Academic staff in universities across the UK observed a three-day strike demanding fair pay and pay equality. They also demanded a reduction in workload and an end to casualization and protested the detrimental changes brought to the pension scheme over the years. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) gave the call for the strike between December 1-3 which saw the participation of academic staff of around 58 universities. Progressive political parties and student/youth groups like the National Union of Students and Young Communist League (YCL-Britain), as well as trade unions, expressed solidarity with the strike.
According to reports, university workers have suffered salary cuts as high as 20%. Despite contributing thousands of pounds per year for pensions under the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the workers are likely to lose tens of thousands of pounds in retirement benefits because of a series of changes made to the USS since 2011. As of now, several other benefits also stand slashed by a third.
The workload of academic staff has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. A large section of them are unable to avail loans and several benefits on account of being contract workers. These workers are concerned about the future of their employment.
As part of the strike, the staff organized pickets, demonstrations and other gatherings in universities. Students of University of Manchester and YCL-Britain activists occupied the Samuel Alexander building in solidarity with the staff strike.
The UCU has also demanded an end to gender, race and disability pay gaps, which currently stand at 15%, 17% and 9%, respectively. The union has demanded the withdrawal of pension cuts and called for a pay increase of £2,500 (USD 3,307.50).
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that “It is deeply regrettable that staff have been forced into taking industrial action again, but sadly university bosses have shown little interest in negotiating in good faith and addressing the serious concerns of staff over falling pay, massive pension cuts, equality pay gaps and the rampant use of insecure contracts.”
“The truth is that staff are asking for the bare minimum in a sector awash with money. But sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action, and those leading our universities should not underestimate their determination to change this sector for the better,” Grady added.