By Rebecca Anderson
A hundred Unison members picketed Leeds University this morning, an impressive turnout to kick off their week of strike action. Libraries were closed and campus was encircled by a young, angry workforce demanding the university increase its pay offer to meet the spiralling cost of living.
Earlier this year, Unison members at 10 universities voted to take action over pay and pensions, and struck in February and March alongside UCU members. Since then, they have been offered a measly 3%, which is an insult given their real pay has dropped by 20% over the last 12 years.
Nationally, the 3% pay offer was rejected by 83% of members in June and a ballot for industrial action will begin on 22nd July. Leeds University Unison is leading the way in this dispute, still using their live ballot from February, and will hopefully be joined later in the year by other higher education workers across the country.
The RPI index suggests that inflation currently stands at 13%, with prices rising even faster for essentials like bread and milk. Wages are lagging far behind, with a general increase of 4.2%, and only 1.6% in the public sector, meaning that wages are worth less and less.
The rising cost of living can be beaten, but only by forcing employers to use their profits to raise wages in line with inflation. A whole host of workers are set to strike or ballot following pay offers of only 2%. Rail workers will be striking this week, whilst Arriva bus drivers in West Yorkshire begin their third week of industrial action. They may soon be joined by postal workers, civil servants and bus drivers in Manchester and Liverpool who are all set to ballot.
The Labour Party is pressuring its MPs to withhold support for the train strikes, but Leeds East MP, Richard Burgon, has been outspoken in his support for this wave of industrial action. He addressed the Unison rally at Leeds University, where he highlighted the issue that even workers in full time employment are now being forced to rely on food banks because of inflation.
After many months ignoring their workers demands for better pay, Leeds University made a last minute offer to avert strike action that will coincide with Friday’s Open Day, where prospective students will be met with picket lines.
Rather than avoid the strike, the university’s insulting offer of £650 of vouchers infuriated staff who are struggling with the cost of basic necessities. We asked one admin worker why they were striking and they said “they offered us vouchers rather than a living wage”. The offer of vouchers was overwhelmingly rejected by 84% of members, a higher percentage than voted to strike in the first place.
Following the large mobilisation for the 18th June TUC demonstration, we must unite the strikes and coordinate resistance to the rising cost of living through action committees in every town and city. To win real pay rises for tens of millions of low paid workers, to cap bills and rents, to prevent inflation eroding our pay, we need to rebuild the labour movement from the ground up. This means solidarity with strikers, the unionisation of unorganised sectors and the mobilisation of the wider working class – tenants, pensioners, the unemployed, students and organisations of the socially oppressed to fight for:
• a £15 an hour living wage and a sliding scale of wages to beat inflation,
• pensions and benefits to be set at the living wage and indexed to inflation,
• controls on rent and bills, pegged to a workers’ cost of living index,
• nationalisation of public transport and utilities, without compensation, under workers and consumers’ control.