This Halloween, many university staff will be taking part in a UK wide day of strike action over an increasingly bitter pay row .
Members of trade unions UCU, UNISON, Unite, working in higher education will walk out on Thursday 31 October in protest at significant cuts in pay over the past several years.
The strike comes at a time when university leaders have seen an increase in pay and benefits in excess of £5,000, while other university staff have received a pay cut of 13 per cent in real terms since 2008 – one of the most sustained cuts in wages since World War II.
According to UCU, the cumulative operating surplus in the education sector is now over £1b, with many higher education institutions building up cash reserves.
Des Freedman, the secretary of the UCU branch of Goldsmiths, University of London, in Lewisham said: “This isn’t just a strike about my pay packet. I’ll be striking because 11,641 university employees earn less than the living wage.”
Pointing at the effect of market forces on the university sector he said expressed concern that it is: “further threatening staff and treating students as a source of income – cash cows if you want to be cynical – instead of citizens who are owed an education.”
Goldsmiths Students’ Union passed a motion at their student assembly to support Goldsmiths staff on the morning of the strike action. They are encouraging supporters to dress in Halloween costumes on the picket line outside the university from 8am.
Soren Goard, Goldsmiths Education Officer said: “We spend a lot of time asking the university to improve education. These things require extra work, and if the university doesn’t hire more people then it’s only logical that it ends up falling on teaching and support staff.”
“We therefore have a responsibility to support them when they’re saying that they deserve fair pay. Not only is it in our interests, because it ensures good quality teaching, but it’s also basic solidarity.”
Max Watson, secretary of London Metropolitan’s Unison branch in Tower Hamlets said: “We’ve put up with a pay freeze for the past five years with the cost of living soaring, particularly in London. Our members aren’t willing to put up with it any longer. We’ve reached breaking point. That’s why we’re on strike.”
The London Metropolitan branch of Unison represents approximately 400 members. Watson’s message to senior officials within the university is: “The money is there. Stop stuffing your own pockets and think of your hard working underpaid, undervalued staff instead.”
University staff on strike across the country this Thursday will not be paid for this day of work. A spokesperson from Queen Mary’s University also in Tower Hamlets said: “Any pay withheld from staff taking this action will be donated to the Student Hardship Fund.”
The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) released a statement describing strike action as ‘disappointing.’ They said: “With less than 5% of staff voting to support this strike, our institutions tell us that the vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current environment and would not wish to harm their institutions and especially their students.”
A spokesperson for UCU said: “The response from management has been appalling – they have refused to talk and that is why we find ourselves striking on Thursday.”
ELL reporters will be covering the strikes that are taking place outside Goldsmiths, University of London, Queen Mary’s and London Metropolitan University tomorrow from 8am.