Lecturers are being balloted for strike action at the University of Aberdeen after 15 members of staff were threatened with redundancy as part of the University’s bid to make savings. One of the UCU (University and College Union) reps at Aberdeen, Derek Dawson said “Nobody wants to take industrial action, but UCU members at Aberdeen feel they have no choice. The university has already made considerable savings through a voluntary redundancy scheme and we are dismayed that it is handing out redundancy notices at this time. It has broken its promise to freeze recruitment in an effort to mitigate the need for job losses… We believe getting rid of experienced and dedicated staff will do nothing for Aberdeen’s reputation.”
This is part of an ongoing attack on universities as a part of capitalist austerity. This year research grants for Scottish universities were cut by £12.9million with Aberdeen’s being cut by £1.6million with universities having to fork out of other budgets for research to the detriment of both teaching undergraduates and further research. This doesn’t just affect the staff being made redundant but the rest of the staff who will likely have to pick up more work for no extra pay. Managers will be given harsher targets and the risk of stress, overwork and bullying will increase. Sickness days will rise and this will exacerbate the problem even further. Its not just the staff that’ll be affected but of course the students as well who’s education will suffer. Even commentators on the right including the Telegraph are critical of the Tory and SNP government’s policies on cutting universities highlighting that it will weaken the education level of the workforce and have an affect on the economy as a whole.
The Aberdeen UCU branch have done the correct thing in leading a militant opposition to this. Lectures and workers in general don’t take the idea of striking lightly and the fact that those at Aberdeen are balloting now is a sign than they are being pushed towards breaking point. The staff at Aberdeen can potentially pressure their university to at least temporarily halt the cuts and be a source of inspiration to the rest of the union and the working class as a whole. The union recently suffered a defeat having lost the ballot to nationally take industrial action on after failed negotiations of pay, casual work and gender pay gaps. However this will be a temporary set back. Class struggle is on the agenda everywhere university workers will be drawn into it. Redundancies will be threatened all over and staff will draw the conclusions like many already are in Aberdeen that the only a militant fightback is the answer.
However the UCU leadership need to learn some lessons. The recent lost ballot was due to blind tactics after many one day strikes (and two hour strikes) were organised over the least 3 years without making an effort to coordinate with other sectors such as school teachers, firefighters, council workers. The picket lines were often small and the much of the membership didn’t recognise the strike which further demoralised many activists. The trade unions as a whole need to lead an active campaign within the universities to fight against outsourcing and recruit workers in areas such as security, canteen staff, cleaning etc. who if unionised could make future strikes much more successful and better convince the membership to strike. The militant potential of students should be reached out to like it is being done this weekend with the national NUS and UCU demo. Ultimately however the UCU and trade union leadership as a whole need to educate its ranks in the nature of redundancies, stress, pay cuts and all the other affects of austerity which aren’t ideological but part and parcel of capitalist system and prepare them for the ultimate fightback against capitalism and for socialism.