Thousands of education workers shut down universities across Britain on Thursday in the first joint strike by academics, support and back-office staff in history.
Classes were cancelled as staff walked out in protest at a pay offer of just 1 per cent following years of financial pain that has seen real-terms wages drop by 13 per cent since 2008.
Students across the country joined the picket lines in solidarity, including at SOAS, Sussex and Sheffield, where students briefly occupied campus buildings in protest.
And strikers warned that unless employers raise pay to a reasonable level there will be more trouble ahead.
Feelings were running high at a militant rally in central London’s Conway Hall where members of all three unions involved — academics’ union UCU and back office unions Unison and Unite — gathered to express their disgust.
UCU national head of higher education Michael McNeil directed his attack at bosses who have been putting up swanky new buildings at the expense of staffing levels and pay.
“They can pay but they are refusing to pay,” he declared.
“Instead of investing in their staff they are obsessed by market-driven beauty contests.
“It’s all about who has the shiniest new building rather than investing in the underpinnings of a quality education.
“But what is that produces the educational experience for students?
“Is it a glass edifice, the latest building designed to improve the co-operate image or marketing brochures? No it is the staff in higher education.”
Anger has bubbled over among university staff, many of who are struggling on low-wage zero-hour contracts when managers earning hundreds of thousands a year claim institutional poverty.
Unions say that the sector as a whole has racked up a £2 billion surplus over two years.
Unite national officer for education Mike McCartney said: “We hope that the strike will focus employers’ minds and they realise their staff are their most important asset and reward them accordingly.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis joined London picket lines at University College London and the University of Westminster.
He said: “We are sending a clear message to cash-rich but morally bankrupt employers that they must stop behaving like the worst private sector employers.
“Our members in higher education deserve a better standard of living for their hard work and the contribution they make.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Staff from porters to professors have walked out this morning in protest at some of the most sustained pay cuts since the second world war.
“A 13 per cent real-terms pay cut as vice-chancellors’ pay continued to increase and universities’ surpluses built up simply is not fair.”
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