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KCL Staff Members Back UCU Strike Action, to Begin Before 2022

KCL UCU Strikes University
Image courtesy Simarchy via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

University and College Union (UCU) members employed at King’s College London (KCL) have voted to back potential strike action “before the end of the year”. The KCL branch had the third-highest turnout in the country, and numbered within the top highest-voting groups in favour of strikes.

953 KCL UCU members submitted ballots in an initial vote surrounding pension cuts, comprising 64.5% of the branch’s total membership. Of those participating members, 81.8% said they were “prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action”, while 90.3% are prepared to take action short of a strike. The results of a second ballot regarding pay, equality, workload, and casualisation – the so-called “Four Fights” – were similar, with 0.2% more branch members participating.

Following the announcement, UCU Chair Jo Grady issued a statement via the Union’s website, explaining: “In my view, we should start the industrial action this term, with two days of strikes – one for each dispute – followed by indefinite action short of a strike (ASOS). The action will then escalate significantly next term – once we have had a chance to hold reballots in both disputes, with a slightly longer ballot window.” She labelled the result a “vote of no-confidence” in university heads across the country, adding: “We truly hope that disruption can be avoided, that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers.” UCU’s higher committee will reportedly meet on November 12 to “decide next steps”.

In a Tweet posted shortly after results were announced, KCL UCU told followers the outcome was “wonderful. […] Well done everyone, see you on the picket line!”

KCL President and Principal Shitij Kapur contacted students via email on November 5 to address the matter, stating: “I understand that this will be worrying news, especially as you have experienced so much disruption already over the past 18 months and when many of you have just been able to return to our campuses.

“The decision to take industrial action is not one that is ever taken lightly. The right to take industrial action is something that is and must be respected. However I want to assure you that we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to minimise any impact on teaching and learning and we are working closely with your faculties and departments.

“Some of you have written to me directly and to colleagues expressing your concerns about staff pensions, pay and conditions. I want to assure you we will continue to address those issues we can respond to internally such as workload and equality and influence issues negotiated at a national level – including pay and pensions – so that we can enable and support our staff to deliver the best educational experience possible for you.”

King’s College London Students’ Union (KCLSU) members voted against supporting strike action in October by a margin of over 10%, as initially revealed by Roar. KCLSU has yet to make a statement regarding the November 4 outcome and the resultant strikes ahead.

Across the UK, staff from 58 universities are now expected to strike before January, including fellow London-based institutions such as the London School of Economics (LSE), Imperial College London, and University College London (UCL). The latter university’s UCU branch met the mandatory 50% standard of participation in the second “Four Fights” ballot, falling one vote short in the initial USS ballot.

A Russell Group spokesperson has insisted its universities are “well prepared to mitigate the impact of industrial action on students”, and that the Group “would urge UCU, who have acknowledged the need for change to USS, to work with employers to find mutually agreeable solutions that will provide value for money for the long-term without placing an unfair burden on future generations”.

Overall turnout for the initial ballot was 53%. 88% of members voted for action short of strikes, while 76% favoured strike action; these figures were 85% and 70% for the “Four Fights” ballot, respectively.

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