Unison members at King’s College London on strike, March 2022, photo by Mary Finch
Unison members at King’s College London on strike, March 2022, photo by Mary Finch

King’s College London University was one of ten places out for Unison’s strike of uni support staff from 2-3 March. Mary Finch, a Socialist Party member and a Unison union rep at King’s spoke to the Socialist in a personal capacity:

We’re on strike today at King’s and ten other institutions across the country. Unison members are on strike with the University and College Union (UCU) over pay. We’ve been made a 1.5% pay offer, which is a real-terms pay cut. This is after university staff worked throughout the pandemic. We’ve worked tirelessly to keep universities open, to keep universities running. We’ve been insulted with a real-terms pay cut.

We’re a central London university. The cost of living is going up. Transport for London fares are being increased. Some of the lowest-paid members at this university have to travel in from the outskirts of London and spend loads of money on fares. And they’re being insulted with a tiny pay offer.

King’s has said: “Our hands are tied, the pay offer is negotiated nationally.” But we’re not stupid. We understand how that pay offer works. What we’re demanding is that King’s goes back to the university and college employers’ association and demands and negotiates for a better pay offer for Unison members across the country in universities.

We’re also on strike over things like the gender pay gap, the disability and ethnicity pay gaps, and over career progression. We want King’s to take that seriously, and take actual action on that.

Workloads are a massive issue too. There are loads of teams that are massively understaffed, and being told ‘we can’t afford to pay you properly. We can’t afford to hire more members of staff to give you a reasonable workload.’ And yet some of the most senior members of staff are on £100,000, £200,000, £300,000, and so on. At some levels as well, there’s a complete lack of transparency of what these people are being paid. And yet we’re being told we have to bear the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis. We want a better pay offer. But we also want action on all of these other issues that are affecting our members as well.

What do you think should happen after today’s strike?

Continue to coordinate with UCU, first of all. I think it’s fantastic they’ve stepped up the action from three days to ten days now. It’s a real show of strength in the face of the employer. There are some really vicious attacks at some universities. Queen Mary University is trying to intimidate students for attending the picket line. So I think continuing to coordinate with UCU and act in solidarity.

I think our action at King’s and other institutions will be a boost to Unison members at other universities where they didn’t meet the ballot threshold. Hopefully, they can be reballoted and they can join us in the next round of strike action.

And coordinating with students. Management have always tried to split us and pit staff against the students. Continuing solidarity between us and the students can give the employer what for.