Bristol university workers on strike in October 2013
On 3 December university and college workers will be taking action. This strike day involves UCU, Unison and Unite members working in universities who struck on 31 October, now joined by further education (FE) members of UCU in England and higher education (HE) members of EIS in Scotland.
In HE, the employers' organisation UCEA returned to negotiations with the unions, but did not improve on the initial pay offer of 1% that triggered the dispute. Rattled by the 31 October strike, they have asked the individual employers to impose 1%. University workers are fully aware, however, that their employers have multi-million-pound surpluses and reserves while staff incomes have fallen by 13% in real terms since 2008.
FE staff have similarly experienced a 15% real-terms pay cut in the last four years, and have just rejected their employers' offer of a 0.7% increase - that is, another below-inflation rise - with over 70% voting tostrike. This doubtless reflects the anger union members feel when research shows that over half the lecturers in FE work ten hours' unpaid overtime during an average week, for dwindling pay.
Many student unions and the NUS nationally have passed resolutions in favour of the action, with Socialist Students and other campaigning groups building support. Ultimately our interests are all the same - for a public, fully-funded education system, free at the point of use and democratically run.
This background makes the coordinated national strike action particularly positive - the more unions that can be brought out together, the greater chance of success. At the same time, it is important for each dispute to have a strategy and to keep its own momentum.
Industrially, we need to work to build for a 24-hour general strike against austerity; and politically, trade unionists and students need to consider the question of an alternative to the three parties of austerity. Education is been under attack - we need to fight to defend it!