Bea Gardner, Socialist Students national chair and UCU rep
Socialist Students are in full support of university staff fighting over pensions, pay and conditions. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) will be taking fourteen days of strike action, running from Thursday 20th February and escalating each week, culminating with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March. In total 74 UK universities will take part, with up to 1.2 million students affected.
Destroyed by decades of marketisation – the running of universities for profit- the university sector is now dominated by unsustainable and exploitative work conditions. The issues which university staff are striking over; stagnating wages, zero hour contracts, spiralling workloads, unpaid overtime and pension attacks- are important issues for students too. After all, staff working conditions are our learning conditions.
University bosses raking it in
The strike action will impact student learning, but university bosses are entirely responsible. As tuition fees have risen and staff working conditions declined, it’s the top university bosses who have benefited. The average Vice-Chancellor now earns a ‘basic’ salary of £250,000 pounds a year.
Increased workloads, reliance on casual staff and year on year below inflation pay rises are all part of the bosses deliberate strategy to slash costs in the ruthless pursuit of ever increasing profits. By refusing to negotiate a meaningful deal with the UCU they are deliberately jeopardising student learning for the sake of defending and perpetuating unsustainable staff working conditions.
Taking industrial action is often a last resort for staff, especially action which impacts students. But, when management are determined to pursue a strategy of attacks, strikes are the most powerful tool workers have to confront the bosses and remind bosses who really runs the university. No one would notice if senior managers didn’t turn up, but when research support staff, teachers, librarians, lecturers and other workers don’t work then the campus grinds to a halt.
Students organise to fight back
The UCU strike demonstrates the power of collective action. Workers on campus are taking collective action to fight against Tory austerity on their campuses.
Building student solidarity with the striking staff is crucial. But it’s crucial that students get organised themselves on campus. Students have plenty of gripes with the Tory marketisation agenda on campus, which is responsible for the overcrowding of our lecture halls, classes and libraries, as well as cuts to student services on campus.
That’s why Socialist Students is campaigning for students to get organised alongside the striking staff on campus.
First strike against the Tories
These strikes will be the first national action by a trade union since Boris Johnson’s election in December. The election results mean we cannot rely on the promise of a Corbyn-led government that will legislate for free tuition fees, improved working conditions and industrial relations. Instead, the election of a conservative majority under Boris Johnson poses a real threat to trade union rights. And with the Tories continuing full steam ahead with the marketisation of Higher Education; course cuts, closures and job losses are likely to intensify.
That’s why Socialist Students is calling for a ‘council of war’ on campus – drawing together everyone and anyone who wants to fight against further Tory attacks on campus – students, workers, campus unions such as the UCU, UNISON, and Unite, socialists and anti-austerity activists – to say we won’t take one more cut or attack against students or workers! Joint actions taken by workers and students during this strike could be the first step in developing such a united movement.
What you can do to support the strikers on campus;
1) On strike days, don’t cross picket lines and don’t attend lectures – visit ucu.org.uk for the full list of strike dates at your university
2) Join and support striking staff on your local picket lines – help organise student attendance at strike rallies
3) Join Socialist Students in campaigning on campus to mobilise student support for the strikers, including leafletting, speaking in lectures, and signing students up as strike supporters
4) Apply the pressure on your VC; this could be by sending the Socialist Students model letter, or organising a protest outside of the VC office calling for their support for the staff cause.
5) Talk to your lecturers to find out more about the dispute, and let them know you and Socialist Students support their strike
6) Show your support for the UCU on social media
7) Visit socialiststudents.org.uk for campaigning resources
8) Join Socialist Students to continue the fight for free and fully funded education!