University staff in UK begin two-day strike protesting below-inflation pay offer

Around 70,000 workers across 150 universities in the UK have begun striking demanding an increase in wages at par with inflation, an end to cuts in benefits and pensions, and the regularization of contracts

February 09, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
UCU Strike - UK
Picket line at the London Metropolitan University Campus. (Photo: via Jeremy Corbyn/Twitter)

On Thursday, February 9, university staff across the UK started a two-day strike in response to a call by the University and College Union (UCU), protesting a below-inflation pay offer proposed by authorities. Around 70,000 academic staff from 150 universities across the UK will take part in the strike over February 9 and 10. The UCU announced the strike when 80% of its membership rejected the offer made by the university bosses, which proposed a meager 5% rise in wages. The union has also called for revoking cuts in benefits, ending cuts in pensions (pension reforms made in 2022 mean that the average worker will lose 35% of retirement income), and the regularization of 90,000 insecure contracts of teachers, librarians, and others. The UCU has also warned of further strikes and protests in March if the authorities refuse to respond favorably to its demands. The National Union of Students (NUS) also extended solidarity to the striking workers.

The working class across the UK—including academic staff—has been at loggerheads with employers and the Tory government over demands to increase wages at par with inflation, in order to meet soaring costs of living crisis. Instead of trying to democratically resolve the crisis by responding to workers’ demands, the Tory government has been trying to push undemocratic laws to block and penalize workers’ protests and strikes. 

Matt Perry, the vice-chair at the Newcastle University UCU, told Peoples Dispatch that “the dispute is concerned with pay, equality, insecure contracts and workload and pensions. At Newcastle University, we have had strong picket numbers and impressive support from our students. Talks are currently taking place nationally between the unions and the employers signaling that our action is having an impact.”

The UK saw a massive university strike in November 2022 as well, which drew the participation of over 70,000 workers across 150 universities.

According to a Morning Star report, UCU General Secretary Jo Grady has said that “university bosses hold over GBP 40 billion (USD 48.68 billion) in reserves, but they would rather hoard that money than use just a fraction of it to settle our dispute. While they earn up to GBP 714,000 (USD 869,009) a year, tens of thousands of our members are on insecure contracts, some as short as six weeks, and have seen their pay held down for over a decade.”

“We have repeatedly asked bosses to explain why they refuse to deal with the issues that blight higher education, yet they refuse to publicly justify their position,” she added.

On February 9, Jeremy Corbyn, MP and former Labour Party leader, extended his support and solidarity to the UCU strike and tweeted: “University staff from [the UCU] are on strike to save the future of education. They deserve fair pay and pensions. They deserve job security. And they deserve the support of the labor movement, which should be proud to defend workers fighting for us all.”