Lunchtime protest outside the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) in London. Photo: Graham Kirkwood Lunchtime protest outside the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) in London. Photo: Graham Kirkwood

Higher education (HE) workers across the country took the first of two consecutive days’ strike action in the campaign for fair pay. Graham Kirkwood reports 

Lecturers are taking strike action in response to a pitiful 1.1% pay offer. There are three main issues fuelling the dispute.

1. Gender inequality. Male university staff earn on average 12.6% more than their female colleagues.

2. Casualisation. 75,000 university staff are on temporary contracts, more than 21,000 are on zero hours contracts.

3. Declining value of salaries. Since 2009 the value of pay has dropped by 14.5% while vice chancellors (the big bosses) have seen theirs rise ahead of inflation year on year. Vice-chancellors are now paid 6.4 times that of the average member of university of staff.

From my experience the day went well. I work in the medical school at Queen Mary University in East London and we had more pickets out today than on previous strike days with new members taking part.

The highlight for me was the postal worker who took his bags out of his van and said to me “do you want me to go through or not”. They respected our picket lines at both the Mile End (the main campus) and Whitechapel campuses. We are very grateful and owe them one. It is worth mentioning for anyone in a similar situation that the local CWU branch were contacted beforehand and the word had gone out.

Tomorrow we do the same again. We think we recruited some new members today who will hopefully join us on the picket line tomorrow. I hope the council workers who said they supported us as they emptied the rubbish will feel confident enough tomorrow to leave it sitting. We need their solidarity.

We suffered today from there being a lack of students around given the time of the year. And the union needs to address the issue of student fees seriously. It is one thing to talk of the surplus of over a billion pounds which exists in HE and ask where our share is, but the fact that this money is coming from students who are accumulating huge debts simply to gain an education is a big problem.

In my opinion, the university bosses have joined the gravy train and have given up on any commitment to higher education. They accept the growing inequality in society –  the acceleration of their salaries tells its own story. Our fight for fairness in pay and job security is part of a bigger fight for a fair and accessible education system, free for all to benefit from.