UCU digs in and prepares for more strikes in the new academic year

A UCU protest universities UCEA marking boycott
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The University and College Union (UCU) has said that its members will strike once again in September. The current marking boycott will also continue. It’s all over the ongoing, protracted dispute with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) over pay and working conditions.

Moreover, the trade union has said that unless bosses return to negotiations, it will also issue members with a fresh strike ballot. This could see action continue at universities into 2024.

The UCU: not having it

The Canary has been documenting the ongoing dispute between the UCU and bosses. At first, it was over pay, conditions, and pensions – resulting in nationwide strikes. The union and the organisation responsible for pensions came to an agreement in April. However, away from this, members voted to reject the UCEA pay offer of derisory and imposed increases of between 5-8%.

So, UCU members began a marking boycott in April, known as action short of a strike. It’s been going on ever since. Suffice to say, it has caused chaos. There have been varying reports of how many students have been affected. The UCEA claims it’s around 13,000 – while the UCU had previously accused it of downplaying the impact. Moreover, some bosses are docking UCU member’s wages if they take part in the boycott:

However, some students haven’t been concerned – and have supported the UCU in its actions. It’s of little wonder, really – when university bosses are also hitting them with sky-high rents, poor accommodation, and an iron fist if they dare to protest.

More strikes incoming

Now, the UCU has announced that more strikes will happen when the new academic year starts in September. It said on its website on Monday 14 August:

The union’s Higher Education Committee… voted to take further strike action before the end of September and to begin preparations for a new ballot in order to renew UCU’s industrial mandate in the pay and working conditions dispute, meaning disruption could continue this year and well into 2024.

The marking boycott will also continue. It began at 145 universities on Thursday 20 April but UCEA has responded by refusing to improve its offer and employers have punitively docked the pay of staff taking part. UCU has agreed to UCEA’s proposal for a joint review of sector finances.

The UCEA is being deliberately provocative, by all accounts. The UCU said UCEA bosses refused to debate the union’s general secretary Jo Grady on Sky News:

That should come of little surprise. One Twitter user reminded us of something one vice chancellor said in 2021 about the UCU:

Plus, the intervention of a Tory education minister has hardly helped the situation (surprise surprise). Education minister Robert Halfon (you’d be forgiven for asking ‘who?’) said both sides need to get back to the negotiating table. Grady was unimpressed:

UK higher education: world-beating (in being a capitalist shambles)

Grady said in a statement that overall:

We will not be bullied into accepting gig economy universities, nor will we accept employers imposing punitive pay deductions.

And she noted that:

Vice-chancellors have decided that crushing their own workers is more important than seeing students graduate after years of hard work. This is a national scandal.

The UK’s higher education sector is a national scandal. The privatised, corporate capitalist model of profiteering-led education is a detriment to staff and students alike. It only benefits the government and bosses. So, the UCU is right to continue to take a stand – and as the UCEA digs its heels in, so should the union.

Featured image via the UCU

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