NCAFC supporters were present at a meeting last week, as trade unionists and student activists from around Bloomsbury in London met to discuss higher education workers’ struggles to secure decent national pay deals. Similar discussions amongst UCU (the union for academic and related staff) and Unison (support staff) members will be happening across the country as both unions move into ballots about whether to take industrial action.
Staff have been dealt below-inflation pay increases for some time, which means effective pay cuts as the cost of living increases. At the same time, workloads – and stress levels! – have increased. Academics spoke of how between real-term pay cuts and increased cost of pension contributions, they have shouldered a shocking 13% pay cut in just three years. Meanwhile, many of our Vice-Chancellors and senior managers are racking up far larger increases to their already astronomical 6-figure salaries, and our institutions are running surpluses as high as 9%, while they claim they “cannot afford” fair pay or guarantee the Living Wage. The workers without whom our colleges and universities couldn’t run are starting to feel the bite, increasingly struggling to support themselves and their families. This includes many students too – for instance, postgraduate teaching assistants who are also suffering on often scandalously low pay. As well as being a matter of injustice, poor pay and long hours for staff hit the quality of education for students, and also our own career prospects after graduation.
This year, both groups of staff were offered another pathetic sub-inflation pay ‘rise’ of just 1%. The members of both unions have voted to reject this, and are now opening ballots on whether to take industrial action. We don’t yet know for sure, but the two unions may strike together to maximise the effect they can have, potentially on 18-19 October immediately before the 20 October TUC national anti-austerity demonstration. Students can and must support staff in this, as they have supported us in opposition to fees and cuts. They need to know we support them if they have to take industrial action. Many want to act but are conflicted because they care about their students – so we have to let them know that we understand serious action is in both groups’ interests in the long-term, and that we will be standing by their sides throughout. Talk to trade union activists and representatives in your college and university, and consider doing some of the following:
- Tell your Vice-Chancellor that students support the pay campaign and you want them to endorse a better deal as part of the national employers’ group.
- Pass a motion in your student union endorsing the pay campaign and instructing your union to encourage students not to cross picket lines if staff have to strike.
- Produce flyers and other materials explaining to students why they should support staff and how they can do this.
- Hold joint student-staff meetings to discuss how the campaign ties into the wider fight against austerity, how it affects both students and workers, and what you can all do together to help it.
- Run a recruitment drive to get postgraduates to join UCU and get involved in their branch – they all have the right to do this.
- Assist campus trade union activists as they get the word out. Help staff to hand out flyers and put up posters aimed at their colleagues. Encourage students who work in relevant jobs to join their unions, vote in the ballots, and take part in any action.
- If strikes do happen, don’t cross picket lines – visit them, bring food, drink and well wishes, and help the picketing workers to hand out leaflets and talk to other students and workers about why they shouldn’t go into college or university that day.
- Take the opportunity to promote the TUC national demonstration on any days of action that precede it!
More info from UCU and Unison on these campaigns can be found at: