|Volume 53 Number 17, June 10, 2023
On Thursday, June 15, around 1,800 University of Leeds employees will begin an indefinite strike after management said it would withhold 100% of their wages for participating in a marking boycott .
The University and College Union (UCU) successfully extended its mandate in the continuing national pay, conditions and casualisation dispute in March, allowing 145 campuses to call strikes for a further six months. The boycott, which began on April 20 and which includes all marking and evaluation, whether it be verbally, in writing or online, is a crucial component of this action. This is critically important, since the fact that this marking includes determination of final grades means it impacts graduation.
Employers at some universities, including Leeds, Kings College London, and others, have threatened to take 20%-100% of employees' wages, with some staff potentially losing a whole month's income, from those participating in the boycott, even though these workers are continuing to otherwise teach, lecture, and help students as usual. The line taken by these managers is that they do not accept "partial performance".
The UCU warned that if management does not stop withholding pay, the strike might go for months. Pointing out that out that Leeds University earned £930 million last year, the union argued that management should be attempting to settle the conflict rather than further impoverishing its employees.
UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: "The brutal pay docking regime that University of Leeds management is enforcing on its staff is only adding fuel to this dispute, it's bad for staff and it's bad for students. Leeds' vice-chancellor needs to get on the phone to the employer body UCEA and demand it gets back to the negotiating table. That is the only way this dispute will be resolved. Our members are willing to down tools until she sees sense and stops trying to impoverish our members."
It has been pointed out that the draconian threats being made against those taking part in the marking boycott is an aggressive tactic - disproportionate, punitive, and probably illegal - aimed at intimidating workers into backing down. Employers are further seeking to avoid a repeat of the recent (partial) victory in the current UCU dispute, where strike action has finally forced a promise to restore pensions, which were lowered by up to 35% in 2020 .
Imposition and unwillingness to negotiate aim to disrupt the development of an outlook that acknowledges that higher education workers, whether academic or support staff, create enormous new value in the economy, as Workers' Weekly has emphasised throughout this struggle . The work done by university employees results in highly qualified graduates and postgraduates with a massive productive capacity, and it also raises society's cultural level. However, those that use this value neither recognise nor realise it. Through their highly educated workforces and the research and technology they use, which they do not pay for, businesses, especially large ones, directly profit.
The government itself is increasingly resorting to open rule by police powers and restricting the right to take action and for workers to organise in self-defence, revealing that it is an issue of control over the direction society is headed, as an educated population is key to a new direction of the economy and democracy. In this sense the workers and academics are forming the new outlook where people can think and act in their own name. This is the pathway opening for the workers to take control over their lives and destiny and constituting themselves as the authority.
1. "Indefinite strike action to hit University of Leeds over 100% pay docking", UCU, June 2, 2023
2. Antonia Dawes, "UK Lecturers Face Devastating Salary Deductions in Marking Boycott: Academics Speak Out", The Byline Times, June 1, 2023
3. "University Strikes Escalate", Workers' Weekly, February 11, 2023