It’s not been a full 4 months since the UCU ended its last strike action which pushed employers back to the negotiating table.
At the time, strike action was taken by 60 universities across the UK for 8 days with a return to action short of a strike (work to contract) after. Although the strikes were able to bring employers back to the negotiating table, employers have refused to meet union demands leading to strike action being called again, this time for 14 days across 4 weeks starting February 20 to March 13.
This time, 74 universities organizing with the UCU are out on the picket lines. A further 5 universities represented by EIS will also be taking strike action for 5 days. All EIS strike action dates coincide with UCU strike dates. What this means is that a total of 79 universities will be out on strike across the nation making this one of the largest workers mobilisations in the industry.
A Looming Collapse
The strike continues to push on the same issues. A drop in pay by around 17% in real terms since 2009, even with an overall £2 billion surplus at HEs, a disability pay gap of 8.7%, a gender pay gap at 15%, a pay gap of between 12 to 13% for BAME staff, and an increase of precarious employment practices that now counts over 170,000 staff on fixed or casual contracts, leading to employment uncertainty.
The refusal of employers to budge on these issues 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. At the University of Sunderland, the history, politics, and language departments where shut down all together, all to keep the university aligned to the market.
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.
Students join in
Staff are obviously not the only ones effected by this. As we continue to hear on the picket lines, working conditions are teaching conditions, and students have shown that they are well aware of this.
Across the nation students have set up Student Solidarity Committees and Networks in a show of support with striking staff. In Stirling, Edinburgh, Exeter, and Nottingham students have occupied university buildings to highlight their own demands for better learning conditions.
These shows of solidarity put a hole through the claim that students are being ignored and treated as collateral damage by striking staff. Strike or no strike, students know that they are victims of university corporatization as well.
This understanding is extending to demands of tuition refunds. Students know that employers who are failing to provide the learning environment students are paying for and not the teachers. International students, who are seen as cash cows and pay up to 3x more in tuition than domestic students, should be the most vocal about this injustice and can help by putting more pressure on universities by asking for their money back!
Intensifying the fight
As universities continue to drag their feet, what’s next for the industry? EIS joining the strike movement is a welcomed development in this most recent saga of class warfare. But as an industrial union, we can’t help but ask, why has this not happened before? More importantly how did we wait for things to get this bad?
And although student solidarity has been an inspiration, student solidarity groups remain unprotected by unions and can suffer harsh retaliation from university management. This has been the case of students at Stirling University who have been suspended for 8 weeks and can no longer attend classes or submit university coursework, need to get preapproval to use the university medical centre and access mental health services, and may also lose access to student accommodation.
There’s no doubt that legal restrictions on union organizing have made fighting back increasingly difficult. But resistance does not need to depend exclusively on means within the legal process of grievances fought out by union bureaucracies negotiating collective agreements. Issues should be confronted as they arise, by the workers themselves, with a broader toolkit emphasizing direct action and solidarity not just between students and teachers at universities, but across the entire educational industry!
It’s for this reason that the IWW organizes industrially, so we can support all education workers and students in their fight for better learning, teaching, and working conditions. It’s also why we have a strategy of dual carding in place, so that workers can have the greatest impact in the fight against employers.
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, museum directors, 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 and invite all strikers to consider joining the IWW’s Education Workers Industrial Union so we can more effectively fight against an increasingly entrenched employing class.
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