UNIVERSITY lecturers and staff angry at the employers’ refusal to budge from a 1% pay offer, which represents a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2008, were out on strike on Thursday, shutting buildings, departments and entire universities’ classes across the country.
The three unions that represent lecturers and university staff, Unite, UCU and Unison, were all out together in their first UK-wide joint strike and were supported by students in the NUS.
Good contingents from Unite, UCU and Unison worked together from 7.30am Thursday morning at four gates of University of East Anglia.
Terry, Unite rep, told News Line: ‘We’re here today because for the last four to five years there’s been fractional pay increases and this year they have offered us a measly 1%.
‘Private sector workers say they have nothing at all. Well, you’ve got to join a union and get organised. It’s usually the public sector that got to fight the government.
‘We want the private sector to catch up to the public sector, not public sector dragged down to the private sector conditions.’
Lecturer Simon Hawthorn, UCU, said: ‘This is a show of solidarity against the erosion of pay over the last few years.
‘The turn-out today is an indication of the strength of feeling of staff about pay and especially about increases in workload stress.
‘There has been much more administration for teaching staff since they rationalised the support staff system.
‘I am very unhappy about the chaotic management and increasing privatisation of state education.
‘The first private university has opened, charging £18,000 per year. There is chaos surrounding free schools, and the gap between the privileged and the less well off is widening.’
T Smith of Unite, said: ‘Pay has been frozen for so many years, around a 0% rise, if at all.
‘The university put the car parking charges up which took it all away.
‘The cost of living is going up and standards of living are being eroded away, getting to the point we can hardly afford a holiday.
‘Where does all that debt come from? Greece is borrowing from the euro system, I can’t comprehend it.
‘Public services for the disabled is now a complete shambles. There needs to be some pressure on these politicians.’
UCU dept rep Karen Bunning said: ‘This is about fair pay now. Our salary levels have fallen below the rate of inflation.
‘This especially affects academic staff with no contracted hours.
‘We have to work till the job is done which can mean coming in on Saturdays. People frequently work long days and long weeks.
‘There is not a 9 to 5 day week. The situation is untenable with a 13% drop in pay over four years.
‘All we’re asking for is a modest pay rise and the government is refusing to negotiate.
‘We’re seeing the systematic erosion of education in this country. If you don’t invest in education you’re not investing in the future for our young people.
‘They are constantly closing the purse-strings and scores of university courses have gone.
‘I just think education is not on the government’s list of priorities, shown by their blatant refusal to negotiate and lack of interest in engagement. It affects the economy.
‘I would like to see more unified action by the unions, and the unions are the only way to establish a voice.’
Lecturers union UCU said: ‘All teaching at Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Hope University has been cancelled.
‘The chemistry department at Loughborough is shut. Libraries across the country are shut, although they had taken to Twitter to tell students books due back today could be brought back tomorrow without a fine.’
At the London School of Economics (LSE), Unison shop steward Paul Whitehouse told News Line: ‘We’re into our fifth year of very measly pay settlements.
‘The argument that keeping pay down will save jobs is not working. We’ve had people leaving and not being replaced.
‘We were offered 0.5% this year, which is a joke. That went up to 1%, while there’s a 10% increase in fuel bills and 5% on transport costs. We’re 15%t down.
‘People are taking action because they just can’t survive any more.
‘There’s also zero-hours contracts, the privatisation of education and attacks on pensions. People have had enough and are for action.
‘It’s the support staff that make universities work. They are treated as a hidden workforce but provide all the services.’
UCU member Rob, a graduate teaching assistant, said: ‘I’m striking because I a can’t afford to live in London on my wage.
‘Also, the attacks on education are about bringing the market in and bringing in research agendas based on what’s profitable, not on what’s useful or helpful.’
UCU member Mathias Pelkmans added: ‘Over the past years our salaries have been frozen which means a real terms cut of 13%.
‘This particularly affects staff who are on temporary positions and at the lower end of the salary scale.
‘It’s particularly upsetting as universities have huge surpluses, yet they are not investing in staff and faculty but buying huge buildings.’
On a lively Kings College London picket line, the UCU branch president Jim Wolfreys told News Line: ‘We’ve entered into a dispute over what’s effectively a 13% pay cut since 2008.
‘It’s not just a dispute about pay, there are issues about casualisation and the gender pay gap.
‘It’s a dispute that raises wider questions about priorities in education.
‘The fact that on this picket line we’ve got all three campus unions – UCU, Unison and Unite – and we’ve had very good support from students, shows all these groups uniting in defence of education.
‘We’ve got off to a very good start, now we need to escalate. If we can do that and stay united, I think it’s a dispute we can win.’
There was a big picket outside the gates of Queen Mary’s University in Mile End, East London where striking lecturers were supported by QM students.
Rick Saull, Queen Mary’s UCU secretary said: ‘There was a fantastic turn-out for our picket and great support from students supporting the picket.
‘We have turned away a number of vehicles at a number of entrances.
‘We have recruited some new members to the UCU and we have enjoyed a lot of support from passing motorists who beep their horns and from the general public who, when we explain why we are out on strike, are saying “Yes I support you”.
‘The 1% pay offer is a pay cut!
‘We hope that this national strike will lead to negotiation; however; the only way that this dispute will end is when our employer acknowledges the contribution that all workers make and that they make a proper pay offer.
‘1% is an insult! If they do not make a proper offer then we will be out on strike again.’
UCU rep at South Bank University, Adrian Budd, said: ‘This is part of national strike action. This is just the beginning.
‘Next month there will be a two-day strike, and from tomorrow we are working to contract. All the extras that we do out of good will, won’t get done.
‘As well as a 13% cut in pay, eroded over the last four years, our pension contributions have gone up as well, so the real cut is more like 17 to 18%.
‘We have to work longer and pay more – for a senior lecturer it comes to about £180 a month.
‘That’s a big chunk of your pay – meanwhile, the bankers get off scot-free!’
Ed Parkes-Walker, South Bank Unison branch secretary, said: ‘We’ve had a really good turn-out for the pickets, especially given the bad weather. I’m very pleased about that.
‘We’ve had cuts in all our terms and conditions, and a major cut in real pay – that’s why we’re taking this action.’
On the picket line at the University of the Arts, Chelsea, UCU branch secretary Phillip Courtenay told News Line ‘People are hurting.
‘We have seen our wages fall by 13% yet the university we work for has plenty of money. Management are using a climate of fear to get away with it.
‘This dispute is not just about wages. We are seeing excellent members of staff being driven out through “restructuring”.
‘Lecturers are being downgraded and can’t keep pace with inflation. Lecturers with four degrees are working as waitresses to pay their mortgages.’
Unison steward Ian Hook said: ‘This action is important as conditions are getting worse and worse. The 1% pay rise we’ve been offered is an insult.’
Hooper Steward, University of Kent branch secretary of Unison, said: ‘Universities and the government have been relying on the goodwill of our members to keep higher education running.
‘While Vice-Chancellors and a few others have been getting big increases, every day I meet members delivering the services to keep the doors open who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
‘We’re not prepared to take a real pay cut yet again!’
At Newcastle University, Phillip Lord, a lecturer in Computer Sciences, said that it was an important step forward for all three unions to be taking action together.
Luke Neal, a Newcastle Uni politics student from the Free Education Network, said: ‘We are here to support the lecturers and university staff on strike today.
‘We are also here to protest at the privatisation of education.’
Network member Johny Pickering, an MA History student, said: ‘Although the strike is about pay, the marketisation of our education system is the main point.
‘It’s important workers and students fight together, and I agree a general strike is needed.’
UCU vice-president and NEC member Liz Lawrence, speaking at a rally at Grey’s Monument in the centre of Newcastle, said she agreed that the time was ripe for a general strike.