University and College Union (UCU) members began the second round of strike action in the current national dispute on 21 February. This is happening because university managers and their national representative, Universities UK (UUK), have not agreed to the UCU’s demands. UCU members are striking over changes to their pension scheme, following a valuation carried out during the pandemic-induced financial crash, which UUK is using to justify cuts and changes to terms. They are also striking over the ‘Four Fights’: pay, casualisation, equality, and workloads.
The co-chair of the UCU branch at Leicester University told the Socialist:
“This is a serious dispute for us. Yes, it’s about pensions, pay and conditions and the gender pay gap. But it’s also about our right to be treated with dignity as human beings working inside the university. We have seen a massive erosion of our wages and pensions over recent years. We can’t take any more of this, we are standing up for our rights. We’ve had brilliant support from the students’ union and the other trade unions in Leicester.”
As both a second-year student at Bradford University and Socialist Party member, I went down to the picket line at Bradford Uni to show my support. I spoke to many passionate staff members, including some of my very own lecturers, who are bravely fighting for a fair pay system and a fair pensions system.
For the past 12 years, education has been under attack from a government that only cares about profit instead of paying university staff fairly, and providing students with top-quality education. Now, both of these groups are out on the picket lines fighting for a fair and equal university system. I’m proud that our party is supporting these strikes and I hope this sends a message that university staff will not put up with any more unfair attacks on their pay and pension.
Tom Gibson, Bradford Socialist Party
At the University of Sheffield, members are also disputing management’s decision to close the world-renowned archaeology department – so far winning concessions on involuntary redundancies – but the fight continues to retain the department.
UCU members picketed Sheffield University buildings across campus and remained in good spirits despite horrible weather, and the news that the university will be making strike pay deductions in one go instead of over multiple pay cycles, in an obvious attempt to weaken UCU members’ resolve by impacting their finances. This will hit casualised staff the hardest. There needs to be a collective response to this by the union.
In solidarity, students organised occupations of five key university buildings – a new occupation on each strike day – and successfully gained control of buildings that hold most teaching across all departments. This caused significant disruption and, in the university’s own words, significant detrimental consequences to an ‘applicant open day’, which they said could negatively impact finances.
Student occupiers faced intimidation by security but carried out their operation as planned. On 18 February, the courts granted a possession order on all buildings, following which the occupiers left all but one building. During this, security refused to return property and demanded ID in a cynical attempt to identify the participants and possibly bring academic sanctions against them.
The success of the occupations and the disruption it created show that student-staff solidarity is key in the continuing fight against an exploitative, bloated higher education system.