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'No-one is going to want to do this job': Wolverhampton lecturers take a stand in latest strikes

It was a time for solidarity and support as university lecturers and students joined a picket line in Wolverhampton on the first of two days of consecutive strike action.

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Lecturers and students outside the City Campus on Wulfruna Street to begin the day of strike action

The first of two days of strike action in a dispute over pay, working conditions and pension cuts brought members of the University and College Union (UCU) to congregate outside the University of Wolverhampton's Wulfruna Building on Thursday.

A mixture of academics, lecturers, current and former students and supporters braved the cold to join the national strike, which sees 150 universities across the country affected.

It was a colourful sight, with purple and pink banners displaying slogans such as "enough is enough", "stand up for education" and "I stand with university staff" and many of the strikers wearing hats with the "enough is enough" slogan.

University of Wolverhampton UCU city branch chair Aidan Byrne has been at the university for 23 years and a full time lecturer since 2008, and said he hadn't had a proper pay rise since 2009.

He said: "Cost of living is enormous at the moment and an awful lot of my staff are in a far worse position than me as they're on short-term contracts or very limited hours contracts, which means they're not being paid over the summer.

"Also, inflation is around 11 or 12 per cent and we're being offered three or four per cent and the people at the bottom just can't do that.

"The other thing worrying me is that people like me who have been teaching for a long time will be okay, but we're never going to recruit people to replace me when the time comes as our pensions have been cut, the working conditions have been cut and overwork is a massive issue.

"Now, with the pay dispute, no-one is going to want to do this job and my members are really struggling as we can't see who the future replacements are going to be."

Aidan Byrne (R) said he was worried about a lack of lecturers in the future because of pay

Post-graduate History student Kieran Bott was down on the picket line to show his support to his lecturers and said he was proud to be able to offer support at a difficult time.

He said: "It's great to be here as we get to show our appreciation to staff and show them the level of support they've been showing all of us for the duration of our time in education.

"I've been here on and off since 2016 and I've seen a dramatically increased workload for staff and also seen student resources cut and teaching staff having to pick up the pieces, often from the goodness of their heart and in their own time.

"It's unfortunate that this has had to happen, but I don't blame the teaching staff or the unions. I blame the management who have completely refused to engage and offer any kind of acceptable offer."

The mood among the strikers was a positive one, with music playing and people enjoying chats with each other and members of the public walking by, while people sounded their car horns as they drove by.

Kieran Bott said it was great to be at the picket to support the lecturers

Among the people on strike was senior lecturer in Adult Nursing Matthew Murphy, who had been at the university since 2004 and said that he was a nurse by background and was there to help the nurses of the future.

He said: "I am now paid less than if I had stayed in the NHS as an academic, so I am out here today because I can't provide the nurses of the future if we are not supported by the university.

"It's not just pay, it's about the workload and the terms and conditions of the workload, which is around 45 weeks, with two iterations a year and we only really have one week where we have no students, which is Christmas.

"We've pushed and pushed and we've not had a proper pay rise since 2009 and we've had pay freezes and we've had one per cent rises and our bills are going up and we've got to take a stand."

Former students had also turned up to offer their support, with Stephanie Gilford among those attending. She said she felt it was empowering to be there.

She said: "It's horrible to have friends in academia and see the struggles they are having, so I think it's really empowering to be here to offer my support.

"I think with strikes like this that everyone has each others' backs and I think what needs to come from this is for people to be listened to as there is a lot of ignorance around this and the hierarchy just need to listen."

Matthew Murphy said it was time to take a stand

The action comes after an overwhelming 80 per cent of members who voted rejected the latest offer from employers.

More than 30,000 UCU members responded to UCU's online poll which was open for just four days. The offer is worth only 5 per cent for most UCU members.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is no surprise that university staff have overwhelmingly rejected a low-ball 5 per cent offer from employers, this is a huge real-terms pay cut that would leave our members worse off.

"We are striking for 48 hours this week and will take escalating action until we get a fair deal.

"University bosses hold over £40bn in reserves, but they would rather hoard that money than use just a fraction of it to settle our dispute and bring an end to the unprecedented strike action that is hitting universities.

"Whilst they earn up to £714,000 a year, tens of thousands of our members are on insecure contracts, some as short as six weeks, and have seen their pay held down for over a decade.

"We have repeatedly asked bosses to explain why they refuse to deal with the issues that blight higher education.

"Yet they refuse to publicly justify their position. We know the bosses are in hiding because their position is indefensible."

Action is set to continue on Friday.