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University lecturers strike for fair pay
UCU members were out in force on picket lines at universities on the first day of UK-wide two-day strike action against a paltry 1.1% pay offer from university employers.
"Comrades, this strike is all about respect", declared the president of Cardiff university UCU. Vice chancellors are receiving four times the wages of lecturers and universities are investing huge amounts in facilities and buildings. "But what do students remember about university years later - is it how modern the buildings were, or the experience and support that lecturers provided?"
Lecturers have experienced an average fall in real wages of 14% in the last six years while university vice chancellors' salaries have gone through the roof.
In Cardiff university the vice chancellor is paid £270,000 a year and lavished with perks, expenses and first class travel while many lecturers who actually deliver education to students have to get by on part time contracts.
Strikers from the National Museum of Wales joined the picket line to show solidarity along with members of Cardiff Trades Council.
UCU members will be taking action on Thursday as well, followed by work-to-contract action and further days of action until a decent pay offer is forthcoming. Other unions are invited to support their picket line.
UCU strikers from City university gathered a great crowd at lunchtime to march around central London. They were joined by a group from London Met, and then marched to SOAS, UCL and Birkbeck, gathering up more strikers as they went.
One of the organisers was UCU rep Chris Flood, a former Socialist Party councillor and TUSC candidate, who addressed the demo and passed on a message of support from Janice Godrich, president of PCS.
The strikers were supported by SERTUC, Unison members and students. City UCU sent a message of support to the steel workers' demonstration taking place on the same day.
Jo McNeill, president of University of Liverpool UCU branch, and NEC member, spoke to Hugh Caffrey:
We're out on strike today because of our pay. There's a massive perception that people in this sector are very well paid and have got permanent and secure positions. That's simply not the case anymore, it's a highly casualised sector.
We're fighting not just to increase our pay, it's not just about more pounds and pence in our pockets anymore, it's about fair pay and having the right to a pay increase every year.
Our vice chancellors have just been offered a between 6% and 10% pay increase nationally, and our offer was 1.1%; and we just think that's outrageous.
With the massive gender pay gap and the increase in casualisation, we've got academics on zero-hours contracts, early career researchers who are consistently receiving redundancy notices because they're on such short-term contracts... We think there should be more permanency in the sector. We're charging the students £9,000 a year, and we think that our pay should be reflective of the service that they want us to provide.
One of the issues in this strike is the gender pay gap. The gap at Leicester university is one of the very worst in the country. Yet they hypocritically take part in a UN equality initiative called 'HE (Higher Education) for she'!
UCU strikers in Leeds, 25.5.16, photo by Iain Dalton
A sea of pickets greeted commuters along Woodhouse Lane in the north of the city centre as UCU members picketed entrances to three of the city's four Higher Educations institutions which lay along that road.
As Socialist Party and Socialist Students members toured the picket lines, we found that pickets were in a buoyant mood, in sharp contrast to the overcast weather. Throughout the morning pickets had grown, and noticeably a number of post-graduate students who are often on a casual basis employed to teach joined the picket lines.
At lunchtime around 150-200 joined a march and rally into the centre of the city, with a noticeable delegation of Unison members in Higher Education joining the march who are also currently balloting over the same pay offer.
Speakers from the UCU branches on strike, including UCU anti-casualisation NEC rep Vicky Blake, outlined that as well as striking because of the decline of pay in relation to costs of living, there were also big issues over the gender pay gap as well as the rampant usage of casualised working conditions that especially affect newcomers into academia.
Sarah Gillborn, Leeds Beckett SU welfare officer, also spoke in support of the strike and brought solidarity from students. Leeds Beckett SU's student council recently unanimously passed a motion, moved by Socialist Students member Amy Cousens, to back the staff trade unions in this dispute.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Iain also sent a report the following day from Bradford:
A dozen UCU were picketing in Bradford on the second strike day when Socialist Party members locally visited the picket line. Many of the pickets talked about ongoing job reviews at the university which they believe are designed to cut staff pay, by making job descriptions more vague. Other pickets talked about how through the union they had challenged this procedure, in some cases forcing the university to recognise additional duties they were undertaking and increase pay!
Tish, one of the UCU reps at the university, spoke to us about her concerns over education in general, including her local school which has been turned into an academy. The common theme in all the Tories' plans for education, is increasing marketisation of the sector.
The 48-hour strike by UCU members in Higher Education saw strong pickets at both the University of Sheffield and Hallam, despite the fact that the timing of the strikes meant teaching at both institutions had largely finished.
There was a mood of determination; we know that we will need to take much more action to recover some of the 15% of our pay lost to freezes and cuts in recent years, but we've also seen the impact of the junior doctors' strikes, an inspiration to all trade unionists.
On Wednesday, the first day of the action, Sheffield UCU organised a 'teach in' which brought together around 150 education workers and students to discuss the marketisation agenda, the gender pay gap and casualisation, and how workers and students can fight these attacks together.
Conveniently, on the second day of our strike, Hallam university was inaugurating its new vice chancellor in Sheffield cathedral, so members from Sheffield and Hallam UCU decided it would be nice to pop along and pay our respects.
Various attending dignitaries were greeted with chants of "We'll be back to bother you later - until we get fair pay!" as they filed in for the ceremony, and Hallam's management apparently felt the need to ensure two police vans were in attendance to deal with our dangerous group of academics and students.
Afterwards we joined with striking workers from the Business, Innovation and Skills department who were also out on a 48-hour strike, and held a joint rally with speakers, who included Marion Lloyd, president of PCS BIS group. Also speaking, from Hallam students union were Hassan El Zafar, education officer, and Luke Renwick, education officer elect, who were invited to attend the inauguration, but told strikers they'd rather be outside with them!
In Sheffield we've kicked off the pay campaign with visible and disruptive industrial action, and shown the way forward by organising with other workers in struggle locally. That's how we'll build the generalised strike action we need to get rid of the Tories - not by waiting for the TUC to take a lead but by showing the way forward ourselves!
Sam Morecroft, Sheffield UCU Anti-Casualisation Officer
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 May 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.