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University workers continue strike action over pay - but stoppages must be escalated
Sam Morecroft, Sheffield UCU Education Officer
On 23 January, University and College Union (UCU) members in the Higher Education (HE) sector walked out for a third time over pay since October - but this time it was for just two hours, rather than the previous 24-hour strikes.
A further two hour strike went ahead on 28 January. This will be followed by a one-day strike of all three campus unions involved in the dispute (UCU, Unison and Unite) on 6 February.
Reports suggest that hundreds of members walked out of universities. At the University of Sheffield, around 70 UCU members gathered to protest and picket.
It was clear staff were striking because of their anger at the University and College Employers Association's intransigence in insisting on yet another real terms pay cut; offering staff 1% at a time when the HE sector has massive surpluses.
That was magnified at Sheffield by the announcement that Vice-Chancellor Sir Keith Burnett had been awarded a 26.3% pay rise - increasing his already inflated salary to £374,000 a year.
Imagine how low-paid and part-time staff feel - we're told there's no money to raise our pay in line with inflation, and yet Sir Keith gets an even bigger slice of the cake!
To illustrate the point, union members delivered a cake with a '26% slice' cut out to congratulate him, while picketers made do with peanuts - literally.
But members aren't just angry at our greedy university executives - we're angry at our union leadership too.
When this dispute started, we were promised a plan of escalating strike action that would see us taking two and three day strikes in January and February.
But the UCU leadership has abandoned this plan, citing the need to maintain unity with Unison and Unite.
Now of course our members want to strike alongside other campus unions - this pay dispute affects all of us - but if the leadership of the other unions are not prepared to support escalating strike action then we must take the lead and appeal to them to join us.
Members are ready for this fight, but nobody wants to lose pay over tokenistic action.
One departmental rep told me: "I've never crossed a picket line in 20 years in the union, but I've already lost £400 in this dispute - why should I lose two hours pay for nothing? We need serious action, not empty gestures."
That's why Sheffield UCU has passed a motion demanding an emergency HE conference and a return to the original plan of escalating strikes.
Members are ready to fight - but to win we need serious, sustained and escalating industrial action.
On both of the two hour strikes on Thursday 23 and Tuesday 28 January, around 50 UCU members and students gathered for protest rallies outside Nottingham Trent University (NTU).
The strike is about pay. UCU members were pointing out that whilst they were getting, in reality, a pay cut the vice chancellor's pay increase meant he was now taking home £320,000 a year.
One speaker at the rally asked the strikers, "Is that because he works ten times harder than us?" and was answered by a chorus of "No!".
Students spoke at the rally to give support to their striking lecturers, making the point that if students are paying £9,000 a year, they would rather that money was going towards decent lecturers, not into the pockets of the vice chancellors! I also spoke to give solidarity from Youth Fight for Jobs and talked about the use of zero-hours contracts on university campuses as well as the future (or lack of) facing young people leaving university.
At the second rally, members started to discuss the need to escalate strike action if this dispute is going to be won.
NTU is one of 11 universities who are docking a full day's pay from lecturers walking out for two hours.
The aim of the management is to bully and scare UCU members into not taking any action but in fact the opposite has happened - they are more determined to take action and for the next planned two hour strike to be escalated nationally into a full day's strike as a step towards further action.
The strikers finished their rally with chants of "the money is there, so where's our share?".
De Montfort, Leicester
From 2pm to 4pm at De Montfort university, lecturers along with others in the country went out on strike officially over pay while vice chancellors get a pay rise.
However, pay isn't the only issue, some raised the issue of workload as well. One of the attacks that will be made at De Montfort, as I was told, is that IT technicians will be moved into just one building.
At the moment lecturers can go to the technician in the building they are teaching in, and the technician can set up a replacement projector if need be.
When the technicians are moved to just one building, IT problems will take longer to get sorted, so if a projector breaks down, it will cause a lot of disruption to lessons.
Lecturers were very thankful for support they received from students. The De Montfort Students Union disgracefully but unsurprisingly didn't show support and said they were 'neutral'.
They should have shown support to university staff and raise awareness of the strike and why it's important to show solidarity to staff instead of cosying up to the university management.
Some of this reporting was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 28 January 2014 and may vary from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.