University of PortsmouthThe Portsmouth Socialist Student society supports UCU, Unite and Unison members at Portsmouth University who are fighting against cuts to pay this Thursday.

Support the strike by visiting picket lines at Mildam, Richmond and Park Buildings There will also be a rally at University House, on Winston Churchill Avenue, at 07:45 until 12:00.

Socialist Students, national statement from Edmund Schluessel, NUS National Executive Council & Cardiff UCU executive member, Sam Morecroft, NUS Postgraduate Committee & Sheffield UCU Education Officer, Sean Boyle, President, Belfast Metropolitan College Students’ Union (personal capacities):

UCU, Unite and Unison, the three main trade unions in higher education, will be taking coordinated strike action on Thursday October 31st to kick off the campaign to end the pay freeze in universities. Since 2009, pay has declined in real terms by 13.8%, in one of the worst attacks on pay in the post-war period. This affects all university staff, including part time and low paid workers and early career academics.

Thanks to the most repressive anti-trade union laws in Europe, this dispute is officially about pay. But really, it needs to be the beginning of a broad campaign against real-terms wage cuts, casualisation, zero-hours contracts, discrimination by race, gender and disability as well as other issues. Unless employers back down and make a better offer, autumn and winter could be dominated by a long campaign of escalating action against low-pay in universities.

These issues affect students. Overworked, underpaid staff can’t possibly provide us with the best possible education, however dedicated they may be. These pay cuts are part of a programme of attacks which are devastating our education. While we pay the best part of £50,000 for a degree, the portion of money which university’s put into teaching and other staff costs is being reduced. Indeed, many of those striking will be students themselves. More than half of universities make use of zero-hours contracts and almost all use postgraduate students as cheap labour.

These strikes represent university workers standing up for education as well as to defend their own conditions. Universities have the money to pay better wages – budget surpluses totalling £1 billion were recorded across the sector last year. Instead, university managements wedded to ‘free market’ ideology and determined to pass on relentless lists of Con-Dem cuts are attacking staff and students.

This is a part of a wider fight being waged against the brutal austerity being unleashed in Britain today. All those interested in fighting education cuts, in decent secure jobs for the next generation and in fighting for every young person to have access to higher education, has an interest in the success of this strike. That’s why it’s vital we mobilise the maximum possible student support.

Meanwhile lecturers in further education in England are preparing to ballot for strike action against an even worse pay offer. Teachers in primary & secondary school are already building for a national strike. All these unions and more back a 24-hour general strike against the cuts and against the government.

NUS’s support for lecturers’ strikes in 2006, 2010 and 2011 was lukewarm at best. This year we have to do better: we all benefit from a strike that has maximum impact, which means students’ unions should do everything they can to ensure universities are closed on strike days: NUS should put its energy into a national student strike to match up with lecturers. Encouraging postgraduates to join UCU and other unions will strengthen education for years to come.

Regardless of pronouncements by NUS’s right wing leadership, it’s vital students mobilise to support this strike. That means organising mass turn-outs to participate in picket lines and rallies, advertising the strike and explaining why students should not attend university that day – even if there are lectures running.

NUS have recently signed a compact with the TUC to work together on a list of specific campaigns.  Fighting alongside unions on a common platform of no cuts, free education, and taxing the rich would be within the scope of current policy – in other words, it’s what NUS’s membership has already voted to do. But NUS president Toni Pearce’s letter to students’ unions both abdicates leadership by neither supporting nor rejecting the strike and fails to make a call to action.