21 June 2010

Seven unions, one message: fight the cuts!

Education institutions across Britain took part in a multi-union Day of Action on the 21st, with lecturers and support staff rallying together in anticipation of savage ConDem cuts and education bosses' callous "economizing". UCU, Unite, Unison, GMB, EIS, ATL and students' union NUS all signed on to the campaign.

As a member of my UCU branch, I organised events at Cardiff University. The weather was favorable and turnout was as expected, with about 15 members each from UCU, Unite and Unison in attendance along with some students. Under the theme "take your full lunch hour", in protest against the hours of unpaid work educators are implicitly expected to do, speakers from the trade unions as well as Youth Fight For Jobs discussed the necessity of fighting the cuts, demanding the terms and conditions we're guaranteed by law, and bringing unions together under the banner of a political alternative to Labour-Lib Dem-Tory-Plaid hack-and-slash economics.

At the climax of the event, the assembled trade unionists were presented with dessert, a cake with a pound sign on it -- a "pound cake" representing all the wages paid by the university. Onlookers reacted in shock as the first slice, representing Vice Chancellor David Grant's £240,000-a-year salary, was cut out and thrown in the bin. Slices representing the £10 million paid out to the university's 80 top administrators, while lecturers and support staff face effective pay cuts, followed, leaving the onlookers to divide up the remaining crumbs among themselves. (Luckily a second cake had been prepared beforehand to make sure there was enough for everyone!)

Camera crews from the BBC, ITV and Welsh-language channel S4/C were all present — but true to form, university bosses denied the media access to the grounds, meaning they had to film us over a hedge!

UCU and Unite are both planning to ballot against pay cuts and for a decent pay offer, and enthusiasm among those two unions was highest. All the unions present planned to appear at the rally against cuts at the Welsh Assembly on the 22nd. Putting the icing on the cake (as it were), incoming Cardiff University Students' Union president Olly Birrell, currently unaffiliated, promised to join a trade union as soon as he takes office in August.

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