Preparing for Strike Action
Preparing for strike action
Our next strike action in the Four Fights dispute is on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd February. This will be followed up with strikes on Monday 28th Feb, Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd March. UCU calls on all members to take this action, irrespective of the way you voted in the ballot.
The UCU Fighting Fund is available to support us financially through these disputes. Those earning more than £30k a year are entitled to claim £50 for each day they strike. For those earning under £30k, the figure is higher.
Why we need to strike
Both these disputes arise from our employers’ project of driving down the proportion of higher education funding they spend on staff. We are fighting over four interconnected issues:
Pay. Successive pay awards for HE staff since 2009 have failed to match for inflation. That means the value of pay at each point in the salary band has been eroded by about 20% over the last 12 years. Put your salary details into UCU’s pay modeller and you will be shocked by how much this is. But even if we don’t consider this in terms of individuals, it means that higher education is a much lower-paid profession than it used to be and that our employers now regard their staff as a drain on resources which they increasingly prefer to spend on other other things. London School of Economics had no qualms about showing off its brand new building this week even as their staff prepare to strike for decent pay and pensions.
Having eroded our pay steadily for ten years, the employers are now picking up the pace. Last year – pandemic year – we got 0%. This year our 1.5% award is dwarfed by inflation running at 7.5%. This is before April’s removal of the energy price cap and national insurance hike.
We cannot afford not to halt this pay squeeze. We are fighting for a decent pay rise for all HE staff.
Pay equality. Gender, race and disability pay gaps have no place in any contemporary workplace, let alone in education. We rightly work hard to overcome disadvantage and discrimination in the way we treat our students. So why should we have to put up with a gender pay gap of 15%, a race pay gap of 17%, and a disability pay gap of 9%? We are fighting for nationally agreed action to close these gaps – fast.
Casualisation. Declining pay combines with job insecurity for many of our colleagues. The proportion of academic staff on short-term contracts is unacceptably high in the HE sector as a whole. Despite agreements with UCU to limit them, Brighton University is currently witnessing a surge in numbers of HPL contracts as Schools desperately scramble to fill gaps in teaching caused by the failure to advertise permanent posts. Colleagues without job security are vulnerable and cannot exercise the right to plan their lives that we are all entitled to. We are fighting for a ban on zero-hour contracts in HE and national agreements to move staff on temporary contracts to permanent employment.
Workloads. There is a workload crisis in Higher Education. This is an issue for health – an epidemic of stress, for work-life balance, and for pay – every hour of unpaid overtime worked represents a reduction in our hourly rate of pay. At Brighton we all feel the increasing workload pressure despite our academic workload agreement. Voluntary severance schemes have shrunk the workforce without shrinking student numbers. The pandemic pushed our workloads through the roof and they have not come down since. Management’s bureaucratic demands constantly multiply while the workload allocations for leadership roles are cut. We are fighting for a 35 hour week and a nationally agreed reduction in workloads to manageable levels.
The underlying cause of all this is the marketisation of Higher Education through the student fee regime. Universities have become businesses competing with each other for students and funding. Like any corporation they are driven by the bottom line – making an annual surplus. Education has become a commodity to be provided as ‘efficiently’ as possible. This means standardisation and cost-cutting.
All the issues in our disputes are caused the obsessive drive to reduce labour costs. That’s why pay settlements must be below inflation and why USS pension contributions must be increased while benefits are slashed. Redundancies and severance schemes result in fewer of us on the payroll, each of us working harder. And more staff precariously employed means savings on summer salaries, increments and promotions.
Are we hurting students?
Strike action in universities means students do not get taught, just as strike action by refuse workers means people’s bins overflow and rubbish piles up in the streets. But marketisation is damaging students and the quality of their education too. They are forced to rack up mountains of debt for the ‘privilege’ of coming to university only to be treated as cash cows to be milked at every opportunity. Their educational experience has become warped by management interference and arbitrary standardisation. They increasingly find themselves in bigger and bigger classes being taught by staff employed at the last minute with no time to prepare and no long-term stake in their education.
More and more students are realising how degraded the system has become and are understanding the size of the gap between what their education could be and the reality.
That’s why the National Union of Students has called a Student Strike for Education on 2nd March We will strike alongside students on that day against the broken model of higher education overseen by the Tories.
Preparing for action – Three meetings:
See email dated 02/02/22 for links/join codes for Teams groups
Student-Staff Solidarity in the Strikes for Education
2-3pm, Wednesday 9th February
MS Team Group-Emergency Staff-Student Assembly
Strike Preparation Meeting
Planing teach-outs, picket activities, strike events etc.
3-4pm, Wednesday 9th February
MS Team Group-Emergency Staff-Student Assembly
Brighton UCU all-members meeting
Joint meeting of all branches
2-3pm, Wednesday 16th February
MS Team Group-UCU Brighton