University strikes are launchpad for January

Submitted by AWL on 30 November, 2021 - 10:40
Goldsmiths picket line

In 58 University and College Union (UCU) branches across the UK, strikes kick off on Wednesday 1 December for an initial period of three days, to 3 December.

From 1 December onwards, indefinitely, UCU members in those branches and others where they won ballot mandates for it will also be doing “action short of strikes” (ASOS). Detailed info here

The disputes have been called over a range of issues, split into two industrial disputes: cuts to the USS pension scheme, and the Four Fights (over falling pay, increasing casualisation and workload, and worsening campus inequality). In Higher Education (HE), pay has fallen by 20% over the past decade, proposed pensions cuts average nearly 35%, our sector is ridden with insecure short-term, zero-hours contracts (and for some jobs, no contract at all).

Victories in this industrial action will allow university workers to start winning back what we deserve in work and in retirement.

The first round of strikes offer an important opportunity to rally Higher Education staff and students, and mobilise towards escalating action in the new year, when we should be joined by more branches and strikes can be more effective.

The union has announced that a further 42 branches are to be re-balloted from 5 December to 14 January. Victories in all of those would take the percentage of Higher Education UCU members able to strike or take ASOS from about 60% now, to nearly 90% by the end of January when many exams will be starting or ongoing. This would bring about a substantial improvement in our ability to not just win our strike demands, but organise more members of our union for longer-term gains.

ASOS is likely to prove essential. In a sector so reliant on unpaid overtime, weeks and months of refusing to work beyond contracted hours, and effective marking boycotts of exams, will slow university operations right down. Working out how best to collectivise some of these actions will be crucial to ensuring these are hard-hitting. Getting staff to picket lines and involved in actions short of striking are both keys to victory.

Workers’ Liberty members and supporters will be distributing strike bulletins to HE staff and UCU pickets throughout the strike periods. We are calling for student-staff solidarity, campus-wide union organisation, to build escalating action in the new year, and for union-wide support to help re-balloting branches beat the turnout threshold set by the anti-union laws.

We recognise that a battle that goes to the heart of higher education and the decades-long assault to marketise every aspect of it, is a fight that will require every worker and student on campus mobilised to fight back. Our UK-wide fighting fund will help to keep striking staff on pickets, and can be donated to here: “UCU National Fighting Fund”, sort code: 60-83-01, account no: 20179432, ref: “Fighting Fund Voluntary Levy”.

At the time of writing, Goldsmiths UCU have already been out for one of their three weeks of strikes. Their dispute is of major national significance: all staff and students should help to build picket numbers for weeks 2 and 3, and sustain the strike by donating to the Goldsmiths fighting fund: “UCU Goldsmiths College Hardship Fund”, account no: 20392303, sort code: 60-83-01, or posting cheques to UCU, Office 4, 18 Laurie Grove, London, SE14 6NH.

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