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Dispatches from the picket lines, Monday 21 February

21 February 2022

Image: Swansea University/Prifysgol AbertaweToday we saw strike action at 68 universities, as UCU members walked out over rampant casualisation, the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps, dangerous workloads, and pay erosion in the Four Fights dispute, and a 35% cut to their guaranteed pensions in the USS dispute. The presidential team visited picket lines at Northumbria University, Newcastle University, Ulster University, and Queen's University Belfast. Reports and photos from UCU's regional officials and branches show everyone continuing to be in high spirits. We continue to be very thankful for the solidarity from the National Union of Students (NUS), and we've also seen students supporting the strike occupying university buildings (at Sheffield for instance). There's also been excellent turnouts at online events where UCU members had to stay home due to Storm Franklin.

I was in the BBC studios this morning making our case on Politics Live (you can watch the full programme on BBC iPlayer; our segment begins at around 37:00). Universities can more than afford to meet our demands: the total income across the sector is around £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn. On average, vice-chancellors enjoy full pay packages of £269k per year. And at universities where VCs take home an eye-watering £450k-£500k every year, there are also among the highest rates of staff precarity in the whole sector. Even Bim Afolami MP (Conservative) agreed that 'fundamentally, the universities do have the resources' to give staff fair pay and dignified working conditions. It's time for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to come back to the negotiating table with meaningful action over casualisation, workload and pay inequality, and with a more serious pay offer--especially as inflation has now hit a 30-year high (RPI 7.8%). UCU's campaigns team has this morning released a tool that allows you to email your VC over our 'Four Fights', so please get sending and encourage your students to do the same.

On Sunday, I wrote in the Financial Times on the USS dispute and today's USS funding update reveals that the deficit, on which the brutal cuts are premised, has actually shrunk by around 80% whilst the scheme's assets have soared to more than £90bn. The already weak justification for university bosses' attack on USS pensions has now completely evaporated, and again we urge Universities UK (UUK) to stop their campaign of disinformation over UCU's compromise counter-proposals. Please also continue to use UCU's tool to email your VC over USS, and make sure that your voices are heard.

Finally, please keep checking the Met Office's weather forecast and warnings, follow your branch's advice, and make sure you wrap up warm tomorrow at picket lines and rallies. If you're in Edinburgh, do join the UCU/NUS 'Rally for Education' at the Scottish Parliament (assemble at 12:30). There's also a UCU strike demo happening in London.


Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Dispatches from the picket lines:
Thursday 17 February
Wednesday 16 February
Tuesday 15 February
Monday 14 February

Last updated: 3 March 2022