University workers across ELL’s boroughs walked out on strike today, as thousands of university staff joined nationwide industrial action demanding higher pay.
Queen Mary, London Metropolitan and Goldsmiths universities participated in the third full-day strike of this academic year, with picket lines stationed throughout their campuses.
The unions backing the strike –UCU, Unite, and UNISON– claim that the 1 per cent pay increase offered by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association is the equivalent of a 13 per cent drop in real-term wages over the past five years.
In an official statement, UNISON called UCEA’s offer “miserly.”
Tom Henri, president of Goldsmiths UCU, said: “The employers who’ve imposed this one per cent pay rise have been awarded fantastic pay awards. The Vice-Chancellor at Goldsmiths has been awarded a 9 per cent pay rise, which we think is unjust.”
London Met UNISON Branch Chair, Maggie Loughran, echoed Henri’s sentiments.
She said: “We still have university workers coming to the unions and saying, ‘We haven’t enough money to pay our bills.’ We help them all as much as we can. But we are in London; we have a very high [cost of living]. So we’re just going to stand and fight.”
Henri conceded that one-day strikes often have “very little consequence for university managers who can afford to wait it out.” He explained that “ramping up industrial action” could be more effective, and included the possibility of a marking boycott, in which lecturers would refuse to mark exams.
Martin Donkin, a student welfare adviser at Queen Mary, also discussed the possibility of a marking boycott.
He said: “[The boycott] is absolutely not what anybody wants, [but] we may have no other option, and that means that people don’t graduate with their degrees. It would be terrible, but that might be the ultimate option. We hope it’s not necessary.”
Donkin added that staff at Queen Mary are planning to go on another full-day strike next Monday, instead of the two-hour strike planned at other universities next week.
“Our [employer] is taking a particularly hardline approach to the staff who are on strike” Donkin said. “They are actually going to be deducting an entire day’s pay for a two-hour strike, so the strike is inflamed at this institution.”
Cleaners, caterers, security guards and support staff, along with university lecturers, participated in the strike. Students at all three universities manned picket lines in support of their lecturers.
Joshua Ogunley, a Goldsmiths student studying economics and member of the Young Socialist Students Society, said: “This is all about education. I’m much more confident that I’m [getting a good education] if I know my lecturer is well-paid and can focus their energy on teaching me.”
Ben Gray, 22, a Queen Mary student studying comparative literature said: “I lose a lot less than [university workers] do. I can always make that up. These people are working for their livelihoods, so I support them.”
Reporting by Yuan Li, Hetty Abdul Khamid and Hajera Blagg