University staff are preparing for strike action over pay this autumn after the three biggest campus unions backed campaigns to force up the employers’ offer of just 1%.
Lecturers’ union UCU voted for strikes by 61.5 to 38.5% and action short (generally seen as a more effective tactic in the sector) by 77 to 33%. 64% of Unite members backed strikes, and Unison members also did so by a slim margin.
Pay has slumped by 13% in real terms since 2009. The higher education sector has an operating surplus of over £1 billion and can well afford to pay up. As a percentage of university budgets pay has fallen from 58% in 2001-2 to 55.5% in 2011-12, but at the same time for those at the top salaries have risen. Over 2,500 people working in higher education earn more than £100,000 a year, but almost two-thirds of manual workers in the sector are paid less than £17,329. Even among managerial, professional and technical staff, generally seen as a well-paid group, 39% earn less than £31,020 a year. The marketisation of education is making the university a less and less equal place to work.
Students have a vital role to play in building solidarity with this struggles. Not just to support the fight for pay, but because universities are bound to try and play off the interests of students and workers. We should be clear from the start: decent pay for staff must not mean higher tuition fees for students.
These strikes are important not just in universities and colleges but because of their potential to revive struggles across the public sector and beyond. The confidence of many workers has been shaken by the failures of leadership in the fight over pensions.
A victory in this dispute will demonstrate the power of industrial action.