Outpouring of solidarity for university staff demanding fair pay and conditions

UCU Strike
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On 1 December, higher education staff and University and College Union (UCU) members launched their first of three days of strike action against pension cuts, racial, gender and disability pay gaps, low wages, unpaid hours, and excessive workloads. University staff across the UK have taken to picket lines – and social media – to demand that university bosses take action to challenge poor wages and entrenched exploitation and inequality in the higher education sector.

Unjust pensions, pay and conditions

According to the union, “UCU members are taking action over falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads”. Since 2009, university staff have seen real terms pay cuts of nearly 20%. And cuts proposed by Universities UK (UUK) will see the average pension drop by around 36% (despite claiming that the proposed cuts would lead to 10% to 18% drop).

The casualisation of work in higher education means that today, nearly 90,000 university staff are employed on insecure contracts. Reflecting the limited rights, protections and security such arrangements provide, University of Bristol researcher Dr Eleanor Johnson shared:

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And Dr Eve Hayes said:

Striking staff are also challenging excessive workloads in higher education. According to an Education Support report, excessive workloads and unpaid hours are causing a mental health crisis among higher education workers. The report found that 79% of respondents struggled with an intense, excessive workload. It also found that over half of respondents displayed signs of depression.

Speaking to the entrenched exploitation of higher education workers, University of St Andrews lecturer Roxani Krystalli shared:

University staff are also taking industrial action to challenge unjust pay gaps. As it stands, the pay gap between Black and white higher education staff is currently 17%. The average gender pay gap is 15.1%. And the disability pay gap is at 9%. A UCU survey found that marginalised university staff are disproportionately impacted by excessive workloads and insecure contracts.

Contextualising racial and gender pay gaps in the sector, King’s College’s UCU shared: 

Higher education staff unite

Announcing the first day of industrial action, the UCU tweeted:

Striking staff are demanding the reversal of pension cuts, and a £2.5k rise in pay for all staff. They are also demanding “action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and insecure contracts”.

Threatening further industrial action if university bosses fail to meet these demands, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

If they continue to ignore the modest demands of staff then we will be forced to take further industrial action in the new year, which even more branches will join.

On 1 December, approximately 50,000 staff from 58 higher education institutions took to picket lines nationwide to demand fair pensions, pay and conditions.

Striking staff took to social media to share pictures from picket lines up and down the country. The University of York’s UCU shared:

And Leeds Student Staff Solidarity tweeted:

Highlighting that the marketisation of the UK’s higher education system impacts all workers in the sector, UCU posted:

And striking staff at universities including the London School of Economics (LSE) held teach-ins:

Solidarity with striking higher education workers

An overwhelming number of students have met the industrial action with outpourings of support and solidarity for striking university staff. Indeed, according to the National Union of Students (NUS), 73% of students support industrial action. On 1 December, students took to picket lines across the country to express solidarity with striking higher education workers. NUS president Larissa Kennedy tweeted:

Student activists from the Red Square Movement came together to block UUK’s head office in solidarity with striking higher education workers:

Students occupied the University of Manchester’s business school to support the ongoing strike. One student posted:

And over 330 Birbeck University students have signed an open letter to senior leadership, stating “we will continue to support staff as they fight for better working conditions – their working conditions are our learning conditions”:

Meanwhile, the University of Sussex Students’ Union has organised a march and rally in solidarity with local striking staff:

Join the movement

The strike action is due to continue until Friday 3 December. In the meantime, UCU is urging supporters to join their local picket line to support striking higher education staff. The union has shared a list of all institutions taking part in the industrial action. UCU is leading a march and rally in London on 3 December. The union is encouraging anyone who can’t make it to the picket lines to express solidarity on social media, and to donate to UCU’s strike fund. It is vital that we – particularly those of us who are students – unite in solidarity with striking university staff and against the marketisation of higher education.

Featured image via Twitter Screengrab – @UM_UCU

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