Why are lecturers on strike this week? An open letter to Goldsmiths students.

FairPayDear Goldsmiths students

The University College Union (UCU) has called a national strike for 25-26 May, Wednesday and Thursday this week. Many academics and support staff will be cancelling all teaching, administration and office hours on both days. This is a way to put pressure on universities to meet our demands.

Why is the strike happening?

Ultimately the strike is about the future of higher education across the country. In particular, lecturers are making three key demands.

  • end the shocking gender pay gap in the profession. Women working as academics earn much less than their male counterparts. Nationally in Higher Education, the pay gap is 12.6% More details
  • greatly reduce the proportion of staff on insecure contracts like fixed-term posts and zero hours contracts. 75,000 members of university staff nationally are on these sorts of contracts.
  • a pay raise of 5%, to begin to make up for the erosion of our pay by inflation. Academics’ pay has fallen by 14.5% in real terms since 2009. Imagine what you’d do with a 14.5% cut in your loan or your own wages. Imagine what friends or family who are working would say to a 14.5% cut. We’re not asking for a real terms raise, just one that keeps pace with the rising cost of living. The universities have offered us just 1.1%!

Doesn’t a strike just hurt the students?

It is not the intention of your lecturers for their industrial action to impact adversely on their students, and we do all we can to ensure this doesn’t happen. Just like the junior doctors, sometimes it is necessary to withdraw our labour temporarily to demonstrate to our employers what an important job we do all day every day. The aim of the strike is to ensure better quality education for all involved, in a university that actually puts gender equality into practice, so that students can be well taught by lecturers who are given adequate time to prepare for classes and receive a fair wage in return.

Lecturers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions!

It’s austerity, everyone’s taking a pay cut

Except they aren’t. Last week the Times Higher Education magazine published the latest round of pay increases for vice-chancellors (VCs) and principals which showed an annual increase in pay and benefits of 6.1% for those at the top (excluding pensions) with one in five universities giving their leaders a rise of 10% or more.

The average salary of university Vice-Chancellors is now more than a quarter of a million pounds. At Goldsmiths the Warden’s parlay is £232,000 a 100% increase on the 2004-5 figure.  

This dispute is part of a larger fight about the political and financial priorities of our institutions. It comes in the wake of the government’s Education White Paper which threatens to further entrench the marketization of education while devaluing those who teach and contribute to learning and saddling students with yet more debt.

We need a united fight back.

What students can do?

You can sign this petition, organised by a group of students nationally https://www.change.org/p/petition-support-fair-pay-for-our-university-staff

On Wednesday and Thursday the UCU will be asking everybody not to cross the picket line. A picket line is a symbolic barrier. When a picket line is in place your lecturers (who are on strike) ask you not to make use of university buildings or services. Whether or not to cross a picket line is entirely your decision. We ask you to make sure, however, that it is an informed decision.

On strikes in previous years, many students came themselves to the picket line as supporters, to show their solidarity with the staff and discuss our mutual goal of securing quality and freely accessible education for all, provided by well-paid and valued staff.

We will be holding a teach out from 11am on both days outside the library and hope you will join us and participate. (see full details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1045220088899213/)

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