Education strikes are a new front line in pay battle

Thousands of workers in universities plan to strike this week and they are set to be joined by Scottish school teachers and English sixth form teachers

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Monday 21 November 2022

Issue 2832

Strikes by the UCU union is universities are now part of a wave of workers’ action over pay

Unions plan to shut down universities across Britain with a strike on Thursday. Over 70,000 workers at 150 universities were set to walk out for three days on Thursday, Friday and Wednesday of next week. The members of the UCU union are battling over two separate but connected disputes.

The first is over cuts to their USS pension scheme. The other is for better pay, against increasing workloads and casualisation—as well as to fight inequalities in universities. Bee Hughes is the UCU branch chair at Liverpool John Moores university, they explained to Socialist Worker why they will be striking.

“Since 2009 higher education pay for academics has been degraded against inflation,” they said. “We’ve got ever-increasing workloads and less time to dedicate to the students that we work with.

We have sector-wide ethnicity and disability pay gaps that are shocking and casual contracts are rife, meaning early careers academics can’t plan for the future.”

Bee called for workers to join the national demonstration in London on Wednesday of next week. 

Sarah is a postgraduate researcher and UCU member at Leeds university. She told Socialist Worker that the strikes at Leeds would be massive as two other unions will also be striking at the same time as UCU. “Both Unison and Unite members at the university are on strike when we are.

“Unison will be on strike on Thursday and Wednesday of next week. We’re aiming to have big picket lines on each of those days and have a strike rally next Wednesday for those who aren’t travelling to London.

The UCU plans to mount their national strikes at the same time as Scottish teachers in the EIS union and CWU members at Royal Mail take action.

“It’s important for all sectors that we strike together,” said Sarah. “If we have any win, however small, it will embolden many others.” She added that escalating strikes and beginning a marking and assessment boycott was the way university workers could win.

University of Bristol student Charlotte is building solidarity with the strikes.“We know that workload is too high for our lecturers, and they don’t get paid enough money. We have to get the word out to students that this fight is a fight for their futures as well,” she told Socialist Worker.

“The university has tried to create division between lecturers and students by sending us emails designed to turn us against the strikes. But we’ll keep standing with them.”

Escalating these strikes to all-out action is the best way to win a better deal for university workers and save higher education from greedy bosses.

Sophie Squire

Scottish teachers set to strike

Around 50,000 Scottish teachers in the EIS union were set to strike on Thursday this week over pay. The local authority body Cosla has offered just a 5 percent rise. The union is calling for a modest 10 percent rise.

Marie, an EIS member from Stirling, told Socialist Worker, “I have been teaching for 16 years and have never known a feeling like there is today. “Nobody can manage easily on their pay, and the lack of money makes us all feel undervalued and even more stressed than usual.”

Members of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, which has 9,000 members, have also voted to go on strike in early December. This follows a 90 percent vote for action on a 62 percent turnout.

At the start of the week there were rumours of a new offer from Cosla. EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said that despite ministers previously insisting that there was no more money, the union was now expecting new last‑minute proposals.

The strikes must not be called off unless Cosla has accepted all the unions’ demands.  The EIS has said that if there isn’t a deal its members will strike in primary schools on 10 January. This is set to be  followed by strikes at secondary schools on 11 January.

Sixth forms are out next week

Around 4,000 Sixth Form College teachers in England are set to strike on Wednesday of next week. The NEU union members voted 89 percent to strike on a 63 percent turnout. Since 2010 real pay has fallen 20 percent pay, but the bosses Sixth Form College Association has offered only a 5 percent rise.

Julie, a sixth form teacher in York told Socialist Worker, “Education is at breaking point. A lack of resources, teachers buying their own equipment, courses slashed and underfunded. So our demands are not just over pay, but a fundamental change to the education system.

“It’s good the university workers will also be on strike when we are. We know that one day of strike won’t win our demands, it will have to be followed with further days, especially if school teachers win their ballot early next year. We have no choice but to win this, literally, we can’t afford not to.”

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