We can't afford apathy
We are "entering a very important part of the political calendar", UNISON assistant general secretary Karen Jennings told delegates as the union's higher education conference opened in Bradford this morning.
"It's the fifth year of austerity ... pay and funding cuts right across public services," she noted.
"The working lives of our members in education are getting harder," with a "greater intensification of workloads" that, alongside increased outsourcing, adds to the problems that members in higher education - and across the public services - face.
At the same time, the welfare state is being dismantled and the government's ideological drive hits young people as it does nothing to control rents or provide affordable housing, for example.
The public is becoming increasingly aware that they ae being ripped off by the "government's commitment to privatisation and the 'market-knows-best' mantra", said Ms Jennings, warning that there is no room for apathy in May's general election, which provides a chance to "talk to politicians in a language they understand".
She also warned delegates of the threat of UKIP, which would strip workers of rights and protections, while the Conservatives would introduce legislation that would effectively end the right to strike by imposing levels of voter support that no MP enjoys.
"We have a very important job in the trade union movement in the next few months," she added. "We have to keep challenging the government's austerity agenda ... no public service - including the NHS - is not safe in this government's hands."
She stressed that the government is encouraging a "low-wage economy" - which is not good for the economy or the country as a whole.
"It's our public services, it's your jobs and the future for our young people.
"We can't afford the apathy. This is the challenge, right here, right now."