On the day UCLU Marxists got to interview branch secretary of the UCU (College lecturers' union) at UCL for the Spark, to help further the cause of striking staff and ensure that the university workers' voice is heard among a wider layer of the students.
UCLU Marxists: Can you tell us a bit about the reasons for the strike today?
Tony: The main issue we are focusing on today is pay. I think it's important to say that the claim the union has put in also includes other important elements. There is an important equalities element to the claim, not just in terms of pay - for example we are asking for the bottom two points of the pay scale to be deleted which will benefits the lowest paid staff. So there is an important equalities agenda we are pursuing, it's not just about pay but pay is the issue. We are asking for a pay rise that matches inflation, as opposed to the lower-than-inflation pay rises that we've had recently, but also elements of catch up. Our pay in real terms is 13 percent less than it was in 2008.
UCLU Marxists: What's the mood amongst the staff?
Tony: Well today we had a lot of people helping us out on the picket line, I would say more than we've seen in recent disputes such as the November 30th dispute in 2011. We've got all around the main UCL campus today and have been supported by members of the public who are tooting us [from their cars], and also by staff and students. All of the indications are the strike is popular and well supported.
UCLU Marxists: How have conditions changed for staff in the past 5 years? Have there been many changes?
Tony: I think there has, I mean UCL along with most employers in the sector has been carrying out a casualisation agenda, albeit quite "carefully" [laughs], without drawing too much attention to itself, and clearly we've seen the rise of sub-contracting which will cause some problems for us today with Unison members - in particular those who work in catering and security - who have not been balloted for strike action, because, technically, they work for different employers. So there are obviously complications that arise from that and that is something that the employers I think have done quite consciously for years. Nonetheless, the core membership supports the campaign. We recruited large numbers of staff to the union and recorded record levels of recruitment in the weeks leading up to the strike.
UCLU Marxists: What are your hopes for the strike in regards to what today will bring?
Tony: Well let's hope that the strike is well supported and that staff recall that they are on strike, that they are actually effective if they are here on the picket line and don't just stay away, so that the employers of UCL report that back to the university college employers association who are bargaining on a national level with the unions involved. And if the strike is well supported lets hope they enter into meaningful negotiations and significantly improve their offer. And then obviously we can look at cancelling future industrial action.
It's important to say that from tomorrow there will be a work-to-contract [UCLU Marxists: A work to rule?] ...effectively a work-to-rule, although legally it's a "work-to-contract", and that will certainly cause a lot of problems for most universities who really speaking rely on the goodwill of staff who work far beyond their contracted 36.5 hours. That is ongoing and there is the potential of extra strike days, back-to-back in November in the run up to Christmas, nothing has been announced yet but the possibility is there. I think after today the employers have to take stock and enter into what we would call genuine negotiations, instead of coming into the room with a "whatever" attitude, "this is the way it's going to happen". Let's hope that the level of disruption caused across the country will persuade them to pull back.
UCLU Marxists: The Marxist society at UCL holds the position that the student movement and student fightback cannot progress further in any meaningful way without linking up with the wider labour movement, which includes the lecturers. What would your message be to the students of UCL?
Tony: Well I think students need to understand that although they're paying record amounts of money for their education - you know, £9,000 - that this money isn't finding its way into the pay packets of staff. And that hits education because it creates lots and lots of practical problems. We've discovered some staff recently, for example, working at UCL, who are being offered self-employed contracts. That leads to a great deal of instability. We know that on the lower pay scale, staff are now visiting food banks because they can't afford to feed themselves. This is really shocking stuff! So it's not in our interest to maintain this situation. The employers are banking the money, and the marketisation that's being forced through, I have to say with some complicity particularly from Russell group institutions who are always leading the charge for higher fees... so be careful what you wish for! ...that marketisation is creating the same kind of problems that you see in the private sector, that universities are banking the money, engaging in risky speculative investment schemes such as the social engineering example of the UCLU plans in Stratford Carpenters estate, which has been shelved for now and rightly so, you can see that creates a great amount of instability in the university staff, staff who should be paid fairly for the work that they do.
UCLU Marxists: That's excellent, thank you very much, and solidarity to the staff from the Marxist society!