Today saw the beginning of three days of strike action by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) at 58 institutions around the country. A further 42 institutions voted in favour of action but failed to meet the arbitrary 50% turnout threshold. Universities taking up the ‘four fights’ dispute are fighting for:
- Pay awards which keep up with inflation.
- An end to casualisation and insecure contracts.
- Manageable workload.
- Closing gender and ethnicity pay gaps.
Universities in dispute over USS are contesting cuts to the pension scheme which would see workers pay higher contributions and lose up to 35% of retirement benefit. UCU is asking for the pension fund to receive an updated valuation, and if there is still a shortfall, it can be made up by the employer. These constructive proposals for negotiation have not been accepted by Universities UK.
Inequalities in pay show a 15.1% gender pay gap, a 9% disability pay gap and a 17% pay gap between black and white staff in the sector. These gaps are callous and unjustifiable. With Covid-19, university bosses took the opportunity to attack job security, and workloads soared as staff had to create whole new workplans for online learning. UCU surveyed working conditions and found that 86% of staff had been directed towards mental health services due to stress.
At some universities, senior managers have tried to portray academic workers as an overpaid elite, occupying positions of privilege. We cannot accept this divisive notion; even the most learned professors have bills to pay. In Leeds, a right-wing student union leadership used the language of intersectionality to argue that strike action harms ‘marginalised students’. This cynical manipulation is despicable and deserves our fullest contempt.
The reality is that university staff often work long hours under enormous stress, on insecure contracts and low pay. Universities could not function without librarians, technical staff, teaching assistants, and administrators. It should also be noted that many of these roles are filled by existing students or recent alumni. These actions by UCU do have popular support, as expressed through the NUS which found 73% of students backed the strike. Students and young communists at Manchester University today occupied the Samuel Alexander building in solidarity with UCU.
Beyond the strikes this week, the universities in dispute have a mandate for action short of a strike, which includes working to contract, until 3rd May 2022.
If a university in your town is on strike: join the picket lines!
For decent pay, pensions, and working conditions in our universities!
Young Communist League
1 December 2021