By Daniel Randall, NUS NEC (PC)
On 7 March academic staff in higher education — members of NATFHE and the AUT — took strike action in support of their pay claim. The nationwide strike was well-supported.
The unions have been engaged in a long-running battle with their employers over pay, which the unions say has been diminishing in real terms for years. According to TUC figures the average higher education worker does nine hours work per week unpaid. In money terms that amounts to £10,216 per year.
After accepting a 3% increase on this year's pay deal (the year to July 2006), the AUT and NATFHE (which will merge in 2007) decided to adopt a different strategy for the forthcoming year. They have argued that they should have a "decent slice" or one-third of the increased funding to higher education from top up fees. They are demanding a 11% pay increase this year and 23% over three years.
The day of strike action will now be followed by a continous campaign of "non-strike sanctions" - a marking boycott, including of exam work. This last sanction will not hit students for some months. However the employers seem intent on stringing out negotiations — talks are fixed for the end of March.
Meanwhile the employers are upping their propaganda ante, claiming that lecturers’ wages are excessive, forecasting huge deficits in the sector for the current year, and so on.
Links with students will be a key component of the action. One issue in building the alliance is the question of student top-up fees. NATFHE has made clear its opposition to lifting the £3,000 lid on top-up fees. Clearly the unions also need to make a positive demand for increased funding to higher education - paid for by taxing the rich and business. Student unionists should make contact with the trade unions, organise joint meetings and discuss ways of explaining the issues in the dispute to ordinary students.
some reports from the picket line:
University of East Anglia: student union led march to the picket line. On 10 March Education Not for Sale activists will deliver an Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor backing the action and calling on him to use influence to resolve the dispute. Pat.
Oxford University: five pickets. Rally at Town Hall. Oxford University Students’ Union has passed a motion in support. Mike.
Cambridge University: only about one in five lecturers are unionised. Students crossed picket lines although the student union has a policy in favour of supporting the strike. Only one SU exec member made it down to the picket line and two crossed it! Sofie and Josh.
University of East London: University management issued a statement saying that while they support lecturers' right to strike their priority was to remain open. Student union supported the strike but took no solidarity action. However, there were some tudent activists on the picket line. Laura.
Manchester University: 150 strong rally. Bruce.
Glasgow University: Socialist Society joined AUT on picket line having plastered the campus with pro-strike posters and leafleted urging people to boycott classes. Student support was strong. At a public meeting students voted 45 to 4 in favour of the action. Student Representative Council officially backed action. Keir.