Why UCU members are balloting for action

Des Freedman. Pic: English PEN

Des Freedman. Pic: English PEN

The University and College Union (UCU) are currently balloting its members to decide whether or not to take industrial action over a “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer.

Des Freedman, the Secretary of Goldsmiths, University of London’s UCU branch told EastLondonLines why he believes that industrial action is the answer.


Why we are balloting for action

By Des Freedman, Secretary, Goldsmiths UCU

University staff across the country are balloting for industrial action in opposition to yet another pay offer that is well below inflation. Since 2009, we have had pay cut after pay cut which has resulted in an average cumulative loss of 13% since 2009.

This is at the same time that money – mostly money from student tuition fees – is pouring into the sector so that there is now an operating surplus inside Higher Education of over £1 billion. We are not talking of a sector that is about to go broke.

Most staff and students were against the introduction of tuition fees and many of us still think that free higher education should be a right in a wealthy country like the UK. Everyone benefits from a highly educated population and the money is there to fund it.

However, now that tuition fees are a reality, where do you think the money should go? Of course, it needs to be spent on buildings and facilities but students also deserve to be taught and supported by motivated and professional staff. Under-paying staff isn’t just an insult to them, it’s also under-valuing degrees themselves and treating education like any other commodity you can buy in a supermarket. The logic of a marketised education system is that of a race to the bottom – with more competition between institutions and more competition for places – which will certainly not benefit the students who are increasingly funding the system.

Our employers want to lower costs wherever possible but at the same time we know that there are over 2,500 people in higher education (mostly very senior managers and vice chancellors) who earn more than £100,000 a year. Ordinary staff, on the other hand, have seen cuts to our pensions and increased workloads over the last few years. How can a demotivated workforce be good for education

Here at Goldsmiths, members of both staff unions, UCU and Unison, are balloting for action. We are also very proud of the close links we have long had with Goldsmiths Students Union. We have campaigned together over course closures, protecting the library and supporting the rights of international students. We really hope that if we are forced to take action in order to defend both our pay and conditions, and a well-resourced, quality education system, we can rely on students’ continuing support.

Very few people go into higher education as a career to be millionaires. I did it because I love teaching and research. But I do want me and all staff to be paid fairly for the work that we do to make sure that we are able to provide a great university education. Goldsmiths staff have so often been on the side of students; I hope that we can encourage students and the community to support us in our campaign against the pay squeeze that the employers are inflicting on us. There is no need nor justification for it.


UCU’s ballot opened on Wednesday September 25 and will close on October 10. A ‘yes’ vote would result in industrial action during the autumn term.

If you are against strike action, we want to hear your views too. Please get in touch.

Leave a Reply