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220228 universities are their people people matter most

Dispatches from the picket lines, Monday 28 February

28 February 2022

Image: 'Universities are their people: people matter most', from the Swansea UCU picket line.Today UCU members at 63 universities continued strike action in their fight against casualisation and precarity; gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps; dangerous workloads; and pay erosion. You can follow some of the action here. At University of Bristol, students have occupied the Wills Memorial Building. We also continue to receive support and solidarity from MPs across the UK, for instance: Chris Matheson MP and Justin Madders MP (who visited the picket lines at University of Chester); Navendu Mishra MP (Manchester Met and University of Manchester); John McDonnell MP (Goldsmiths); Mary Kelly Foy MP (Durham); Tommy Sheppard MP (Edinburgh); Jeremy Corbyn MP (Birkbeck); Alex Norris MP (Nottingham); Olivia Blake MP (Sheffield Hallam and University of Sheffield); Alex Sobel MP and Richard Burgon MP (Leeds). A special shout out to UNISON members at University of Leeds and City, University of London, who joined UCU on strike today. 

In today's dispatches, I want to focus on casualisation. We know that one-third of all academic staff--around 75,000 people--are on precarious contracts. Around 3,500 are on zero-hour contracts. Our academic related and professional services (ARPS) colleagues are also at the sharp end of casualisation; many are also employed via agencies or subsidiary companies that offer vastly inferior terms and conditions. Effectively, UK universities have deteriorated into an enormous machine of exploitation that is only able to keep the show on the road using an army of precarious staff, squeezing every last drop of labour and goodwill out of everybody.

UCU's demands are simple and moderate: we want staff to be able to move from hourly-paid to fractional contracts; we want a nationally agreed framework to eliminate precarious employment practices across higher education; and we want national guidance to end the outsourcing of support services and bring staff into in-house employment. Unfortunately the employers' representative, Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), doesn't believe that casualisation is even worth discussing--and that's why UCU members have to stand at picket lines through the wind and the rain. You should continue to use UCU's tool to email your vice-chancellors to make sure that your thoughts are heard on this crucial issue that threatens the livelihood of so many colleagues, the learning conditions of our students, and ultimately the future of the higher education sector.

I'm once again asking you to donate anything you can to the UCU fighting fund, especially if you're in a non-striking branch, to support many of the members on casualised contracts who have been on strike. You can buy one of CWU's 'Direct Action' mugs: UCU's fighting fund will receive £2 for every mug sold. You can also take a look at Vessel and Bridge's strike print: again all profits will go to UCU's fighting fund.

Finally, I know that many UCU members are disturbed by the heart-breaking images and stories that have been coming out of Ukraine in the past few days. Please click here to read the statement from the Trades Union Congress (TUC). We send our solidarity to all the people of Ukraine, including our Ukrainian trade union sisters and brothers, the staff and students at Ukrainian universities, and Ukrainian staff and students at UK universities. UCU is making a £1,000 donation to UNICEF's emergency appeal.


Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Click here to read earlier editions of 'Dispatches from the picket lines'.

Last updated: 3 March 2022