University staff represented by the UCU at 60 universities across the UK are on an 8 day strike starting November 25! Why? Universities have failed to uphold promises about pension contributions and pay, equality, casualization, and workload.
According to the Universities and Colleges Employers Associations (UCEA), pay has dropped by around 17% in real terms since 2009, even with an overall £2 billion surplus at HEs. On top of this, the disability pay gap remains at 8.7%, the gender pay gap at 15%, and black academic staff earn 12 to 13% less than white colleagues. Over 170,000 staff are also employed through fixed or casual contracts, leading to employment uncertainty.
Conservative union laws have meant that although, overall, more than 75% of UCU union members voted for strike action, only universities that met the 50% participation threshold have been able to call for a strike. This is a perfect example of the political effort expended to suffocate the labour movement in the UK. Thus, it is worth remembering that although not all universities are on strike, all universities are affected by the above statistics.
Corporatization of Education
This strike needs to be understood in the context of the general trend of ‘corporatizing’ universities and education at large. Universities are being increasingly run as a business which means that any and all costs need to be supressed for the sake of the bottom line. As such, staff have salaries stop rising, recruitment decreases, workload increased, and contact hours with students are slashed. This makes it impossible for universities to meet their social and civic duties of educating the next generation. Students become nothing more than the products on the assembly line of the university factory.
I’m a student, this strike is inconvenient
Strikes are inconvenient for everyone. No one wants to be out on a picket line to demand for their most basic rights, especially during the winter season. If your university is on strike, it’s important to remember that a strike is a last resort and happens only when employers refuse to do the right thing. It’s a university’s unwillingness to treat staff fairly that has led us here.
It’s also important to remember that drops in staff working conditions also means that your quality of education decreases, even though your fees keep going up. We believe that teachers and students deserve the best, and that the way to get that is by fighting together.
How can I support the strike?
If your institution is on strike, do not cross the picket line! Better yet, why not join it and have a few conversations with striking staff to better understand their concerns. Picketers also always enjoy a bit of music and some snacks and warm drinks. If you choose to join the picket line, make sure you follow UCU picket line guidance.
If your university is not on strike, we would encourage you to pick a day and visit the nearest picket line. You can also print out our leaflets supporting the strike (long version / short version) or these ones prepared by the UCU and distribute them on campus. We would also urge you to have conversations with your professors about these strikes and their work conditions as well as ask for your student union to endorse the strike – which the National Union of Students has already done.
It goes without saying that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are fully behind this and every struggle fought by the working class in the UK and around the world. There is no doubt that education has a central role in our society. The worsening conditions under which our educators work under, from university professors to scientists in research institutions, are symptomatic of the steady onslaught of capitalism which has submitted all activities to the interest of profit.
We believe, as we always have, that it is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. Only then, absent the constant roadblocks set up by capital, can education, and indeed all social services, achieve their mission of empowering workers and advancing science.
With this in mind, we call on our members across all Branches and Industrial Unions to take concrete actions in supporting this strike.
If you are employed by an educational institution, please reach out to the IWW’s Education Workers Union (IU620) on education [at] iww [dot] org [dot] uk
Download our leaflets in support of the strike: