This week will see a third wave of strikes among higher education staff across the UK, as members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) take industrial action to protest against low wages and poor working conditions.
UCU say that higher education staff have seen a 25.5 percent real terms pay cut over the past 13 years, and are calling for a £2500 pay rise for every member of staff.
Cambridge students occupy lecture block
At Cambridge University, around 50 students have occupied the Sidgwick lecture block in solidarity with striking staff since Tuesday, promising to ‘produce a manifesto outlining a collective vision for a free and liberatory University’ over the course of the occupation.
They have renamed the block the Angela Davis building, in honour of the famous US Communist Party activist.
The occupiers’ demands are:
- The University of Cambridge commits to negotiating a comprehensive recognition agreement with UCU that includes all categories of staff.
- The University makes a public statement calling for local and national UCU demands to be met, including both the Four Fights and USS Pensions, alongside those of UNITE and UNISON.
- Students and workers face no disciplinary measures for taking part in peaceful direct action, including the occupation, in support of the strikes.
- The University meets the demands of the Justice for College Supervisors campaign, including a pay rise, secure contracts, and paid training for all supervisors.
- The University commits to putting continuing pressure on the Colleges to pay the real living wage to all staff.
Cambridge pensions dispute intensifies
The pensions dispute at the University of Cambridge also intensified last week, as the University Council voted to reject UCU’s proposals and go ahead with the proposed 35 percent pensions cut. In a highly contentious move, council members who were also members of USS (and would therefore be affected by the pensions cut) were banned from participating in the vote, due to a perceived ‘conflict of interest’.
What are UCU’s Four Fights demands?
UCU’s key demands for their ‘Four Fights’ – over pay, workload, equality and casualisation – include:
- A pay rise of £2,500 for all employees
- A minimum of £10 per hour wage for all contract types
- For all universities to become Living Wage Foundation accredited employers
- A standard weekly full-time contract of 35 hours per week
- Action to tackle the ethnic, gender and disability pay gap
- A framework to eliminate precarious employment practices and casualised contracts, including zero hours contracts
- Ending the outsourcing of support services and bringing staff in-house
- Addressing excessive workloads and unpaid work.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
“This continued industrial action will hit 63 universities and the responsibility of vice-chancellors who have done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads.”
“Our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, while the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year.”