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Students show solidarity and support the strikes

Heriot-Watt is one of 58 universities where staff, having voted overwhelming in favour of industrial action, are poised to strike over pay, pensions, and working conditions. The first of these strikes will be from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

What is a strike?

A strike is when, as a result of unacceptable working conditions, members of a trade union collectively refuse to work. Instead, they gather outside their workplaces to protest; these gatherings are called picket-lines.

How are strikes meant to work?

Strike action is the last resort workers have when negotiating with their employers. It’s not something anyone treats lightly. Unions have to meet stringent requirements to declare a strike; meanwhile, striking workers lose their pay, often suffering significant hardship as a result. But it’s a tried and tested way of protecting and improving working conditions.

What are the strikes supposed to achieve?

  • A modest pay-rise – to match inflation and start making for up years of cuts. It has been estimated that staff pay has fallen by 20% in real terms in the last 20 years while executive pay has soared. A recent report by the Office for Students shows total remuneration for vice chancellor’s averages £269k. In the last year which they were reported, the annual accounts show that our own Principal earns in excess of £300k. A very generous increase of 27k on the year before, and more than 7 times the average salary at HWU.
  • An end to precarious employment practises, including zero hour contracts, in universities;
  • A concrete and binding plan from employers to close the gender and BME pay gaps, and to reduce workloads;
  • No rises in pension contributions.

Universities say they can’t afford to increase pay. But over the past ten years, the proportion of revenue they’ve spent on staff has fallen, while spending on flashy buildings has soared. That’s where your tuition fees are going – to university vanity projects, not to the people who teach and support you.

How will I be affected?

During the strikes, lectures, seminars, classes and demonstrations organised by your faculties may be cancelled. This will cause disruption for students, and the university will blame it on striking staff. However, they and their representative bodies, UUK and UCEA could have avoided the strike but chose not to act. Entrances to the campus will have picket lines at them. This will not prevent you from entering the campus if you want to but we would appreciate it you show solidarity and come and visit the picket.

So, why should I support the strikes?

Worsening conditions in higher education affect us all. Your teachers’ working conditions are your learning conditions. Staff don’t want to go on strike: they’d much rather be teaching, researching, providing services and support, and doing the work they love. In fact, strikes are a way of making sure they can continue doing what they do. Insecure employment, intolerable workloads, unequal pay, and uncertain futures – all these threaten the future of higher education as we know it. The union is fighting back on behalf of students and staff alike, to build a better and fairer university for everyone.

Research undertaken by the NUS in their monthly opinion tracker survey shows overwhelming support with 73% of students indicating support for the strike action.

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, so I’m not surprised that they overwhelmingly support their campaign to secure a fairer settlement.

With vice chancellors’ average total pay rising to £269,000 per year, it is clear that UUK and UCEA can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms between 2009 and 2019. Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and moreover 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. This is why NUS have launched a petition of students calling on UUK and UCEA executives to return to the negotiation table and meet UCU’s demands.

– Larissa Kennedy NUS UK President

How can I show my support?

There are plenty of ways you can show your support.

  • Come and join us on the picket line.
  • Write to the Principal: tell Richard Williams you back your lecturers and teachers, email him at R.A.Williams@hw.ac.uk
  • Join the Union. If you are Postgraduate student you can get FREE UCU membership.
  • Stay informed. Stay informed: for regular updates on the strikes as they progress, keep an eye on our HWUCU Twitter at @UCU_HWUBranch and Facebook @UCUHWU for more information on what’s going on and how to get involved.

When staff and students unite we can make real change happen. By coming together can make a fairer future.

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