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4 September 2012
Unison Higher Education Service Group
Shona McCulloch - Unison HE SGE (personal capacity)
In this year's Unison Service Group Executive (SGE) elections, the left made gains due to anger amongst members over issues such as the failure to give a lead in saving final salary pensions, the shameful witch hunting of activists and the cosiness of the union to the Labour Party (calls for a new workers' party received enormous applause at Unison NDC 2012).
On the Higher Education SGE this resulted in more left wing representatives than ever before; the importance of this step forward was first demonstrated in July when HE was the only SGE to recommend members reject the unfair and unnecessary changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).
In higher education over the last three years wages have plummeted in real terms, with rises of just 0.5%, 0.4% and £150 respectively, in the context of soaring inflation.
This was apart from Vice Chancellors of course, who awarded themselves on average an extra £9,700 last year, with top university heads on outrageous average salaries of around £333,000.
The Con-Dems have slashed public funding of universities and transferred the financial burden of higher education onto individual students by raising the tuition fee cap to £9,000, which many institutions have chosen to charge.
Funding shortfalls have been made up through reducing staff numbers and massively increasing workload, through increasing student intake (especially of wealthy foreign students whom institutions can charge even higher fees), by closing departments, and through the ultimately counterproductive selling off and privatising of services to be run for private profit.
All this has deeply affected workers in HE who are being asked to do more and more for ever decreasing wages.
The HE unions put in a joint pay claim this year for 7% plus a number of measures to make pay fairer, such as the Living Wage and closing the gender pay gap.
The employers' representatives, buoyed up by their gains in previous negotiations, responded with a "final" derisory offer of just 1%.
A consultation of members showed HE workers saying 'enough is enough' and the HE SGE unanimously rejected the employers' offer and entered into dispute, with a ballot for strike action opening in September.
If members return a 'yes' vote, action looks likely to begin in the lead up to the national 20 October TUC anti-austerity demonstration, with further action in subsequent months if necessary.
Further to the spectacle of Unison leader Dave Prentis smashing an ice sculpture of a pound sign at conference this year, Unison's bureaucracy appears to be supportive of 'smashing the pay freeze' for now, no doubt in order to draw attention away from pensions.
On the HE SGE the left has made it clear that our campaign for fair pay must be more than a letting off steam exercise followed by a climb down and hard-selling members less than they deserve like we saw over the LGPS.
- Vote 'yes' in the pay ballot
- Free, publicly run, good quality education, available to all at any age. Abolish university tuition fees now and introduce a living grant.
- Maximum unity and coordination in strike action, not just in higher education but across the labour movement
- For a 24-hour general strike - Lobby the TUC, Brighton, 9 September
- Contest every seat in Unison elections, for a fighting, democratic leadership
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 4 September 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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