‘We are going to strike on Feb 6th alongside Unite & Unison – say UCU lecturers

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UCU members on strike at Birkbeck
UCU members on strike at Birkbeck

UNIVERSITY lecturers up and down the country came out on strike on Tuesday in the second of a series of two-hour strikes in an escalating row over pay.

At 2pm the strike began and lecturers walked out on strike – at University College London (UCL), lecturers were joined by students in a mass rally.

Addressing the rally Sean Wallis, branch chair of UCU lecturers union at UCL said: ‘This is a collective action, if we do not stand up and fight for our pay now, then the students who want to become the academics of the future will suffer.

‘We are the custodians of higher education. We are fighting for the next generation of lecturers, researchers and academics.

‘We are saying enough is enough and we are doing that with other trade unions.

‘On the 6th of February we will be coming out on strike with Unison and Unite in joint strike action.

‘Institutions are becoming like businesses.

‘The sort of people that are now running these eductional institutions are part and parcel of the process of the marketisation of education.

‘They are saying: “Hang on a minute, we want a slice of that market.”

‘We are fighting for our right to uphold our educational institutions and protect them from privatisation.

‘That is the principle that we are fighting for and we are drawing a line in the sand.

‘You have to pay staff a decent wage!

‘A lot of staff are not paid well, it is not true to say that university staff are all well paid.

‘Our colleagues in Unison have 4,000 members working in universities who have to visit food banks to survive!

‘Around London three universities are deducting a full days pay for the two hour strike, Queen Mary’s University, the University of East London and Kingston.

‘Everyone deserves decent pay and if we choose to escalate our strike then that is our democratic right as a union!’, he concluded to applause.

Ian McKay, a union rep on the executive committee of the UCU at UCL told the rally: ‘There was a lot of cynicism when the UCU called a series of two hour strikes.

‘A lot of UCU members thought “are you daft or what?” I was one of them, I thought “two hour strikes? This is stupid!”

‘So the leadership of the union gave us a challenge.

‘Well we rose to that challenge and we met that challenge and we made them our strikes.

‘We have organised and made the most out of the two hour strikes and I have to say that they have been effective.

‘We are not asking for the world, we are asking for a pay rise, we are not asking for the moon on a stick.

‘Solidarity and strength, well done everyone, direct action works.

‘On the 6th of February I urge everyone to do their picket duty. We can make a difference and we can win.’

Hannah Webb, National Students Union (NUS) External Affairs and Campaigns Officer for UCL told News Line: ‘I am here because a 13% pay cut for staff over the last four years is completely unacceptable.

‘When students and workers stand together we can beat the over paid controlling university managers.

‘We occupied Senate House last term.

‘Our Vice-Chancellor is paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a year!’

The UCL students and lecturers then marched off shouting ‘What do we want? Fair Pay! When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘The money is there – Where is our share?’

There was also a lively demonstration and rally at Birkbeck University.

Mike Berlin, a UCU rep at Birkbeck said: ‘This is the second day of strike action and considering how little time we have had to organise we have got a very good turn-out at this rally today.

‘There is a great atmosphere and we are all looking forward to coming out on strike on February 6th with the other unions and working together.’

Every exit and entrance of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) had pickets.

Neil Robbie, a UCU member at SOAS on the picket, told News Line: ‘I am supporting the strike for a pay increase in order to keep up with the current rate of inflation.

‘We are only being offered a 1% pay rise! Everyone is struggling. Especially if you live in London it is hard to make ends meet.

‘Everything has gone up, food, transport, we are all being stretched.

‘We want decent pay for everyone!’

Leandro Vergara, a lecturer in Development Studies at SOAS and a UCU member, said: ‘I am striking for fair pay and striking against the privatisation of education.

‘We have to fight the polarisation between the higher paid section of society and the lowest sections of society.

‘Strikes are needed, they are necessary. The strike action needs to be escalated.

‘Unlimited strike is the only way of officially pressurising institutions.

‘Unions must break with the institutional frame-work that seems to be restricting strike action.

‘A general strike is the only way to really influence employers. We definitely need to renew the leadership of the trade unions.’

The lecturers were giving out UCU leaflets to passes by and talking to students to stop them crossing the picket line.

The UCU leaflet read: ‘Why are we taking industrial action?

‘University pay has fallen by 13% in real terms since 2009, yet over the same period students’ tuition fees have trebled.

‘The latest “final” pay offer from University employers is just 1% and means that our pay will fall still further behind the cost of living.

‘The UK has some of the best universities in the world with an international reputation for excellence.

‘The reutation is built on the dedication and hard work of university staff.

‘However, these staff are being asked to work harder and take home less money to their families year after year.’

Birkbeck College, central London, lecturers held an outdoor teach-in during the strike.

Birkbeck UCU joint president Jennifer Fraser told News Line: ‘We think it’s really important we get equity of pay.

‘All the senior staff and vice chancellors are getting big pay rises.

‘That needs to be matched for everyone, especially the most low paid staff.

‘It’s really important to work in solidarity with all of the trade unions that represent all of the workers in higher education.

‘We would support more joint action by all of the higher education trade unions.’

Fellow Birkbeck UCU joint president John Kelly said: ‘This is a two-hour dispute of an ongoing campaign over pay in the university sector.

‘The university vice chancellors, who have awarded themselves an average pay rise of seven per cent for last year, decided they could only pay their staff one per cent, which is a pay cut.

‘At the same time the universities are recording some of the biggest financial surpluses in many years.’So they can afford to pay us more.

‘We should go for more action like an exam boycott, two-hour strikes are not enough. We have to escalate.

‘UCU, Unison and Unite will be out together on 6th February in a one-day strike that coincides with a Tube strike, so that is good.

‘If we strike together, we’ll do better.’

In Norwich a good crowd of lecturers supported by students demonstrated against the attack on their living standards and terms and conditions, with a further two hours of action today.

Dr Hilary Emmett said ‘We called in to do open days without time in lieu. They also expect 8am-to-8pm attendence. This gets covered in the contract with the phrase “any reasonable duties”.

‘Its exploitation of vocation. I often work every weekend, every evening, every holiday. We do this for love and its not OK. We’re only paid for 37-hours a week.

‘The union should explore working to contract. If we worked to contract this place would grind to a halt.’

A lecturer from the Language and Communications department said: ‘Essentially we’ve come out because of the university’s response to today’s action. They’ve docked us a whole days pay for taking two-hours of action. This made us so annoyed that we joined today.’