England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Huge university strikes over pay, conditions and pensions

Photo credit: Paul McGowan

Workers in the University and College Union (UCU) are the latest trade union members to smash the 50% turnout threshold in a national ballot and deliver a huge mandate for strike action. In our dispute over pay and conditions 81% voted to strike. In the USS pensions dispute, this increased to 85%. Strike dates were set for 24, 25 and 30 November, with escalating action due to take place in early 2023. 

It’s no accident that these are the most impressive ballot results achieved in recent times. The hard work of reps, along with the devastating effects of the cost of living crisis and the new wave of workers’ struggle have reinvigorated members and encouraged them to fight.

A new set of activists have come forward in many branches, inspired by previous strikes and keen to get involved more actively than before. Importantly, the UCU leadership have been more supportive of action this time around, rather than standing in the way as previously. 

Significantly, our disputes are taking place during a huge upswing in industrial struggle. UCU members have consistently argued for coordinated strikes with other unions and have pushed the leadership to call dates to match other major industrial action. UNISON in higher education also announced that they would join us on 24-25 November, showing the possibilities for shutting down entire campuses. 

How can we win? 

It is clear it will take a massive shift for our employers to make significant concessions on our demands. Although the employers’ body, UCEA, have indicated they are willing to enter talks on pay and conditions, we need enormous pressure to achieve a win that will go anywhere towards mitigating the decade of real terms pay cuts we have endured. This decline in pay has been combined with the driving down of our working conditions: we need to step up our fights on casualisation, pay equality and workload. 

On USS pensions, the devastating cuts to the scheme cannot be justified and trustees have recently confirmed their reversal would still leave the scheme in surplus. The fightback needs to be serious and significant. UCU members in Socialist Alternative have raised the idea of building for indefinite strike action early in the new year, led by members on the ground to make the action as effective as possible. There needs to be a strategic plan for the whole of the rest of the academic year, with action to match the weight of our demands. 

This should include plans for a boycott on marking, including the legally necessary reballot to cover the summer period, and also ways to include non-teaching staff in order to make sure every member can be involved and maximise their leverage in coordinated action. 

Any attempts by bosses to deduct full pay for partial performance must be met with the utmost resistance. Resources should be put into an extensive recruitment drive, particularly targeted at areas where we have lower density. 

Finally, efforts should be renewed to achieve coordinated action with the other campus trade unions and with other groups of workers more generally. A general strike to bring down this weak and divided Tory government is becoming all the more urgent but also more possible. University workers are well placed to make the necessary links between striking workers to help initiate local strike committees and make this possible. 


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