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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 November 2019

University and College Union strikes: Union means business in fight against employers

UCU strikers at the University of Nottingham, 27 February 2018, photo Gary Freeman

UCU strikers at the University of Nottingham, 27 February 2018, photo Gary Freeman   (Click to enlarge)

Socialist Party members in UCU

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have backed strike action in two separate ballots - one over pensions and one over pay and conditions in higher education.

Eight days of strike action have been announced at 60 separate universities. The strike will run from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December. Action short of a strike will also commence from 25 November, which will include staff working to contract and not rescheduling lectures missed because of the strike. It's estimated that the planned action will affect up to one million students.

Timing

The quick announcement of strike action builds on the momentum of the ballot, where 79% of members backed strike action over contribution changes to the USS pension scheme and 74% over pay, casualisation, equality and workloads.

The swift call for strike action ensures the issues discussed during the ballot are still fresh in members minds and shows both members and management that the union is serious about taking the fight to the employers.

The eight days of consecutive action reflects increasing confidence and militancy within the union. The timing of the strike, which will likely overlap with the CWU postal workers strike and finish just days before the general election, may be advantageous if management feels pressure to avoid national action.

Strategy

Combining the two campaigns into one strike action has meant that more universities can participate in the strike - 43 universities met the high thresholds for both ballots, but only 14 would have been able to strike on the pay and conditions dispute alone and three only on the pensions dispute.

Additionally, the disaggregated ballot strategy, where each branches votes are counted separately, has been successful. Earlier this year, over the issue of pay and conditions, the union was left without a legal strike mandate, despite a 70% 'yes' vote, because of a 41% national turnout (the Tory 2016 Trade Union Act imposes a 50% threshold - designed to aid employers).

However, combining the two disputes does run the risk that one issue becomes more dominant - for example, if the union wins concessions on pensions, this could dampen the mood to continue to fight on the other issues.

It's clear for members what the problems we are fighting over are, but it will be necessary for the union to provide clarity on specific demands and what sort of concessions would be accepted. This is needed to ensure that members come out not only in anger at current attacks but with knowledge of what the solutions are and willingness to fight for them.

Last year UCU strikes were emboldened by support from the Socialist Students and other trade unionists including local trade union councils. This year we call on all students, trade union activists and local campaigners to support the university staff's fight against attacks on our pay and working conditions and on the increasing austerity imposed on the education sector.


Socialist Students stand four-square with UCU

Socialist Students welcomes the announcement from the University and College Union (UCU) that members in 60 universities will be taking eight days of strike action from 25 November until 4 December.

In 2018, management of universities tried to weaken and demoralise strikers by pitting students against them. We say staff are going on strike not only to fight against vicious attacks to their pay, conditions, and pensions but to defend our education from Tory cuts and attacks! That's why it is vital students support the UCU in their struggle.

Socialist Students will not only be out on the picket lines supporting our striking university staff, but will be reaching out to local UCU branches on campus over the approaching weeks to build joint student and staff meetings to discuss how we can best build student solidarity with the strikes.

We say student unions should themselves issue statements in support of the upcoming UCU strikes, and use student union resources to build campaigns on campus to mobilise students in support of the strikers.

These strikes, alongside the upcoming industrial action to be taken by CWU members working for Royal Mail, come at an extremely important time. Falling in the middle of the general election campaign period, they have the potential to lead the way in the struggle against the Tories, and embolden students and workers to fight for a Corbyn-led government with a socialist programme which will fight the bosses to the end and end austerity.

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In The Socialist 13 November 2019:


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