Tuesday 3rd December will see university and college staff throughout the country walk out of work in the second day of strike action, as part of a continuing row over pay and conditions.

Higher education workers – including lecturers as well as non-academic staff – have suffered what effectively amounts to a 13% pay cut in real terms since the outbreak of the world economic crisis in 2008, with pay rises consistently staying below inflation and living costs increasing by 15% in the same period. Terms and working conditions are being eroded – as growing casualisation of labour is taking place in the education sector, universities and colleges employ increasing numbers of teaching staff on precarious zero-hour contracts. Unions also highlight the increase in the gender pay gap and the fact that over 4,000 HE employees are paid below the living wage.

Such are the conditions that brought about the decision of UCU, UNISON, and Unite – the main trade unions of the sector – to call for the second nationwide strike on Tuesday 3rd December, following the failure of the first day of strike action on 31 October to win concessions from universities. However, the inspiration provided by the first strike, particularly the scenes of deserted universities and empty lecture halls, and solidarity expressed by students, have only served to increase confidence and draw in new layers to take part in industrial action. On 3 December, the three main HE trade unions will be joined by their Scottish colleagues, EIS. Additionally, UCU members employed in Further Education colleges will be joining the Higher Education university staff, having suffered even higher pay cuts, amounting to 15% in real terms over the past four years.

What does the strike mean for us as students? It is crucial for us to take part in the walk out and stand side by side with our lecturers and non-academic staff on the picket lines, and it is not just for the reasons of concern over the well-being of those who provide our education and services.

The pay and conditions of university staff are being slashed as part of a wider attack on education, which has also seen cuts to courses, introduction of £9,000 tuition fees and the privatisation of student loans. This attack, together with severe austerity measures aimed at other public services, such as the NHS, Royal Mail, disability benefits and the welfare state, is caused by the same problem – it is the result of the ever-deepening crisis of the capitalist system. 

It is for this reason that the struggle by staff for decent pay concerns students as much as the fight for free and decent education. It must be a common and united struggle against the common enemy – the capitalist economic system, which inevitably results in recurring crises, for which workers and youth are made to pay throughout the world, at the expense of their living standards, access to education and healthcare, and any hopes for a decent future. 

Lecturer, cleaner, student and worker alike, we share the interest in fighting for the nationalisation of banks and big business under democratic workers’ control as the only way to secure decent pay and conditions of the university staff and free education of good quality for the students.

By Timur Dautov, UCLU Marxist Society President

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