The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) would like to express its solidarity with university academic staff currently engaged in the Marking and Assessment Boycott as part of their demand for restored salaries, the elimination of the gender and race pay gap, workloads and casualization.
As on previous occasions, it is a big step to take but ultimately one of our greatest weapons for causing major disruption to the academic process. Students are understandably angered by university responses to date largely suggesting that they will just predict a grade based on their prior performance – it appears it is easier to ignore all their hard work this semester than to get round the table and negotiate an end to this dispute.
Although there has been little firm progress on many fronts including casualization, the strike action this Spring has secured a major achievement - a rolling back of most of the changes made to our pensions and it is clear that only concerted action will achieve improvements in other areas.
Across the UK, university management is threatening deductions of pay between 30% and 100% for participating in the lawful marking and assessment boycott, deeming the refusal to mark and assess "partial performance". While the legality of such a threat is open to question, we are pleased to see that some universities have already shelved such threats or barely mention them now in their communications. Queen Margaret University, for example, has now rescinded its threat to introduce 100% deductions. While this is good, we must be vigilant regarding attempts to foist boycotted work onto those not taking action, especially vulnerable colleagues who are in precarious roles or those who are migrant workers.
Such a route, however, would be difficult to take and, at most, would only cover some assessments and marking would be not complete by the summer exam boards. The only way to ensure proper marking is to concede to workers' demands. When will the employers recognise that this is their only option?
In the meantime, SFEU will continue to support workers under pressure to mark, will build solidarity across unions and will continue to press for a form of trade unionism that is democratic, horizontal and responsive to the needs of all sectors of the education industry.