Lecturers continue the fight for decent pay

AUT conference

Lecturers continue the fight for decent pay

FROM 10-12 May, higher education union AUT held its last annual
council (conference) before its merger with NATFHE to form the
University and College Union, UCU.

Thomas House

Both existing unions are in dispute over pay in higher education,
against the employers, UCEA, after pay increases promised from the
money generated by ‘top-up’ fees failed to materialise.

On the Monday before the conference, the unions had correctly
turned down a ‘final’ offer from UCEA. This rejection was backed
unanimously by council, which gave an overwhelming mandate to
continue the current boycott of student assessment.

Motions were passed that called to extend this to other forms of
action short of a strike, such as management boycotts. A motion
calling for a further one-day strike and national demonstration was
referred to the executive, who only committed to sympathetic
consideration of ‘national demonstrative action’.

Good points were made in the debate about the timing and
effectiveness of strike action and the difficulties of the current
boycott, which ‘goes against all our instincts’ as educators and does
hurt students.

There was a further suggestion that the money that would be lost
through a one-day strike would be better levied from members to
support staff facing pay cuts for taking part in the assessment

These are tactical issues but what cannot be denied is the urgency
of taking some form of united action that can help ease the isolation
of those taking part in the boycott. As a minimum, a national
demonstration should be organised with AUT, NATFHE, the NUS and
teachers’ unions.

UCEA and behind them the New Labour government, are 100% to blame
for any problems faced by students as a result of the assessment
boycott. While council reaffirmed its opposition to tuition fees in a
separate motion, it was noted that the new income from fees presented
a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to win a significant pay
increase. University workers have seen their salaries decline from
close to those of doctors to salaries below those of school teachers,
who are underpaid themselves.

Attacks on higher education mirror those throughout the public
sector. Unity between public-sector unions and the wider labour
movement will be needed to force the government to back down.

There were discussions of wider issues, in particular the adoption
of a policy on international boycotts following last year’s proposed
boycott of Israel. While some conservative elements in the union
argued that we should not campaign on anything other than the
interests of education workers, this was defeated. Positive examples
of international solidarity came from motions condemning the
occupation of Iraq and in solidarity with the Venezuelan people
against US interference.

There was also a resounding call for disciplinary action against
racist, sexist and homophobic lecturer Frank Ellis of Leeds

Socialist Party members distributed a conference bulletin and held
a meeting in support of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.

We intend to build on this to establish a base in the new union,
where we will argue for a fighting strategy but also that the cuts,
closures and privatisation seen in universities and colleges are an
inevitable consequence of the capitalist system. Only the socialist
transformation of society can provide education for all at the same
time as decent pay and conditions for those who provide it.

Build students’ support

KAT FLETCHER, president of the National Union of Students
described the AUT’s decision to continue to refuse to set exams as
"extremely concerning".

She led an NUS delegation to the AUT conference, where the boycott
was endorsed but added after the decision was reached: "NUS will
continue to make the AUT aware of the damaging consequences of this
policy and the disproportionate impact this aspect of the boycott is
having on students."

NUS accept that the employers’ refusal to negotiate for weeks is
"one of the reasons students are suffering now". They say they are
putting pressure on the employers to begin new negotiations. But it
is clear that, in the face of such intransigent employers, it is in
all students’ interests to give full support to lecturers in dispute
– as Socialist Students are doing around the country.