Why staff and students came together to strike on October 31, 2013.
Strike day was incredible: the spirit of solidarity, the excitement, the chanting, the feeling that the staff can win their pay dispute. Some, though, were critical of the staff’s decision to strike, labelling it “disruptive” and an “inconvenience”.
Higher Education staff have had their pay slashed 13% in real terms in the last five years. This, in the words of Will Hutton of The Observer, is “the most sustained cut in wages suffered by any profession since the Second World War.” Union Unison estimates that this has cost individual members of staff between £600 and £1,200 a year.
But the strike was not solely about pay. Higher Education is now second only to catering as the sector which employs the most casualised workers. This is largely a result of universities focusing on research over teaching because it is more profitable – itself symptomatic of the wider issue of the marketisation of education.
Ultimately, even the Government’s economic case fails. The Tory-led coalition pontificates about the need for austerity, the need to “live within our means”. There is a budget surplus of £1 billion in the education sector, enough to fund a pay-rise well above inflation for every member of staff. Further, we are not “all in this together”, most principals are on salaries of over £240,000.
Another facet of the dispute is the gender pay gap, which in Higher Education stands at 16.5% – above average. The average pay of a full-time male employee is £19.80 an hour, compared to £16.53 for a full-time female employee.
We need a serious discussion about the funding of higher education, a discussion that this fiercely ideological Government seeks to avoid.
After all, this is the same fight as the one fought against the increase in tuition fees. It is a fight for the very idea of a publicly funded education system. And it is a fight that, if we stand together, we can win.