Tue, 27/09/2022 - 20:36

Back the Workers on Strike: Don’t go into University today!*

The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) supports the strike action by Leeds University workers in UNISON, as well as the ongoing ballot for industrial action by academic staff in the UCU. We have members in both unions – and you can support them by not crossing the picket line. This means staying out of university buildings while the strike is going on.*

Support staff vs the University: the UNISON dispute

UNISON is currently in dispute with both the University of Leeds and UCEA (the body of employers) nationally. The union at Leeds represents support staff, ranging from porters and estates through to all aspects of administration and student support.

The branch here has had an amazing turnout of 63.68%, with 90.87% voting for strike action. Our main dispute is over pay. Like many public sector workers, we have not had a pay rise in line with inflation for more than 12 years. Every year our pay is worth less and less. For some colleagues, their yearly salary is over £10,000 less than it would have been if pay had matched inflation for those 12 years.

Academic staff vs the University: the UCU dispute

For academic and academic-related staff, the pay offer by the employers (UCEA) stands at an unacceptable 3% in the context of inflation running at over 13%, which is expected to increase. Overall, our pay has depreciated by about 25% over the last 15 or so years. Pensions are still under attack despite a revised evaluation of the pension fund that puts it in the black and undermines previous changes in the pension scheme. While our pensions are cut, the pay of Vice Chancellors soars. Casualisation and the gender/race pay gaps remain largely intact.

The situation in Higher Education is messed up

This all comes at a time when the HE sector has plenty of money. When Vice Chancellors earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. The VC of Leeds got a 7% pay rise to more than a third of a million pounds a year this last year. The UoL boasted more than £1 billion in surplus in 2021-22. Some of the lowest paid staff at the university are struggling to feed themselves and are having to use food banks. Many of us will struggle to heat our homes this winter.

Beyond our main disputes, many colleagues feel undervalued, understaffed and overwhelmed. Many staff in vital support or administrative roles are overworked. Where once there were teams of people doing a job, now there is one person. Some departments literally have only one or a couple of staff supporting key functions across an entire school, or even multiple schools. Workloads have been rising for years, particularly since the pandemic, but resources have not – yet we are expected to do more and more. Many colleagues have been made ill or have quit due to workload.

The problem is division, the solution is syndicalism

For years, the educational workplace has been divided along academic/non-academic/support worker/manual worker lines. This creates a hierarchy which keeps workers divided and pitted against each other.

SFEU is not just another union: we are starting small but ultimately aim to break down these divides and unite everyone under the same banner. We believe in direct democracy, where members control all decisions. There are no paid officials or unaccountable bureaucrats.

Our favoured weapons are direct action, strikes and grassroots organisation on the ground. We have seen these get results many times. In these ways, we return to the syndicalist tactics of the early 20th Century to unite workers in one union with a vision of the new kind of society we want to create.

No managers in unions! Enough is enough! We are the University of Leeds and we deserve better! Our students deserve better! Our staff deserve better!

* Important note: If you are a non-UK student, or any other student whose visa may be affected by non-attendance, it is best to go in if you have to.