Students: back the lecturers' pay fight!
The successful vote by the lecturers' union AUT for strike action provides a massive opportunity in the fight against top-up fees. Joint student/lecturer action of this sort is even more unprecedented than co-ordinated action between different trade unions. As well as providing a perfect opportunity to mobilise students in the run up to the Higher Education Bill's third reading at the end of March, it is the perfect rebuttal to Government attempts to play students and staff off against each other.
The battle over the Bill has seen Education Minister Charles Clarke bombard lecturers with propaganda about how top-up fees will mean higher pay, no doubt hoping that AUT members in the richer universities would apply enough negative pressure to prevent decisive action by the union. Without success. And threats about the disruption of education have failed to produce student hostility to the AUT, with a new poll showing that two thirds back the union's pay claim and only 13% are hostile to the threat of strikes.
On Wednesday 25th, student unions including University of East London, Sussex and Oxford will be organising joint meetings and action with the AUT to mobilise their forces and maximise pressure on the Government. Activists should
- Argue for ongoing student union-trade union links, with permanent joint committees emerging from the day of action.
- Where possible, organise direct action such as occupations, targeting the surgeries etc of Labour MPs who voted for the Higher Education Bill or abstained.
- Get delegated to NUS conference to remove the leadership who, despite the strong stand of the AUT, have brought the student movement to the point of defeat on top-up fees.
- For more information, check out www.free-education.org or ring 07968 984 358
Nick Savage, Secretary of Cambridge Association of University Teachers, told Solidarity:
"55% of our members voted in the ballot. 67% voted for strike action, and 81% voted for action short of a strike. The same reason explains the high turnout in the ballot and the high vote for taking action: what's on offer is a terribly bad deal for our members.
I was at the AUT Emergency Conference last year and have never seen AUT members so angry and so determined to take action. A lot of work has been put into getting a 'yes' vote, both by local activists and by national officers. I don't think that anyone is going to accept a pay deal that can possibly lead to them losing thousands of pounds income over the long term.
Our action next week is being co-ordinated with the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS at a national level is calling for regional and national boycotts of lectures on the days when we have the regional and national strikes. Hopefully, this co-ordinated action will succeed.
The AUT and the NUS have already been working together closely for a time. The AUT has done a lot to help the NUS in its campaign against top-up fees. This includes helping distribute their material at Labour Party conference, having our General Secretary speak at their demonstrations, and e-mailing our members to encourage them to support the NUS campaign. This has helped build a closer relationship.
There is a national AUT meeting tomorrow (17 February) which I'll be attending. Work on planning further action for after next week's strikes should be discussed at the meeting.
Further action already planned includes a boycott of call-out cover and all job evaluation exercises, and a boycott of student assessment, covering the setting and marking of exams and essays. This will be a hard-hitting action. If it works, it will be very effective.
It's a bit of a late start for organising the further action. But the work until now has concentrated on getting a result in the ballot, and then moving quickly to organise strike action instead of just sitting on the ballot result. It could be difficult to sustain such action, and there's a danger of victimisation. But, potentially, it's the type of action which can win this dispute. And having the NUS on board makes it easier to sustain."