bank holidays for no extra pay. These plans have all been dropped and staff have won extra flexibility in setting their own schedules.

Birmingham University Unison worked closely in partnership with the students' union, Birmingham Guild of Students, to fight back against the cuts and job losses.

Staff and students demonstrated together against university management on May Day, and in a major show of solidarity, the students' union put out a call for a national student mobilisation in support of the Birmingham HAS staff.

Determined response

In a statement, student campaigning group Birmingham Defend Education said:

"This outcome demonstrates that protest and direct action work.

"Unions were negotiating on these issues behind the scenes for two months, whilst the university kept announcing further attacks.

"As soon as they started to sign up large numbers of new members and talk about strike action, and we sent our statement to David Eastwood, the university abandoned the majority of their attacks within two weeks.

"This also illustrates the power of students and staff when working together. We should remember that staff and students, not management, are what make the university work.

"If we recognise this, and the power that we have when we stop doing what we're told, we can claim the conditions of work and study that we want to see."

Low pay

The problem of low pay remains unresolved. Many maintenance staff at Birmingham and dozens of other universities are paid only the national minimum wage, while the university makes annual profits of nearly 30 million.

Lecturers and other university staff on the national pay spine have received real-terms pay cuts every year since 2009.

The five-way consortium of university trade unions, consisting of UCU, Unison, Unite, GMB and EIS, are meeting with employers on 21 May to discuss the latest 0.8% pay offer.

The five unions should unanimously reject the offer and prepare for national coordinated action to stop the pay cuts and job losses, and push the TUC to name the day for a 24-hour general strike against all the cuts.

As an incoming Socialist Students member of the National Union of Students' executive I will push for NUS to learn from the Birmingham students' example and to give the fullest possible support to any action in defence of education and against the cuts.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 May 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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