University & College Union out on strike in Birmingham

Picket of UCU strikers University of Birmingham Friday 3rd December 2021
UCU Picket outside Birmingham University

UCU Picket outside Birmingham University Defending Higher Education

58 universities were hit with three days of strike action from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

Earlier in November UCU members backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay & working conditions.

In the pension ballot, 76% of UCU members who voted backed strike action and 88% voted in favour of action short of strike. In the pay & working conditions ballot more than seven in 10 members who voted (70.1%) backed strike action with 85% (84.9%) voting for action short of strike. The National Union of Students (NUS) is backing staff who are taking industrial action.

The overall turnout on the pension ballot was 53% and on pay & conditions it was 51%. Ballots were disaggregated and 58 branches secured a mandate for strike action. UCU called on university bosses to urgently start negotiating to avoid disruption across UK campuses before Christmas. The disputes are over cuts of 35% to guaranteed pensions, pay cuts, casualisation, equality pay gaps and unsafe workloads.

Last week UCU wrote to employer representatives, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, setting out how university bosses could avoid strike action before Christmas. The union is asking for pension cuts to be revoked; and for employers to improve their pay offer and commit to meaningful agreements and action on casualisation, workload, and equality pay gaps. But employers are currently refusing to revoke pension cuts or to even acknowledge issues like casualisation.

Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers; one third of academic staff are on insecure contracts; the gender pay gap sits at 15% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, under a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black; staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.

As well as the three day walkout, staff at 64 universities have a mandate to take action short of strike [NOTE 2]. This will also begin on Wednesday 1 December and will include strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties. This is set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for.

UCU also intends to reballot a number of branches that missed the 50% turnout threshold imposed by Tory anti-trade union laws. The union said the three day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.

The union intends to escalate its disputes next term. If employers do not make improved offers, further industrial action is likely to continue into the spring, at which point branches that gain a mandate in their reballots will be able to join the action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.

‘UCU has repeatedly asked employers to meet with us to try to resolve these disputes. But while we set out pragmatic solutions that could halt widespread disruption to UK campuses, university bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualisation and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education. 

‘A resolution to this dispute is simple. But if employers remain intent on slashing pensions and exploiting staff who have kept this sector afloat during a pandemic then campuses will face strike action before Christmas, which will escalate into spring with reballots and further industrial action.’

National Union of Students national president Larissa Kennedy said: ‘Students have a rich history of standing shoulder to shoulder with university staff, who have seen their pensions, pay and conditions slashed in recent years. With vice chancellors’ average total pay packets rising to £269,000 per year, it’s clear employers can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms since 2009. Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and we mustn’t forget many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking. The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run.’

A recent report by the Office for Students shows total remuneration for vice chancellor’s averages £269k.

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GKN Workers fighting back to protect jobs in the Midlands

The workers at GKN Erdington are on all out strike from 27th of September in order to save their plant from closure with a potential loss of 520 jobs.

Similarly, jobs losses in the industrial supply chain will follow.

Details of their strike fund for distribution are below:

WM 1% Fund

Unity Trust Bank

Sort Code 60-83-01 Account 20174000

Please send this message around as far and wide as possible to maximise support.

Other events to raise financial and trade union support are in the planning stages and details will be sent out very soon.

In the meantime, Birmingham Trades Council is supporting the GKN workers and is appealing to all Trade Unions affiliated to the Trades Council to do likewise.

Our next delegate meeting scheduled for Thursday 7th October will hear from GKN workers about their fight to preserve their and other jobs in the Midlands that are part of the GKN supply chain.

Details of any future plans will be on our website here over the next few days as we learn more.

Support trade unionists on strike in prisons.

UCU Novus members working in prison education have been on strike Tuesday 11 May, and Wednesday 12 May in a dispute over health and safety. This covers 49 prisons and young offenders’ institutions and is the first time a prison education branch has taken industrial action.

The row centres on the employer Novus’s failure to meaningfully engage with UCU over Covid health and safety concerns and on-site provision. Also, Novus has refused to drop complaints and investigations against staff who have raised safety concerns – unfounded allegations and without reference to any formal procedures and against natural justice. As these staff are UCU’s health and safety representatives, UCU believes it is impossible for the employer to meaningfully engage in health and safety discussions until this intimidation stops.

Please support your colleagues. If ever there was a time to stand up and support your union colleagues, now is the time. Due to members’ fear of reprisals, there will be limited social media use. However you can fill this gap by taking the following actions:

Your support will give the branch a real boost – please send your messages today. You can find out more about the background to the dispute here.

About Birmingham TUC

Since its foundation in 1866, Birmingham Trades Union Council has brought together local trade union branches to support working people in their workplaces and within local communities. It continues to provide a coordinating centre for affiliated trade union branches to protect and advance the interests of workers in Birmingham.

Officers & Executive Committee members 2022

President – Martin Hoare (Unite)
Secretary – Phil Child (Unite)
Vice President – Carl Jones (UCU)
Assistant Secretary – Elio di Muccio (UCU)
Treasurer – Darcy Luke (UCU)
Equalities Officer – Dave Muritu (Unite)
Anti-Racist Officer – Farheen Ahmed (Unite)
Executive Committee Members – Lucy Baines (Artists Union), Kirsten Forkert (UCU), Mark Holland (Unite), John Kelsey (Unite), Pat Collins (RMT), Stephen Booth (Unison), Catherine Christian (Unite), David Bailey (UCU), Rory Shannon (Unison), Alison Dingle (Unison)

How to Affiliate

BTUC meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month and are open to anyone interested in trade unionism in Birmingham, whether part of an affiliated branch or not. However, we welcome new affiliations and would encourage members across the region to ask your branch to affiliate. The annual affiliation fee rate is set out in the BTUC constitution. All enquiries regarding affiliation can be sent directly to the Secretary at secretary.btuc@gmail.com

Affiliated Branches 2020-21

  • Artists’ Union (1)
    • Birmingham
  • BFAWU (1)
    • Birmingham District Office (331)
  • CWU (1)
    • Birmingham
  • GMB (1)
    • Birmingham Public Services
  • MU (1)
    • Birmingham
  • NEU (1)
    • Birmingham
  • NUJ (1)
    • Birmingham
  • PCS (1)
    • EFRA
  • RMT (1)
    • Birmingham
  • UCU (3)
    • Birmingham City University
    • University of Birmingham
    • Retired Members
  • Unison (2)
    • Birmingham
    • University of Birmingham
  • Unite (11)
    • Birmingham South/6030
    • Birmingham Central/6010
    • Community WM/5112
    • Community North/5114
    • WM 7147
    • WM 7342
    • WM7685
    • LE/7076L
    • LE/975
    • 76KS
    • IA/76

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