Union sign on billboard
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'Biggest Ever' UCU Strike Begins

Ellen Knight November 25, 2022

The University and College Union (UCU) has claimed that its ongoing strike is ‘the biggest in the history of higher education.’

On Thursday, an estimated 70,000 lecturers, researchers, and academic staff joined picket lines at universities across the UK in a strike for better pay, working conditions, and pensions.

Other university staff, such as caterers and cleaners, are also striking for improved pay and working conditions, as part of the Unison and Unite unions.

150 higher education institutes have seen walkouts – and the UCU says that 2.5m students could be impacted.

‘Pay is abysmal’

The UCU’s general secretary Jo Grady said at a University of Manchester picket line that staff were at ‘breaking point’, and that strikes were the only option left.

She continued: ‘Pay is abysmal, falling 25% since 2009. Our pensions have been cut 35% despite the fact the scheme is in surplus and we could easily restore that cut.

‘We also have a system where a third of academic staff – 90,000 people – are employed on insecure contracts.

‘Staff are working weekends as routine to keep the show on the road. There is nothing else we can do other than take strike action to change the sector.’

‘Unrealistic’

The UCU is demanding a pay increase that recognises the impact of the cost of living crisis, as well as ending unstable short-term contracts. The Bank of England raised interest rates to 3% this year to curb inflation.

As far as pensions are concerned, the union is calling on their employers to reverse this year’s changes – they say otherwise the average member will lose 35% of their pension.

But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) told the Guardian that the first strike day saw ‘isolated levels of disruption.’

The UCEA’s chief executive Raj Jethwa said: “Despite the initial feedback from higher education institutions suggesting low and isolated impact on students, it is saddening if even a single student misses out on a lecture because of industrial action.

‘Strike action will do nothing to support students, staff or the many HE institutions working hard to avoid redundancies or maintain staffing levels.’

Jethwa told the Guardian that the UCU’s request for a pay increase of 13.6% was ‘unrealistic.’

‘UCU leaders must provide its members with a realistic and fair assessment of what is achievable because strike action does not create new sector money,’ he added.

‘Our struggles are inextricably linked’

The National Union of Students is supporting the industrial action – its Vice President, Chloe Field, stated that ‘students stand in solidarity with university staff going on strike.’

She added that university staff are ‘struggling under the pressures of increased workloads, falling pay, cuts to their pensions and insecure work,’ and that ‘universities and employers should agree to UCU’s demands.’

‘We exist in the same system and our struggles are inextricably linked. Only by coming together and showing solidarity with each other can we achieve the real and lasting change we want for everyone who works and studies in this country.’

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Ellen is a freelance journalist studying MA Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University. Her work has appeared in publications such as Teen Vogue and Al Jazeera, and tends to focus on politics and current affairs. Her involvement in student radio station Burn FM lead to an interview she conducted winning Student Radio Moment of the Year in 2022. She has been writing for Freshered since February 2022. You can follow her on Twitter @ellenmjknight