The University and College Union (UCU) is now in its third week of strike action over pensions, pay, equality issues, workload and casualization of the sector. Although developments are being kept pretty much in secret, branches have pressed the Union leadership for an open discussion and ratification of any agreements that we may collectively come to. Some branches have also been discussing what the next step could entail if there is insufficient progress. While the sector does not have a huge amount of power in some senses, unless railway unions or NHS workers, universities are increasingly concerned about their reputations in a competitive education “market”, especially when it comes to high fee payment international students and loss of income due to a lack of grant applications from governments, agencies and trusts.
We are in the midst of the country’s biggest university strike ever in a dispute over pensions and the “four fights” of equality, pay, workload and casualization. On the last front, in some universities, there are up to 70% of lecturers who are on hourly paid or fixed term contracts. These are convenient for universities in what has grown to be a highly casualized sector but provide no security for workers who have often trained for up to ten years in their chosen subject. The representation of women and BME workers is also a key issue that the University and College Union is seeking action on. If we consider those in the higher positions of what is a heavily hierarchical university world, most are white and most are male.