On 2 February, UCEA (the Universities and Colleges Employers Association) made a final pay offer to UCU members in higher education (HE) of an insulting 0% pay rise for the coming year; in other words, a real-terms pay cut.
The union is now consulting members on the offer, and is advising rejection. Socialist Appeal supporters firmly echo this.
But we should also add: not only must we reject this appalling ‘offer’; we also need to call for national, co-ordinated action to address all of the ongoing attacks in higher education.
The present offer picks up where the question of pay was left before the pandemic. In 2019, employers also made an offer of 0%, and members took strike action in protest. The dispute was never closed, but was overtaken by the COVID pandemic.
Now, the pandemic – with associated health and safety concerns and redundancies – is causing a wave of local actions. The new 0% offer adds to this picture of anger, frustration, and recovering militancy.
Given the parallel dispute over the 0% pay offer for Unison workers in HE, there is clearly a great deal of potential for co-ordinated action over pay. Indeed, these sorts of attacks are likely to become the norm across the public sector. The union must therefore make the achievement of co-ordinated action a top priority.
Strength through struggle
So far, however, the union leadership has been lacklustre in drawing the attention of members and the public to this latest attack. This leaves doubts about how energetically the UCU leaders would build for strike action.
Some elements in the union – including groups supportive of the Grady leadership – are sceptical of strike action. Instead, they propose a ‘clever’ strategy involving targeted (that is, limited) action, such as boycotts of marking and the Research Excellence Framework (REF).
Clearly, when we strike, we must ensure that it is as effective as possible. As such, strikes need to be built for: patiently, enthusiastically, and energetically.
What’s more, they must be understood politically – as part of a process of giving workers confidence to fight the attacks of the ruling class, which are a product of the deep crisis of capitalism that is bearing down on the whole of society.
It is through collective organisation and struggle that workers gain a sense of their own power; of the fact that not a lightbulb shines and not a telephone rings without their efforts.
And strike action is the strongest expression of this: bringing workers together, and demonstrating who really counts as ‘essential’ – the workers, not fat-cat university bosses and well-paid vice-chancellors.
Unite and fight!
To achieve the maximum effectiveness, unity, and strength of any strike action, the union should take the following steps:
- Coordinate action nationally – don’t leave it to the initiative of individual branches.
- Coordinate with other unions entering into dispute, particularly Unison. Strong UCU branches should share resources with other campus unions to help bolster turnout and ensure united action.
- Call on the TUC to organise a one-day general strike in the public sector, to galvanise opposition to the coming wave of Tory austerity and attacks.
- Initiate discussions amongst union members about an all-out strike, rather than the limited periods of action seen previously.
This is not a time for retreat or half-measures, but for further escalation in our fight. United, we can win!