Report – High spirits at Nottingham University UCU picket line

Reece, Nottingham University Socialist Students

This morning, in grim and rainy conditions, members of Socialist Students and other left-wing student organisations joined UCU strikers on picket lines. Despite the early start and the rain, spirits amongst staff and students were high. After pickets ended, the various picket lines from the main campus entrances and other campuses came together by the lake, opposite the building of the Vice Chancellor and other higher management positions. Here, we heard speeches from union reps, students, workers and the Labour MP Nadia Whittome.

It is time for students to coordinate action with striking staff, as our struggles against casualisation, the commodification of education, and attacks on trade unions is a struggle against the same enemy: the capitalist class. The trebling of tuition fees, which came alongside a cut in government funding to universities, has taken its toll on university workers and students alike. On the one hand it has meant increased workloads and attacks on pay, pensions and conditions for staff, while on the other it has meant student debt, spiralling housing costs, and cuts to courses and student services for students.

This strike could be a significant step towards building a united student and worker struggle that fights for the abolition of tuition fees, for the end and reversal the marketisation of higher education, and for a fully funded education system where the objective is the pursuit of knowledge rather than making profit. Join your lecturers, admin staff, and support workers on the picket lines, and let’s build a movement to resist Tory austerity and defend our right to protest on the campuses!

Students and workers out together on Budget Day, March 11!

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

Socialist Students is backing protests against the Tory budget announcement on March 11. Student and young people’s lives have been blotted by a decade of Tory austerity and misery. They offer us no future whatsoever – instead what’s on offer is a lifetime of student debt, poverty pay, the housing crisis and the climate crisis.  

Boris Johnson’s words about austerity being over are hollow. The government has announce that all government departments will see a 5% spending cut, while local councils up and down the country are preparing to take the axe once again to vital local services. Socialist Students is backing the Budget Day protests to say not one more attack against students or workers on behalf on the bosses!

Neither is our education system safe. The university campuses are in complete disarray as a result of the marketisation of Higher Education. Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are on the front line of the fight back against Tory austerity on the campuses, taking strike action spread out over four weeks this term.

They’re taking a stand against spiralling workloads, attacks on pensions and the widening gender pay gap on campus. Students meanwhile suffer all the consequences of Tory austerity on the campuses – spiralling rents, the overcrowding of lectures and libraries, cuts to courses, disappearing student services, and tens of thousands of pounds of student debt. It couldn’t be clearer that the Tory-driven marketisation of Higher Education is piling up the grievances for students and workers alike.

Fight for a socialist alternative to capitalism
The Tories serve the interests of big business and capitalism, a system for which the only priority is the creation of profit for a tiny handful who make up the bosses class at the expense of our futures. Socialist Students stands for a socialist alternative to the misery of capitalism. We fight to take the vast wealth and resources which exist in society into democratic public ownership, starting with the banks and big monopolies. On this socialist basis, workers and young people could democratically plan society to provide a future for all young and working class people.

Socialist Students says;

  • Fight for free, fully funded university education! Cancel all outstanding student debt, and reverse the marketisation of Higher Education!
  • Build council homes and university run not-for-profit student housing
  • End low pay and zero hour contracts
  • For socialist change to end climate change! Nationalise energy provision, privatised utilities and public transport under democratic workers’ control. Step up research on green energy, waste reduction and energy saving
  • Support the UCU strikers! Build a united student and worker fightback on the campuses against the Tories – defend the right to protest on our campuses
  • Take the wealth off the 1% – nationalise the banks and biggest corporations which dominate the economy! International solidarity in the struggle for a socialist world

Students support the UCU strikers!

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.

Striking works!
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!

Leeds University – building solidarity with UCU strikers

Leeds University Socialist Students

Allen Haigh, Leeds University Socialist Students

This week at The University of Leeds, Socialist Students held its first stall on campus of the new term in support of the upcoming UCU strikes. After the general election result last term, we weren’t sure what sort of reaction we would get, but we were delighted by how receptive students were on the whole.

In an hour, we managed to hand out over 50 leaflets, and signed six new students up to find out more about Socialist Students. The main slogan we used when we were leafleting was ‘Resist the Tories on campus, support the UCU strike’, which was met with a highly spirited response. Despite the unfavourable outcome of the election, it appeared that rather than feeling despondent, students were invigorated and inspired to take action; we stressed that the UCU strike approaching (beginning on February 20th) presented the perfect opportunity for students who felt angry about the re-election of the Tories to get organized alongside striking staff and join the fightback against Tory austerity.

It was also heartening that we were approached by UCU members who expressed their gratitude for our support during the last round of strikes, and we exchanged words of encouragement in anticipation of what’s to come. Generally, students we spoke to were much more aware of the issues around why staff were striking, in defence of pay and pensions, compared to before they first went on strike, no doubt a testament to the mobilising potential of solidarity action.

In the coming weeks and months, Socialist Students will be building student solidarity with the UCU strikers, and discussing with students the need to also get organised alongside striking staff to build the fightback against Tory austerity on campus.

February 14 climate strikes – what does socialist change to end climate change mean?

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

In 2019 student strikes and protests against environmental destruction expressed the anger at the climate catastrophe we face. Now we must build on them to fight climate change and the Tories.

Since the strikes last year, wildfires in Australia have wreaked unimaginable havoc, killing a billion animals, pushing species closer to extinction, and destroying thousands of peoples’ homes. Air quality has been rendered hazardous.

Across the world, healthy human existence is threatened by climate change and pollution. Meanwhile, our ecosystem is being destroyed – fires rage, forests are decimated, ice caps are melting, and our oceans are polluted.

It is increasingly obvious that capitalism, the way society is currently organised, is incapable of reversing the damage it has caused to the environment. More fossil fuels were burned in 2018 than ever before in history. The oil and gas industry is planning to spend $4.9 trillion over the next ten years to find new fossil fuels to burn!

Pro-capitalist politicians like Tories and Blairites protect the interests of the capitalist class – government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry total $5 trillion every year!

But it couldn’t be clearer that the entire capitalist establishment is unable to take the action necessary to secure our futures. No wonder thousands of students across Britain have adopted the slogan ‘system change to end climate change’ during our marches and protests.

Capitalism is a system which creates profit for a tiny handful of super-rich individuals – the capitalist class – ahead of the environment and the social needs of the vast majority of society – working class and young people. The capitalist class, as well as the politicians who represent them, have no interest in using their power to curb the use of fossil fuels – it’s them who are profiting from their use!

What does socialist change to end climate change mean?
Socialist Students says that the system change we need is socialist change. A socialist plan of action on climate change would begin with taking the energy industry, currently responsible for the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, into democratic public ownership – under the control of the working class majority in society.

Not only that though. We stand for taking the banks and companies which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership as well. That way, we could begin to plan society, including energy, production and distribution in an environmentally safe way, invest in green technology and energy, free from the constraints of capitalist profit chasing.

Role of the working class
Winning such a programme however means building a mass movement to fight for it.

Last September’s ‘Earth Strike’ was a step forward for the climate movement, which saw workers, many involved in their own disputes with their bosses at work for better wages and working conditions, join up with the school and college climate strikers.

The University and Colleges Union which organises teachers and staff in universities, called for 30 minute stoppages at lunchtime in solidarity with the student protesters. This term it is taking 14 days of escalating strike action in defence of their pay, conditions, and pensions from the attacks of the bosses, starting 20 February.

These actions of solidarity are an important step forward. The working class has immense potential power to end climate change. The working class when organised can shut down the entire country, hitting the capitalist class where it hurts by costing them billions in profits.

And it’s the working class, organised at the point of production, who can plan society’s resources in an environmentally friendly way.

Continuing to strengthen the links between the climate movement and organised workers in the trade unions is therefore a crucial next step. The trade unions in Britain have over 6 million members, and could play a central role in fighting for a socialist programme to end climate change. This November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) meeting in Glasgow is a chance to mobilise all those angry about climate change and the Tories.

This would take organising around a socialist programme that unites the struggle against climate change with the struggle against austerity – both which are driven by capitalism. The fight to save our environment is intrinsically linked to the fight to improve all aspects of our lives. The capitalist politicians who are unable to solve the climate crisis represent the capitalist class’s interests by maintaining zero-hours contracts, student debt, the housing crisis, and the destruction of the NHS and our public services. Join Socialist Students today to discuss how we fight for socialist change.

UCU announces 14 days of strike action for the new term

Bea Gardner, Southampton Socialist Students

Socialist Students stands in solidarity with the UCU who have this week announced 14 days of strike action for universities currently in dispute over pensions, pay and conditions.

Strike action will start on Thursday 20 February and escalate each week, finishing with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March. In total 74 universities will be taking part, 14 more than in the 8 days of action before Christmas. As a result, over 1.2 million students will be affected. UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, has warned that the union is prepared to re-ballot members over Easter to keep the mandate for industrial action live when students sit their exams later in the summer.

We recognise that industrial action is a crucial last resort by higher education staff who have faced a decade of attacks to their conditions in the name of marketization. Since 2010 academic pay has reduced 20% in real terms and more than 50% of teaching is done by hourly paid workers. Many studies have recently highlighted the endemic rates of poor mental health, stress, bullying and harassment in higher education. Conditions which are generated by unsustainable workloads and competitive funding contracts. Socialist Students stands against this marketization which has seen the quality of our education reduced in order to squeeze more profit from our fees.

Student solidarity
We welcome the move of UCU members to fight back against these conditions and our local student groups will be writing local branches to discuss how we can most effectively build student solidarity with the strikes. Socialist Students will be out on campus building the maximum support amongst students for the action and will publish resources and material to support the disputes in the coming days.

This will be the first national strike action since the election of the Tory government in December. This action could also be the start of a wider fightback alongside workers in other trade unions in defiance of further Tory attacks. A victory in this dispute would be an essential stepping stone to building a united fight back in education against the Tories, austerity, and marketisation.

Join Socialist Students
Socialist Students is joining the calls for protests against the Tories on Budget Day, March 11. We will also be joining the protest in London at Parliament Square at 1pm. Join Socialist Students today to help build the fight back on campus against the Tories.

What will happen to Jeremy Corbyn's programme now?

Do we need a new party for students and workers?

Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer, photos Wikimedia Commons

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

Corbyn’s surprise Labour leadership victory in 2015 demonstrated that there was an alternative to capitalist driven austerity – a programme of scrapping tuition fees, ending NHS privatisation, raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour, scrapping youth rates, building council homes, and renationalising key services such as rail, mail and the energy companies.

For the first time in our lives, young people had a glimpse of a programme which represented our interests, not the interests of the super-rich capitalist class.

But much to the disappointment and anger of many students and young people, Corbyn didn’t win and is now stepping down as Labour leader.

A major factor contributing to Corbyn’s loss was the sabotage against him during his four years of leadership by the Blairites, Labour MPs and councillors who supported the pro-capitalist ideas of Tony Blair. They ultimately defend the interests of the super-rich, which means they support tuition fees and student debt, austerity, low pay. They smeared Corbyn in the press, organised against him in Parliament, and continued to impose vicious austerity measures against workers and young people in local council chambers.

Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme, although enormously popular, began to be viewed with scepticism by many working class voters whose only experience of the Labour Party in action was pro-cuts councillors – Blairites politically opposed to Corbyn, in favour of war, privatisation and austerity.

Instability for Johnson
Although Johnson won by posing as an anti-establishment candidate, it is even by his own admission a shallow and unstable victory. Under Jeremy Corbyn we saw how popular anti-austerity policies are. They won’t disappear, but rather will grow as the Tories demonstrate that they have no future to offer millions of students and workers. The question is how do we continue the fight for that programme.

What is clear is that winning all of these policies will require a mass movement of students and workers. But that still needs a party which struggles in the interests of students and young people.

After Corbyn became Labour leader, Labour essentially became two parties in one – Corbyn and his supporters supporting his anti-austerity programme on the one side, and the pro-big business Blairites, defending the system of capitalism on the other.

It presented an opportunity to mobilise Corbyn’s supporters in a campaign to kick the right wing Blairite saboteurs out of the party and replacing them with socialist fighters. Had this been done, the Labour Party could have been transformed into a mass democratic party which fought in the interests of students, young people, and the wider working class – in effect, a new party.

That’s why Socialist Students demands that the next leader of the Labour Party, if they claim to be a socialist and a friend of students and the working class, should pledge to mobilise a campaign within Labour to introduce democratic mandatory re-selection of MPs, to replace pro-tuition fees Blairites with socialists who will stand up for the rights and lives of students.

That means socialists who will fight to scrap tuition fees and student debt, end campus cuts and marketisation, and to build affordable housing for students, as well as defend the right to strike and the right to free speech, protest and organise on campus.

What kind of party do we need?
But it would take more than just that to truly transform the Labour Party. It would take the opening of the doors of Labour to all the socialists, anti-austerity campaigners, trade unionists and community campaigners expelled from the party during the Blair years. Re-founding the Labour Party on a federal basis, allowing all socialist and anti-austerity organisations to affiliate to what would in effect be a new, mass anti-austerity party of workers and students would be an important step forward.

Central to the process of transforming the Labour Party would be restoring the role and voice of the trade unions within Labour under members’ democratic control, putting the organisations of the working class at the heart of the party.

Socialist Students campaigned and fought on the campuses during the general election for all of Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. But Socialist Students called and campaigned for Corbyn to go further than that as well.

We campaigned not just for the scrapping of tuition fees for example, but to cancel all outstanding student debt. Not just to nationalise the railways and energy companies, but to take into democratic public ownership the banks and big monopolies as well – measures which would lay the basis for the socialist transformation of society.

Join Socialist Students
Students and young people desperately need a party which will fight their corner against the bosses and the capitalist system – for a socialist society. Join Socialist Students to discuss on campus what the Labour Party leadership election means in the fight for a new mass party of students and workers, and the fight for socialism.