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Taking action in higher education

Autumn action fists

Help UCU achieve a huge victory for staff - support the strikes

19 February 2020 | last updated: 5 March 2020

Tomorrow members in 74 UCU branches will start the largest strike action in the history of the higher education sector.

This follows our first eight days of disruption, which shook employers. Our students, the public, and even some employers are on our side, and press coverage has continued to be favourable to us. Students in particular have remained unwaveringly supportive, both through the NUS and through local student unions.

We are taking more action because your union believes that we need one more push in these disputes. Members took eight days of action last term and we have already seen some movement from employers - but not as much as we deserve. 

Employers are sitting on their hands. They believe they can avoid making any bigger concessions, in the hope that we will falter and lose our resolve. They are wrong. What we need to do in the next few days is show them that we are not going away. It is really unfortunate that our employers are testing us in this way, as opposed to working with us to make higher education better. But we have been here before in previous disputes and our strength and unity got us victories.

Don't forget that this time we are not just escalating the number of days taken, we also have more branches and members involved. 60 branches took part in the last wave of action. Now, thanks to a successful round of reballots, there will be 74 branches taking action. This is the best opportunity we have had in years to improve conditions for staff throughout the sector. 

Extra support from the UCU strike fund

To show how serious we are about supporting you through these disputes, UCU's national executive committee has agreed to increase the cap on the amount which members can claim from the fighting fund to cover lost pay. The cap is now £1,100 for members earning under £30,000 gross, and £800 for members earning over £30,000 gross. Click here for more information and to submit claims.

If your branch is not on strike, please support your colleagues' efforts to win better terms and conditions for all of us by donating as much as you can to the fighting fund.

Signs that employers are reconsidering their position

In the past week Universities UK, which represents USS employers, ran a consultation on how much employers would be willing to pay to cover contribution increases that have been forced on members. A significant number of employers, encompassing just over a quarter of active USS members, wanted to make an offer. This represented more movement than we had seen previously, and it's all because employers were facing the threat of more strikes. If we can continue this wave of action the way we ended the last, that number will increase and it will not be long before it reaches 50%.

Throughout the negotiations, it's become clear to me that the stubbornness of Universities UK is largely down to a few influential employers - including some of the wealthiest institutions in the sector. This is not about affordability - it is about a group of employers that are ideologically fixated on minimising their commitments to their staff. We shifted their position in the last USS dispute and saved defined benefit pensions. Now we must rally again to ensure we get the long term changes we need, and an interim contribution rate that doesn't price members out of the scheme.

The same goes for our 'four fights' dispute. Since we obtained a mandate for strike action employers have not offered a penny more than the 1.8% offer they made last year, which fails to keep up with the cost of living. This sector has suppressed wages over the last decade while its income and reserves have increased immensely. What we are asking for is reasonable, and it is shameful that employers would rather force more disruption than make any concessions in this area.

Picket line visits and further questions

When the action starts I will be visiting branches throughout the UK, starting in London on Thursday. Every time I visit a picket line I talk to members who are passionate about the work they do and about defending their sector, and it makes me proud to be general secretary of UCU. Please make every effort you can to join the pickets, support each other, talk to colleagues and students about the action, and represent the union as powerfully as you did last term. If you cannot join the physical picket - as many can't, for various reasons - please demonstrate your solidarity and support on the virtual picket, with the #UCUStrike hashtag. 

In the meantime, please contact me if you have any questions, or watch the recording of the live Q&A about the strikes which I hosted last week.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

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