Strong support for Uni strike

A big and enthusiastic picket line of all unions and students at SOAS in central London yesterday
A big and enthusiastic picket line of all unions and students at SOAS in central London yesterday

THE University and College Union (UCU) yesterday morning reported strong support by staff from four unions for the one-day strike action in universities across the UK.

UCU members took action along with their colleagues in Unison, Unite and the EIS in an increasingly bitter row over pay.

Staff were on picket lines at campuses across the UK from early morning, despite wintry weather in some parts of the country.

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% last year, and an average salary of £235,000.

Following the morning picket lines, members of all four unions took part in a host of rallies, teach-ins, marches and other events in towns and cities across the UK.

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.’

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% in the past two years, taking his pay from £192,000 up to £222,000.

‘Meanwhile, we’ve had a 13% 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.’

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 3% and they are imposing 1%.

‘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.’

SOAS students union campaigns officer Georgie Robinson said: ‘We have to show solidarity with staff in their struggle for fair pay.’

A noisy picket line demanding fair pay marked a main junction at University of East Anglia (UEA). This was manned by staff from UCU, Unison, and Unite, as was three other picket lines.

Paul Unwin from Unite said: ‘Those of us who are loyal and provide the services find it harder and harder to pay the bills. The V-Cs 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 bill, rent.’

Ian Cavill, UCU lecturer, said: ‘Its hard to justify not giving a 2% pay rise to keep up with inflation, when you compare it to the 8% pay rise of the vice-chancellor on top of his £200,000 salary, car and benefits and house.’

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.’