Unison members in higher education at 22 universities are staging stikes over pay. At the same time, lecturers in the UCU are balloting for action. The scene is set for united struggle by workers and students on campuses across the country.
Thousands of university workers – organised with Unison – have begun a campaign of strike action over a pathetic pay offer from the employers. This includes cleaners, administrators, library, catering, and security workers.
Staff demanded a 2% pay rise above inflation. But bosses rejected this call, offering a measly 3% overall instead. And with inflation hovering around 10%, this means another real-terms pay cut.
No surprise, then, that Unison members in higher education (HE) have rejected such an insulting offer – nothing short of a sick joke in light of the attacks mounting against workers up and down the country.
As a result, workers from 22 different universities across the UK are walking out over the next three weeks, including staff at institutions in London, Manchester, Belfast, and Glasgow.
Staggered strike days begin in Scotland tomorrow, before spreading across the country, with action aimed at disrupting the beginning of the academic year, as students return to campus.
As part of this announcement, Unison head of education Mike Short stated that, much like the UCU workers who went on strike earlier in the year, staff across HE are at a “breaking point”, with the offers of the bosses providing no relief to the “thousands of struggling staff”.
The pressure of rising prices is already bearing down on workers; and it is forecast to get worse, with some predictions suggesting that headline inflation will hit somewhere between 18-22% early next year.
On top of this, there is complete demoralisation within HE, with poverty wages forcing many staff to skip meals, or cut down on water and energy use. As such, seven out of ten staff say they are looking to leave the sector if conditions do not improve.
Many of the workers striking with Unison are ‘invisible’ – and yet vital to campus life. They may not have a front-facing role with students, but without them, universities would cease to move.
It is these workers – and their colleagues in other unions – who keep the education system running. Yet it is university bosses who rake in eye-watering salaries, all while pleading poverty when it comes to paying ordinary staff a decent wage.
Across education, workers are having to mobilise to defeat the bosses’ attacks.
In the further education (FE) sector, the UCU has successfully balloted for strike action at 26 colleges in England. This will lead to an unprecedented 10 days of strike action. According to the UCU, this spells the beginning of “the biggest set of strikes ever in further education”.
Significantly, nearly 90% of UCU members voted Yes to strikes in the ballot.
This shows the bitter mood being created amongst workers by the marketisation of education. More and more staff – at both universities and colleges – see profit being put before the interests of workers and students alike.
Fat-cat education bosses are seeing massive pay rises. Meanwhile, we scramble to make ends meet from month to month.
This is why it is such a welcome step for Unison members in HE to take strike action. It’s high time we took the fight into our own hands. But we don’t have to do it alone!
UCU are currently balloting for strike action across the university sector. The potential for joint strike action is therefore clear.
This would enormously strengthen any action, and demonstrate that we – not the vice-chancellors and CEOs – are the ones who really run things on campus.
It is not just staff, but students also, who are having to struggle in the higher education sector. It is true that teaching conditions are learning conditions. But it is also true that a good education relies on decent facilities, well-run libraries, and properly-stocked cafeterias.
Everything grinds to a halt when security no longer looks after the campus; when administrators switch off their computers; when library staff, cleaners, caterers, and other clerical or facility workers down tools.
That’s why student activists need to link up with the labour movement, show solidarity, and help us win this fight. At the end of the day, we are all facing the same struggle, against the same enemy: the bosses and their profit system.
Students are saddled with enormous debt thanks to the ever-increasing tuition fees. And workers and students have the right to know where that money is going.
If the bosses say they can’t afford our demands, then they should open up the books to scrutiny by the unions to prove it!
Ultimately, workers and students should fight for universities and college institutions to be run, planned, and organised by the workers themselves, with free lifelong education funded by expropriation of the billionaires.
The first step towards that is coordinating our action, and demonstrating our strength as one fighting force across the whole sector.
After all, who is better equipped to ensure the future of education: those who line their pockets from it? Or those who work to keep it running every day?