Camden UNISON Branch Secretary Liz Wheatley hands cheques for £326.76 to UCU strikers at UCL, Gower St
UCU members in universities continued their 14 days of action this week with picket lines, protests and teach-outs.
The dispute centres on the sustainability of the staff pension scheme (known as the USS) including rising contribution costs for members, and on universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
UCU members at 60 universities walked out for eight days in November and December last year in action that affected around one million students. This next wave of strikes affects another 14 universities and an additional 200,000 students, as more UCU branches crossed a 50% turnout threshold required by law for them to take industrial action.
As well as the strike days, union members are undertaking “action short of a strike”. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students. If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.”
At the Camden UNISON AGM we heard from a striker about what it’s like to work in a university today, and we voted unanimously to support their strike action and make a donation from the branch. A further £126.76 was collected by members in the meeting.
UNISON members working for Tower Hamlets Council and in Community Schools are getting ready to take strike action after smashing through the Tory industrial action threshold of 50% turnout. Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action to stop the imposition of a new contract that would worsen their terms and conditions. The ballot result was 98% of members in schools and 89.6% in councils voting to come out on strike!
Strikes will take place on 24 March and 1 and 2 April, with more dates planned after Easter. Camden UNISON will be publicising any marches/rallies and protests that members can support as soon as we have the details. It’s some time since we’ve had a strike across a whole Council and so they need to know fellow trade union members support them. Tower Hamlets UNISON was the single biggest donor to our traffic wardens when they were on strike, and members visited their picket lines and came on our marches so it’s time for us to return the solidarity! Camden UNISON has already agreed to send a message of support and make a donation to to both trade unions involved (UNISON and NEU, the teachers’ union).
The new Council contract will include cutting a range of allowances, slash severance pay, reduce the current flexi scheme and worsen pay on some grades.
The council are ironically calling the new contract ‘Tower Rewards’ but UNISON has rebranded it ‘Tower Robbery’.
The council issued 12 weeks’ notice to all council staff meaning if they don’t accept the new contract they will be sacked and out of a job on the 13 April 2020.
UNISON is now in talks with the NEU to coordinate strike action after teachers impacted by Tower Robbery also successfully voted to take industrial action.
Assistant Branch Secretary, Kerie Anne, said: “The council’s treatment of hardworking and dedicated staff providing public services has been shocking, as has the behaviour from senior managers through the consultation process. Rather than wearing UNISON members down it has had the opposite effect and galvanised the workforce to fight back. Disappointingly senior managers have not spoken to UNISON branch officers for months, preferring to communicate instead by a series of formal letters threatening to take the union to court to stop its ballots and raising other frivolous complaints. Now that they are faced with a concrete threat of a strike that has the potential to shut this borough down, Tower Hamlets Council must abandon its high handed and aggressive methods and begin genuine talks with us to settle this dispute.”
This week Camden UNISON officers joined University and College Union members on strike at their rally in Tavistock Square outside their employer’s HQ.
UCU members in 74 colleges began 14 days of strike action over pay, workload, equality, casualisation and pensions. The rally was extremely well attended by members from several colleges.
All of the speakers emphasised how important this struggle will be to determine the kind of education system for both staff and students. Plans are afoot to transform the educational sector in to a ‘free for all’ service industry where university and colleges compete with each other for student numbers by cutting academic posts, conditions and equality standards.
Liz Wheatley, Camden UNISON branch secretary, brought our solidarity to the rally, and spoke about our experience of successes like the NSL traffic wardens. She also spoke about how education should be valued, and without funding, how would we have the answers to address things like the climate emergency?
Issues that UCU members are on strike about have long being the focus of Camden UNISON’s campaigns, and our branch will support in any way it can other unions involved in the same fights.
Since 2009, pay in Local Government has fallen by 22% in real terms while the cost of living has skyrocketed. That means every week, you work one day for free compared to 10 years ago!
Our current national pay award comes to an end in March 2020 so UNISON has submitted a claim for a 10% pay increase for council and school workers. The claim also includes one additional day annual leave, a two hour reduction in the standard working week and a comprehensive review of the workplace causes of stress.
Inflation is forecast to reach 3% by 2023, which means that the cost of living will grow by over 15% in the next 4 years. And at the same time as pay has gone down, transport has gone up by 51%, electricity 48%, house prices 37% and childcare costs 32%.
We deserve a decent pay rise and we must be prepared to fight for it if necessary.