|Volume 50 Number 6, February 22, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
55,000 staff at 74 universities began their latest wave of strike action on February 20. Over the next 14 days, these staff, members of the University and College Union (UCU), will be continuing to persist in and widen their historic combined struggle over pensions, pay and conditions, in the general context of safeguarding the future of higher education.
Against the background of an increasingly capital-centric higher education system, working conditions and the claims of education workers over the value they create in the form of pay and pensions have also come under attack. Further, a similar situation also faces non-academic staff, and indeed is a crucial issue across all areas of work at present.
The bringing together of these strands into one concerted action has given a significant quality to the struggle of the higher education staff. These economic issues are intimately connected with the nature of the university system itself and what higher education is for, and for this reason has generated support amongst students.
The UCU stated that striking staff were given a boost as the National Union of Students (NUS) said it backed the walkouts and called on university leaders to work harder to resolve the disputes, despite efforts from universities this week to disrupt the action, confuse the issues and, in some cases, even bribe their staff to cancel protests. The University of Leicester told staff that it would spread the deductions of 14 days' lost pay for the strikes over three months if staff promised not to protest on campus.
In a statement, the UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK. That support sends a clear message to universities that, instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run up the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out. We have been clear that we are always ready to seriously discuss all the issues at the heart of the disputes. Students are understandably unimpressed at the intransigence of their university leaders and have made clear demands today that vice-chancellors and principals work harder to try and resolve the disputes."
The UCU points out that the disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on universities' failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
Universities UK (UUK - the universities' representatives in the pensions dispute) spent the last week running a consultation on a new offer to make to the union. On Tuesday it declared it was not going to make a new offer.
Meanwhile, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA - the universities' representatives in the pay and conditions dispute) said again earlier this week that it would still not talk to the union about the crucial pay element of the dispute.
As Workers Weekly has pointed out: "The method of imposition and refusal to negotiate, combined with the threat of police powers, is to disrupt the formation of an outlook that recognises education workers, whether academic or not, as adding huge value to the economy. The work done by university staff produces highly skilled graduates and postgraduates with a massive productive capacity, and in a more general sense contributes to the cultural level of society; the universities themselves give rise to scientific and technological advances. It is important that this value is recognised. Not only is it not recognised, it is not realised; that is, its value is not paid for by those that utilise it. Enterprises, particularly big business, benefit directly through their highly-educated workforce and the science and technology they employ, a benefit that takes the form of greater productivity and for which they do not pay."
The UCU reports that as well taking to the picket lines, many strikers will be delivering "teach-out" lectures and holding rallies around the country. MPs have been sending messages of support and joining picket lines. A Labour leadership hustings organised by the Guardian in Manchester on Tuesday has been moved from a university venue to Manchester Central because of the strikes. All the latest information is available on the union's wall of action and via Twitter.
The number of universities being hit by the action is the largest since a nationwide two-day strike in 2016, while the number of strike days is unprecedented. Following the eight-day walkout before Christmas, this latest round of 14 strike days means the total number of walkouts will be 22 by March; higher than the previous record of 14 days in 2018.
This shows that the response of the higher education staff is to persist and widen their struggle in defence of pay, pensions and conditions and to fight to safeguard the future of higher education.
Workers' Weekly fully supports the university staff and wishes them every success in their actions.
London Region UCU Announces Strike Solidarity Assembly
On Thursday 55,000 UCU members across the UK have started 14 days of strike action this week. Their fight is to defend pensions, pay, working conditions and to secure equal pay and end the scourge of casualisation.
The employers and the government have been taken by surprise with the scale of the resistance and their determination to win. By striking to end casualisation they are also fighting to ensure that they give students the education they deserve.
The whole of the working class and trade union movement is with them, who also face the same insecure contracts, cuts in their wages and pensions. The recognition is that a victory for the UCU strikers will also be a victory for the whole of the working class movement.
Workers from across London will be attending the assembly to demonstrate their solidarity with their fight.
UCU strike solidarity assembly, 25 February
Tuesday 25 February, 6pm
Royal National Hotel WC1H 0DG
Nearest tube: Euston / Russell Sq / King's Cross St Pancras
Confirmed speakers already include
John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor
Jane Loftus, CWU President
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary
Colleen Johnson, NEU Executive, Disabled Members rep
Howard Beckett, UNITE Assistant General Secretary
Ian Hodson, BAFWU President
Lesley Kane, Open University UCU branch president