Autumn action fists

Four more days - let's make them count

28 November 2019

As we approach the halfway point in our eight-day strike action, I'm writing to update you on how the strikes and our talks with employers have been going.

Our excellent ballot results have been backed up by incredibly strong support for the action across the sector. I've visited picket lines and attended rallies in Brighton, in Liverpool, in London, and today in Birmingham and Sheffield. Throughout the UK branches have been reporting their biggest numbers ever on the picket lines. Despite the weather members are coming out in force to show that they are willing to shut universities down if that's what it takes to make progress on our fundamental demands. Those of you whose branches are not on strike, please make a donation to the UCU fighting fund.

Just as importantly, we've had fantastic support from the student population. Student unions in a number of institutions have voted to support us and every rally I've been to has been packed with students as well as staff. You can get a taste of what's happening by visiting our website or following us on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

Negotiations update

There are signs that the action is having an effect. In our 'four fights' dispute over pay, equality, job security and workload, employers have finally conceded that they are open to discussing national agreements with us on the last three of those issues. This came after months and indeed years in which their representative body, UCEA, claimed to have no mandate to negotiate on any issue other than pay.

It's a genuine shame that we have been forced to create this level of disruption to make employers negotiate with us. Even worse, employers remain unwilling to improve on their headline pay offer of a 1.8% increase - which will see wages fall further behind the cost of living. For now, they seem more interested in heavy-handed efforts to erode student-staff solidarity and other strike-breaking tactics than they are in resolving the dispute.

We're facing a similar impasse in our negotiations over USS. Employers are making vague promises about the way they will approach the next USS valuation in 2020, but so far they refuse to put money on the table to cover the contribution increases that are already pricing members out of the scheme. We have been here before: we suspended the last dispute in good faith without any material concessions because we trusted employers to help us press USS to accept the JEP's recommendations. This time we need them to foot the bill for failing to do that - otherwise they will have no incentive to work with us to reform the scheme.

Four more days - let's make them count

What we need to do now is make the next four days just as inspiring as the first four have been. Those of you who are currently taking action, please keep joining the picket lines, keep making the strike visible on social media, and keep doing what you can to recruit more of your colleagues to our cause - whatever you've done so far is working, because we've had thousands of people joining the union to take part in the strikes.

It sometimes takes action on a large scale to achieve meaningful change. It shouldn't have to, but that's the way things are when you are dealing with stubborn employers who refuse to listen. Recently at Nottingham College, our fellow members in the further education sector took 15 days of action and were ready to embark on another wave of strikes when their employer finally gave in and yielded to all of their demands.

The lesson from Nottingham College is that sustained, well-organised industrial action works. Employers eventually realise that we are not backing down and that the cost of further disruption will be higher for them than the cost of treating us fairly. Let's not forget that as we get ready for the next four days.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

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