Over 20,000 staff at scores of universities are striking for five consecutive days this week in their fight for pay and working conditions and against zero hours contracts.
At Westminster University near Oxford Street, striker James Spence, lecturer in English, told News Line: ‘Today we start again but there have been 12-15 days of strike action that we have taken so far over the last 18 months. Definitely I think the whole social system is in meltdown. Striking with the nurses, doctors and teachers will win us more appeal.’
At Liverpool John Moores University, University and College Union (UCU) branch chair Bee Hughes, 34, a senior lecturer who was on casual contracts for eight years before finally receiving a permanent position, said: ‘Between contracts you might not have access to the library so you don’t even have access to academic texts that you need to do the work and you can’t plan.
‘Usually you don’t even know if you’re going to have a contract until the last minute. You can’t plan your future.
‘Starting a family hasn’t even been a consideration. There has been lots of points over the eight years where I was on the brink of giving up. We’ve basically been asked to do more and more for less and less money and it’s really unsustainable.’
Unison members are also on strike at a number of universities.
At SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) there was a strong picket, where Sandy Nicoll, the Unison union Branch Secretary, told News Line: ‘We are on strike 25, 26 and 27 September and then on 2nd and 3rd October over the national pay dispute. Our members are some of the lowest paid workers in the higher education sector. We find it almost impossible to live in London on the wages that we get.
‘Our wages are 25% less than they were in 2010 when the Tory coalition came in. We are pushing for our union to deliver the kind of action that will address that, that will give us pay rises that begin to catch up.
‘I’m not opposed to a general strike. Currently we need to fight to get all the struggles of workers and unions out at the same time.
‘We want to come out in coordinated action with NHS workers, rail workers, other education workers and any workers that are in struggle because it’s affecting the whole of society. We want public sector and private sector workers to strike at the same time.’
Third year student in social anthropology and international relations Sam Landis said: ‘I support the strike of university workers. It’s been pretty crazy, I first came here over two years ago and when I got here there were a number of UCU and Unison strikes.
‘I have witnessed this university launch a hostile campaign in response to the strikes and the student activism which takes place – it’s crazy. This school markets itself on social justice and the struggles of workers around the world, but really they think that they can attract more money by supporting the mainstream, like the banks and government, which is really disorientating because it’s the opposite of what most SOAS students expect.
‘Last year the picket lines were right outside the main entrance, but SOAS has organised private security guards and moved picket lines outside the main gates and away from the university. We had an occupation two years ago when I first came here, we occupied the management’s office. That is what led to university management hiring security guards and the student organisers of the occupation being pulled out by their legs.
‘I’m worried where this university is going. They’ve also cut funding for a lot of courses, but on the plus side, students support lecturers and staff strikes and the staff are great with students, so I’m positive we can deliver the kind of action that changes things.
‘I support a general strike, that is the way to go, kick out the government and for free education and the restoration of full grants.’