Oxford academics to walk out on Halloween

The University and College Union (UCU), Unite and UNISON unions announced on Wednesday 16 October that their members working in higher education will go on strike at the end of the month.

The academics are striking due to a row over pay. They have been offered a one per cent pay increase, which they dispute. They voted to walk out in ballots which ended last week.

UCU’s Head of Higher Education, Michael MacNeil, stated, “Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay. Quite simply, enough is enough. We urge the employers to reflect on the fact that they are about to face their first ever strike by three unions at the same time and come to the negotiating table to resolve this dispute.”

Oxford students held a meeting in Wadham College on Tuesday to discuss the strike, and whether it should receive student support. The meeting comprised of twelve University of Oxford students and one student of Ruskin College.

The aims of the group are to organise students to support the strikers by not attending lectures, reorganising tutorials, leafleting, and joining picket lines. They also hope to organise JCRs to express their support for strikers at General Meetings.

Nathan Akehurst, who organised the meeting, said, “The meeting was a preliminary one to discuss potential support for the strike. It’s important that we defend our staff who have had their pay cut by 13% over the last four years and are facing an effective cut this year in the context of casualization and longer hours. This is not just because we should back those that teach us and share an academic community with us, but also that we are now paying £9k fees to receive what will ultimately lead to poorer quality education.”

A first year student at Balliol, Xavier Cohen, who attended the meeting, agreed with Akehurst. He told Cherwell, “The meeting on Tuesday was the start of the campaign to grow student support across Oxford for the upcoming strike on Thursday 31st October. I hope that JCRs will approve motions in upcoming General Meetings that support striking staff.”

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Despite this, several students were unsure about whether student support for the strike should go ahead. Ben Jones, a first year Keble student who attended the meeting, told Cherwell, “The reason I went was to actually find out more about why there is going to be a strike, though information seems to be scarce at the moment. Through principle I’d support a strike, though as I said I need to know more about it first.”

However, academics hold out for a showing of student support. The UCU president in Oxford and fellow of St. Peter’s College, Terry Hoad, commented, “With their trade union colleagues in Unison and Unite, our members have decided that they must fight for something better. They do not contemplate industrial action lightly, and would much prefer to do what brought them into academic employment and what they are committed to: pursuing, along with their students and for the benefit of society as a whole, greater knowledge and understanding of the world and of humanity.

“We hope and believe that students will understand and support us in this fight, as they have done in similar circumstances in the past and as we, of course, have been supportive of them over issues such as tuition fees. Our argument is certainly not with our students.”