On Friday 6 December 2019, IWW members from Reading branch were joined by IWW members from Bristol at a demonstration on the Campus of Reading University. The demonstration involved other students and members of the UCU and was in support of students who have been suspended for supporting UCU members on strike over pay and pensions.
It was a lively demonstration with lots of chanting and renditions of IWW favourites “Solidarity Forever” and “Bread and Roses”.
University staff represented by the UCU at 60 universities across the UK were 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.
The UCU 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.
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 called 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
A great demo!!”