The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) would like to express its heartfelt thanks for the support shown by students at recent graduation ceremonies. The Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) has been a difficult time for both staff and students, but it is clear that we stand in solidarity together against those institutions that would rather penalise its workers than negotiate with them. At some institutions, the MAB has had such a huge impact that graduation and classification of degrees has been severely affected. These huge sacrifices in terms of both pay and of grades demonstrate that that together we can make a difference and cracks are starting to show in the employers' association (UCEA), with one university, Queen's University Belfast, being suspended from UCEA for breaking ranks and brokering a local agreement.
As the number of management teams at Universities across the country show their willingness to re-open negotiations in order to limit the damage of the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) currently underway, there are some institutions that continue to threaten 100% reductions for "partial performance" of work. In the past, this kind of employer's lockout, when bosses refuse to pay you for any work done, has been upheld by the courts. Here at SFEU, the anarcho-syndicalist union in education, we would be surprised if the courts would act any differently - the courts do not reflect our interests but those of the people who control society in their benefit.
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.
The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) is a new union that cuts across the divide and has members in different education sectors within the same workplace. Here is the view of one of our student members on the current University strikes being taken by Unite, UCU and Unison, among other unions. Our power lies in organisation and in a unitary union based on direct democracy.
"What about the students?"
What about us? I'm a student, I support the strikes. Most of my friends are students, they do too. In fact, from my time attending rallies and picket lines (and generally chatting with people around me), I haven't spoken to a student who confidently stands against the strikes, I've only heard rumours they exist.
Unison, Unite, EIS, GMB and UCU have all proceded to cancel their strikes as a result of decisions by their union General Secretaries or Executives, a position that emerges out of the ACAS talks. To the majority of members of these unions, it's not clear exactly what they've been offered beyond a "limited improvement" to the pay offer for 2022-23. After so much sacrifice, this doesn't sound great. For Unison, as with UCU, there was no consultation with members and branches before the 'pause' was agreed.
The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) condemns the decision made by the General Secretary of UCU to suspend the current strike action, a step that has been taken in UCU's words "To allow our ongoing negotiations to continue in a constructive environment we have agreed to pause action across our pay and pension disputes for the next two weeks and create a period of calm". Nothing concrete, as far as we can see, has been agreed by the employers. Even on the pensions front, according to the UCU statement, we are told that we are only "at the start of a process" that will restore benefits. We believed that the start of the process was when we were considering to ballot for strike action, not now after several days of lost pay and management threats.
The Solidarity Federation Education Union (SFEU) utterly condemns Leeds University management’s contemptuous disregard for the nationally agreed strike protocols in threatening 100% wage deductions for "partial performance" of duties and in demanding that cancelled lectures be somehow replaced in the future. A strike by definition means the withholding of our labour, not simply re-arranging that labour to another day. Staff members are not paid when they strike - replacing cancelled lectures just adds to the unpaid workload that caused staff to strike in the first place and dilutes the impact of the industrial action.
In a recent informal UCU poll, over 80% of those who voted, declared their opposition to the latest employers' offer. This offer, while it did represent some improvement on pay, did little to reassure University and College workers on the question of historical pay decline and on issues such as casualisation. The strike continues and we must force UCEA to come up with a much better deal. Education workers will stay out till they do.
SFEU supports the upcoming Further and Higher Education strikes, due to begin on 1 February and to be spread over 18 days between then and the end of March. This is a welcome escalation and our best bet for a positive outcome (short of an all-out strike). This wave of strike action will seriously disrupt teaching right at the beginning of the new semester and beyond, but the key issues of growing casualization, wage theft, pension degradation and untenable workloads remain unresolved, universities need to be held to account. If our voices are still not heard, we need to get behind and implement the marking and assessment boycott, timed for maximum effect in May and June.
We also encourage individuals to organise locally to tackle these problems, communicate with your colleagues who face the same conditions - strength in numbers gets results.
Grading dispute at a University in Wales
According to a UCU report, the university sector has been systematically trying to downgrade roles amongst its academic staff in an attempt to save money i.e. expecting a Grade 6 to do work previously done by a Grade 7.
A comrade at a university in Wales is taking direct action in the form of a work to rule by following the published HERA role and person profiles which set out quite clearly the responsibilities of each grade. At present, rather than re-grading the role to a 7, one by one the Grade 7 duties are now officially being removed. The hope is these successes will encourage collective action by the other Grade 6’s.