UCU strike demo in Leicester, February 2022, photo Steve Score
UCU strike demo in Leicester, February 2022, photo Steve Score

Lecturers strike in ‘Four Fights’ and pensions disputes

University bosses attack the right to strike

A striking UCU member

In baseball, the moment batters have three strikes recorded against them they have to leave the plate. Unfortunately, it seems the rules of baseball don’t apply to university management, and they would much rather use their bats to ‘beat their workers to a pulp’, rather than accept any demand from the unions.

For the third time this academic year, the University and College Union (UCU) has called strike action. It will take place in two waves: 39 universities will strike from 21-25 March, while 28 will walk out between the 28 March and 1 April. Balloting for extending strike action for the next term will also take place soon, showing this might not be the final strike of the academic year.

By now, it should be obvious that staff are going on strike for reasons that they consider an existential threat, not only to their work conditions but almost to their profession itself. Otherwise they would not feel forced to strike three times in one academic year.

In the multitude of disputes that plague higher education, the main ones are the ‘Four Fights’ (overworking, underpayment, gender pay gap and casualisation) and the rotten downgrade of USS pension benefits. The recent decision of the Joint Negotiating Committee to go ahead with slashing the pensions of lecturers, rather than accept the union demand to postpone valuations, doesn’t deter lecturers fighting tooth and nail for their pensions: a related court case against USS will proceed after the High Court overturned a previous dismissal.

But there’s also a new attack that came out of the previous round of action. One of the strategies UCU uses to highlight the overworking of staff is ASOS (action short of strike) when staff work to contract, and volunteer nothing more. In response, university managements have coordinated cracking down, not only on ASOS, but also on the right to strike. First, they have threatened to withhold pay (as high as 100% in some universities) for services that are not rendered because of ASOS, meaning they force staff to work over contract by withholding their wages.

But also, staff are being forced to reschedule lost lessons during the strike, under threat of withholding their pay. If universities were car factories that would be akin to forcing workers to work harder to compensate for lost production during a strike. It is a blatant attempt at strike busting and attacking the right to strike.

These new developments show that management has no respect for its lecturers and their demands. They are willing to fight to the bitter end to slash working conditions at universities, to their benefit. The UCU must be willing to match that resolve and keep on fighting until management has no other choice but to lay down their arms and surrender.