Leaders of Britain's largest lecturers' union, EI affiliate the NATFHE, have voted unanimously to escalate their national pay dispute with universities, with a call to hold out for their demands "to Christmas and beyond".After an emergency motion at their annual conference in Blackpool yesterday, leaders of the NATFHE said strikes should be used if necessary and called for a national protest in support of the lecturers' claim. "We have to step up the action because that appears to be the only language the employers understand," said Roger Kline, head of higher education for the NATFHE. "The employers are seeking to bully us with deductions in an entirely disproportionate and vindictive manner." The NATFHE and AUT (who are in the process of merging) asked in October for a 23% pay increase. After months without a deal lecturers in March began refusing to mark student work. Lecturers were promised that a share of new annual fees would be used to improve their pay. After protracted negotiations this month the universities offered 12.6% over three years but unions refused to put it to members, claiming the offer was "worthless" after inflation, barely met half their demands and universities could afford much more.