PICKETS were out in force at universities across the UK during Thursday’s one-day strike by University and College Union (UCU), Unison, Unite and Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members, in an increasingly bitter row over pay.
Staff were on picket lines from early morning, despite wintry weather in some parts of the country, before going on to a host of rallies, teach-ins, marches and other events in towns and cities across the UK.
The UCU said the strong show of support for the strike from university staff should send a clear message to employers that they must return to the negotiating table with a fair pay offer.
Classes were cancelled and libraries, canteens and other services shut throughout the day as workers, angry at a pay offer of just one per cent, walked out. A one per cent pay rise would leave staff with a real-terms pay cut of 13 per cent since 2009.
While staff pay has been kept down, vice-chancellors enjoyed an average pay rise of 5.1 per cent last year, and an average salary of £235,000.
It has also been revealed that UK staff are being paid less
than their contemporaries in other English-speaking countries.
Following the morning picket lines, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The strong support across the country for our action demonstrates how angry staff are at the hypocrisy over pay in our universities. The employers cannot plead poverty when it comes to staff pay and then award a handful at the top enormous pay rises.
‘It’s time for fair pay for all in our universities.’
Union members took two full days of strike action last year. Members of UCU separately took two two-hour strikes in January, a third two-hour stoppage is scheduled for next Monday from 9-11am.
At the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) students joined the picket lines to support their striking lecturers and staff.
The UCU branch secretary of SOAS Johnny Darlington told News Line: ‘We are on strike again today to ask the employer to come back to the negotiating table.
‘We are simply asking for a pay rise that matches inflation, we are only asking for three per cent and they are imposing one per cent.
‘Our branch has called on the national leadership of the union to take a more militant stand and bring forward a planned action due to start in April of not marking students’ work. We say that needs to start now.
‘Because of the pay freeze for the last four years, when inflation is taken into account we are suffering a real-terms pay cut of 13 per cent.
‘We have members in real hardship trying to survive in London. Part-time casualised staff on lower paid grades doing teachers seminars and marking work is becoming the norm.’
SOAS students union campaigns officer Georgie Robinson said: ‘We have to show solidarity with staff in their struggle for fair pay.
‘This strike also expresses many grievances in the university: the treatment of fractional staff, outsourced staff and the privatisation and commodification of higher education.
‘Our universities are increasingly being run for profit and not in the interests of students and staff; there is potential for students to occupy.
‘I think the austerity issue is we are being attacked on every single front, every single aspect of the Welfare State and social security.
‘We need to completely unify in united, joint action which could include a general strike to bring the government down.’
Harry Stephens, a library worker and member of Unison, said: ‘I’ve been out in the first two strikes in the autumn and ever since those the employer has refused to negotiate and dug their heels in, and we have no alternative but to do the same.
‘We have to keep the campaign strong and if need be it will escalate, the UCU has planned a marking boycott and more strike action.’
Alexis Ioannides, studying politics and history, said: ‘Supporting staff and lecturers in their struggle is important.
‘Cuts in their salaries are reflected in the quality of courses.
‘An environment free from exploitation is important in creating an academic atmosphere of engagement.
‘The picket lines are a true form of education.’
On the picket line at the University of West London, in Ealing, Peter Grant, Unison branch secretary, said: ‘We are fighting for fair pay in higher education.
‘Our vice-chancellor has had a pay rise of 15 per cent in the past two years, taking his pay from £192,000 up to £222,000.
‘Meanwhile, we’ve had a 13 per cent pay cut in real terms over the same period.
‘Universities can pay fortunes into marketing campaigns, but are not prepared to pay staff properly.
‘This is a side effect of the marketisation of higher education.
‘This has been a very good united campaign, strengthening our relations across all the unions in higher education.’
Law lecturer and UCU member Hilary Panford said: ‘We’ve got to beat this government.
‘They are operating a very punitive campaign against us.
‘People are losing a lot of money to come on strike, but we feel so incensed against both the management and the government.
‘I’m a socialist and I believe we need socialism today.’
A noisy picket line demanding fair pay marked a main junction at University of East Anglia. This was manned by staff from UCU, Unison, and Unite, as well as three other picket lines.
Paul Unwin from Unite said: ‘They need to value the people that deliver the services, rather than demoralising and devaluing us.
‘The vice-chancellor has just got a big rise shortly before he retires, so he’ll get an even bigger pension.
‘Those of us who are loyal and provide the services find it harder and harder to pay the bills. The VC’s increase was bigger than my gross salary. It doesn’t seem right to me.’
UEA Unison branch chair Natasha, said. ‘We’ve had no real pay rise for five years. People just can’t live with the price of everything going up – food, energy bills, rent.
‘The car park has just gone up at UEA. It’s now £1.75 per day, even for part-timers, and they’ve cut the car parking spaces.
‘Its especially hit low-paid cleaners and caterers who have to come in by car, to get here early.
‘A one per cent pay rise is equivalent to a loaf of bread. We have managed a living wage agreement for UEA staff but altogether it’s a 13 per cent pay shrink.
‘Its just an attack on the public services in general. It’s all to do with the government which doesn’t listen.
‘It’s outrageous what they’re saying on the Tube strike. They’ve got every right to fight to defend their jobs. The government would like to remove the right to strike.’
Ian Cavill, UCU lecturer, said: ‘Its hard to justify not giving a two per cent pay rise to keep up with inflation, when you compare it to the eight per cent pay rise of the vice-chancellor on top of his £200,000 salary, car and benefits and house.
‘The person that needs it least is being given a pay rise, whereas those that need it most get least. On the principle of fairness and equality, it’s not right.’
There was a strong picket line at Sheffield University.
Sheffield University now employs 98 senior staff paid between £100,000 and £260,000 a year.
The Uni has also refused to implement the minimum wage, and set up a wholly owned subsidiary company to employ its new hotel and catering staff on less than minimum national pay scales.
UCU president Mick Ashman told News Line: ‘We are also concerned about research staff. These people are on contracts and get no guarantee of tenure from one year to the next.’