‘The money’s there, where’s our share!’ was the popular slogan chanted by over 5,000 university lecturers from across Britain marching through central London last Thursday.
‘Pay the lecturers now!’ marchers on the ‘one voice, one demand’ national solidarity demonstration originally called in Newcastle to back Northumbria lecturers who had been threatened with having their pay docked by 100 per cent for taking part in lecturers’ unions boycott of exams setting and marking.
Northumbria university bosses backed off and suspended their threat after NATFHE union members voted for an all-out strike.
Thursday’s march also marked the first day of the University and College Union (UCU), formed out of the merger of AUT and Natfhe.
News Line spoke to several marchers.
Novella Mercuri, University College London Italian department UCU representative, told News Line: ‘This is the only opportunity of improving salaries in universities.
‘I am worried about what will happen if the employers win this dispute.
‘There is an attempt by the employers to break national bargaining and contract at single universities.
‘That would change universities completely. They would concentrate the money on a few stellar achievers and pay the rest of staff what they say they can.
‘It goes against the equal pay for equal work doctrine they say is their policy.
‘My college has just started this and any change would destroy that.
‘I am quite prepared to carry on with the industrial action, even though it is hitting me economically.
‘The government’s role is disgraceful.
‘They don’t seem to care at all about universities.’
Clement Veth, Northumbria NATFHE representative, said: ‘Students will be the losers if we lose.
‘We need decently paid professionals so students get professional education of a high standard, which they deserve – not education on the cheap.
‘And certainly not an education market which is open to privatisation.
‘We were all ready to take strike action and called for a total walk-out over the threat to dock our full wage over the marking boycott.
‘We found that very effective. It’s brought management back to the negotiating table.
‘The mood is positively defiant.
‘We’ve had excellent support from the national head quarters of NATFHE and widespread support from branches around the country.
‘A lot of students individually have come forward to support us and have written to the press and local MPs in our support, although the boycott was not supported by the NUS leadership at Northumbria.’
Chartered building surveyor Minnie Fraser added: ‘I teach a building surveyor degree course at Northumbria.
‘I am very angry. The pay situation is such that it is getting very difficult to recruit people.
‘So getting good quality lecturers to teach built environment disciplines is very difficult.
‘This leaves those of us who are there teaching in a stressful situation.
‘I am prepared to take further strike action to win a decent wage.’
A number of students joined the lecturers on their demonstration and NUS president Kat Fletcher brought a message of solidarity and support for the lecturers’ action to a rally outside the UCEA employers’ body offices.
Oxford student Claire Chalmers told News Line on the march: ‘We support the lecturers.
‘We should get as many students as we can to support them.’
Fellow Oxford student Mary Partington said: ‘We don’t want to be taught by teachers who aren’t paid properly.
‘We are both fighting against privatisation and the introduction of the market into education.’
Claire added: ‘We want the lecturers to win.
‘Students shouldn’t be afraid of unionism.
‘You have to think of the big picture not just individual careers.’
Oxford Brookes University lecturers on Wednesday voted unanimously for an all-out strike.
UCU member John Neacon, head of computer department at Oxford Brookes, explained: ‘Those of us who weren’t handing in mark sheets have been threatened with 100 per cent pay docking from 5th June.
‘At a mass meeting yesterday, the combined branches of NATFHE/AUT, now UCU, voted unanimously to strike “should a disproportionate amount of salary” be docked.
‘It made us very angry that we were being treated in this way.
‘Up to now, Oxford Brookes has been a very happy, collegiate institution.
‘We think that attacking us in this way will be very destructive of good morale and goodwill.
‘We are determined to continue with our demand for a fair wage.’
Claudia Kappenberg, lecturer in dance and visual arts at Brighton University told News Line: ‘The universities have a lot of money coming in through the new student fees but they are not prepared to give a share to teachers’ salaries.
‘Teachers’ salaries over the last two decades have fallen by thirty to forty per cent.
‘I work part time, and the pay rate is so small I can’t live on my money.
‘We are highly qualified staff and deserve decent pay for the work that we do.
‘Blair acknowledged that we are behind in our pay and he has done nothing.’
Wendy Mercer, University College London departmental tutor in French, said: ‘I’m wearing a graduation gown today, as it represents our profession.
‘So people will realise we are the people who are looking after their children, teaching them, marking their work and helping them to make the most of their opportunities.
‘We are very, very highly qualified people and the government and colleges are treating us like idiots.
‘We are undervalued, underpaid and overworked.
‘The public perception is that when the students are on vacation, we are on holiday, too.
‘But we’re definitely not. I even work most Saturdays and Sundays in my office.
‘We hope this demonstration will make the employers listen to us.
‘If not, we will have to decide what our next action will be.’
Veronica Killen, senior lecturer in midwifery, told the rally outside UCEA head office: ‘We have a strong branch at Northumbria.
‘The employers picked on the wrong branch, the membership stood firm.
‘We send our solidarity to Oxford Brookes and everyone else.
‘Stand firm against bullying and don’t give in!’
UCU joint president Gavin Reid, senior lecturer in chemistry at Leeds University, told the rally: ‘I say to the students at Leeds, your money is going to pay back a large loan to the bank.
‘They are spending money on equipment but not a penny of the top-up fees is coming to lecturers’ pay.
‘They’ve no intention of paying us, we’ve got to stay out.’
Gesturing to the employers’ offices, he concluded: ‘There will be no marking until this lot comes back and makes us an offer we can accept.’