MEMBERS of the University and College Union (UCU) at around 500 colleges and universities across the UK took strike action yesterday against changes to their pensions, and pay cuts.
The walk-out was over plans for greater pension contributions from staff and an increase in the pension age, against a backdrop of a second consecutive real-terms annual pay cut.
Staff were on picket lines at institutions throughout the country with many branches joining together to hold regional rallies in cities such as Leeds, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Newcastle.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘University and college staff really value their pension rights and have made their views of the detrimental changes crystal clear.
‘Strike action is always a last resort but the attacks on pensions and pay have created real anger and, instead of burying their heads in the sand, the employers need to respond urgently to our concerns.
‘Staff are sick to the back teeth of being told that their pay and pensions need to be cut to pay for an economic crisis created by others.’
Over 400 lecturers and students from London universities and colleges marched from the London School of Economics to a rally in Whitehall yesterday at 2pm.
The march was led off by the UCU national banner, followed by UCU delegations and banners from City University, King’s College, University of the Arts, Institute of Education, Goldsmiths College, and City and Islington College.
There were both UCU and students union bannners from University of Westminster and the LSE.
Before setting off, LSE UCU branch secretary Mike Cushman told News Line: ‘We’re getting a lot of suport.
‘A lot of people haven’t turned up for work and lots of students haven’t turned up for classes.
‘We’re fighting for our pensions, jobs and pay.
‘We have to keep the pressure on all through next term.
‘We’ll have to look at tactics – it’s not going to finish quickly.’
Michael Breese, HMP Brixton education department UCU rep said: ‘Our pensions have been transferred from RPI to CPI which has virtually destroyed the value of our pension.
‘Also, we’ve been made a pay offer of 0.2 per cent which is a massive cut in real terms.
‘We’re determined to make our point – 100 per cent of our membership at the prison turned out today.’
City University UCU member Leah Bassel added: ‘We’ve been forced to take action in the absence of genuine dialogue.
‘My colleagues and I are out in great numbers.
‘We feel very strongly, we can’t just stand by and watch.’
Open University researcher Evelyn Ruppert said: ‘I’m on strike because pensions are just the thin ege of the wedge of deeper cuts and the dismantling of higher education.
‘Definitely, there has to be more mobilisation and collective action by all unions to rebuild rather than tear apart our public services.
In the morning there were four picket lines at West Thames College in Hounslow, west London.
Anne Latreche, ESOL and Business lecturer, told News Line: ‘Only by standing together will we bring this government down.
‘Don’t sit on the sideline. This government is making this country today worse than a third world country in certain aspects.’
Jules Shapter added: ‘I’m taking my video camera to Saturday’s march. It’s very encouraging that lots of random people I’ve been bumping into are all talking about it.
‘There’s been nothing like it since the 1980s – except for the anti-war demo in 2003, when there were two million people on the march.
‘The general feeling is that we’ve got to defend our interests. I’ve never seen so much solidarity at this college before. A Bectu member has come out in support of us, but the Unison members have been told not to, which is a disgrace.’
Mustafa Gailani, a student at the college joined the picket line and held up a UCU placard.
He explained why he supported the picket. ‘First the government stopped our EMA, which is going to cause real hardship. Secondly, we support our leaders. They are our motivators and everything that affects them affects us too.’
Jennie Alkawari, an NVQ and BTech lecturer, said: ‘After Saturday’s march we have got to get rid of the government.
‘There has to be an indefinite general strike. It’s wrong that Unison has told its members to cross our picket lines today.
‘My father was a lifelong socialist and stood up for people’s rights. My husband is Palestinian. Israel took his farm and he and his family had to live in a cave for six years. The deeds are still with the family.’
At the University College London picket line, UCL UCU president Tony Brown said: ‘This is not a budget for education. It’s not a budget for recovery, it’s a budget for bankers.
‘We’re still facing £9,000 fees, marketisation and the withdrawal of teaching grants. The sector will collapse if these plans go ahead. Education will become the preserve of the privileged.’
UCU member, IT support worker Steve Cadman added: ‘If there’s an economic crisis it’s the rich that should be paying, not the most vulnerable in society.
‘The government shouldn’t be attacking our pensions. jobs and pay.’
Slade art student Frank Harris told News Line: ‘It’s great the lecturers are standing up for themselves.
‘It was good having them support us during the occupation.
‘It’s obscene what the government are doing to education. Charging this amount of money is going to put off people from working class backgrounds.’
At Imperial College, west London, UCU member Will Astle said: ‘It is necessary to fight and keep our standards of pay and conditions otherwise they will get a lot worse.’
Laura Robertson added that ‘a cut in pension is a cut in pay’.
Michael Preston, a materials student said: ‘I don’t think lecturers’ pay or pensions should be cut.’
At Southbank University (LBSU), a UCU rep said: ‘The strike seems to be very well supported.
‘The pensions issue is a national one but there are local issues with our management here.
‘They have withdrawn from national negotiations on pay.’
Julia Roberts, a UCU picket at Lambeth College, southwest London, said: ‘The financial situation in further education being created by these cuts is putting us in danger of losing a lot of good teachers.
‘I’m looking forward to Saturday as a show of solidarity.
‘The government is widening the gap between rich and poor, we should bring them down.’
At the College of Haringey, Enfield and North-East London, UCU branch secretary Jenny Sutton said: ‘We’re on strike over pay and pension cuts amounting to nine per cent.
‘This is the only issue on which we can legally have a national ballot, and we felt it was important to have national action with the universities.
‘This is the first time we’ve had a joint action, and it’s because of the magnitude of these cuts.
‘We’re fighting attacks on us and the students, over the abolition of EMA, the end of ESOL classes and cuts to fee remission.
‘There have also been 160 job cuts here and this is in Tottenham, where there is one of the highest rates of unemployment.
‘These courses are needed, not just for jobs, but for the broader education of society.
‘What we need is a general strike to put paid to these government plans to destroy education.’