THE NATIONAL Union of Students (NUS) threw its weight behind the biggest ever wave of strikes on university campuses yesterday.
The NUS pledged its solid support for the staff at 74 universities across the length and breadth of the country who launched their 14 days of strike yesterday. They are out again on the picket lines this morning.
On the picket line outside the London College of Communication at Elephant and Castle in south London, Jess Baines the UCU branch secretary, told News Line: ‘The strike is invigorating the membership and a lot of young people are taking part in it.
‘We have had support from course leaders, programme directors and even some deans have supported it.’
UCU picket lines, covered all entrances to the Imperial College site in West London.
On the picket line Elmy Thompson told News Line: ‘UCU is taking action to support and defend the USS pension scheme in order to allow it to continue as a valued defined benefit (guaranteed pension) scheme.
‘In addition to the precarity of the pension situation, the ballot on action at Imperial also includes member dissatisfaction with the outcome of the local pay offer of £1,080 for all and the Employer rejection of UCU’s request for 2.35% with a minimum of £1,080.
‘In this organisation, this offer resulted in a below-inflation uplift for many staff against grade boundaries beyond those at the lowest pay levels.’
First-time striker Hannah Murphy said: ‘We are fighting to defend our pensions.
‘I was a student at King’s College when the last strike took place in 2018.
‘I work here in the disability advisory service after I was made redundant by GSM, the biggest private higher education college.’
Another striker, Peter Woodward, said: ‘We are striking to defend higher education.
‘The Tories are trying to turn it into a commodity.’
The University College Union (UCU) alleged: ‘The support from staff and students was solid despite efforts from universities this week to disrupt the action, confuse the issues and, in some cases, even bribe their staff to cancel protests.’
The University of Leicester told staff that it would spread the deductions of 14 days’ lost pay for the strikes over three months if staff promised not to protest on campus, the UCU alleged.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK. That support sends a clear message to universities that, instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run-up to the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out.
‘We have been clear that we are always ready to seriously discuss all the issues at the heart of the disputes. Students are understandably unimpressed at the intransigence of their university leaders and have made clear demands today that vice-chancellors and principals work harder to try and resolve the disputes.’
The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
The number of universities being hit by the action is the largest since a nationwide two-day strike in 2016, while the number of strike days is unprecedented. Following the eight-day walkout before Christmas, this latest round of 14 strike days means the total number of walkouts will be 22 by March; higher than the previous record of 14 days in 2018.