In January, University of East Anglia (UEA) bosses revealed the catastrophic financial situation facing the higher education institution. Vice-chancellor Prof. David Richardson has since resigned as management’s ‘fall guy’. But the threat of mass redundancies still looms large over the campus.
University management has remained purposefully opaque as to how and when these cuts will come. But they have been clear that the black hole in the budget is even worse than initially suggested – standing at a whopping £30 million deficit.
Staff and students alike realise that, unless we get organised and fight for a bold alternative, management will get off scot free, while the rest of us pay the price.
In short: staff will be axed; departments will be squeezed; and students will suffer the consequences, as our education comes under attack.
From the get-go, the fighting spirit amongst workers has been palpable. The immediate backlash to the redundancy announcement, for example, was a 600-strong all-member mass meeting of UEA workers.
Inspired by this, the UEA Marxist society organised a solidarity panel discussion, inviting reps from campus unions – Unison, Unite, and UCU – to speak about the looming redundancies, as well as the wider crisis in higher education. This meeting was very well received by attendees.
We also used this opportunity to put forward a student perspective, explaining the importance of students actively supporting efforts to prevent job cuts.
In particular, we emphasised the need for solidarity with the ongoing HE strikes – linking the teaching conditions of staff with the learning conditions of students.
Real solidarity requires action. And so we put forward a motion to the UEA student union, calling for a strike assembly to be established between staff and students. This passed with overwhelming support, reflecting the burning sense of injustice on campus.
Consequently, a student-staff forum has been set-up, with the aim of coordinating action against these attacks amongst students and workers.
Alongside this, we are encouraging all UEA students to join us this term in a campaign to support our staff. This will involve door-knocking, lecture shout outs, and leafleting, in order to politically engage the widest layers of the student body.
Our message must be clear: if the bosses say that they can’t afford to hold onto vital staff, then we can’t afford for these fat cats to run the university!
UEA Marxists will be attending the first forum meeting on 28 April, where we aim to outline our programme and perspective.
The problems we are all facing are not just the result of terrible management. Rather, these are the logical result of the marketisation of education, which has been relentlessly slashing conditions for university workers and students for decades.
Education is being marketised – opened up to big business and profiteers – in order to line the pockets of the capitalists. Students and workers are being left with crumbs.
We can have no trust in management to deal with the financial troubles that they have landed the university in.
Instead, they have tried at every twist and turn to divide us; to direct students’ anger towards staff. We must boldly combat their lies. It is them, after all, that take six-figure salaries, and that have splashed money on vanity projects, rather than improving the quality of education.
Only by linking this struggle against redundancies to the struggle against marketisation can we garner the widest possible support, forge unity between students and workers, and put the bosses on the backfoot.
So far we have seen remarkable determination from staff at UEA, and a drive for greater coordination between the unions on campus.
As students, we must play a role in bolstering this fightback, and understand that unity is our greatest weapon.
UEA Marxists are demanding that the university’s bosses open up the books, to show everyone exactly why they ‘must’ resort to mass redundancies.
Further, we call for those who actually run our university – the lecturers, cleaners, technicians, and more – to call the shots on how the budget should be managed. We cannot trust management to do anything but run UEA further into the ground.
We also recognise that these attacks are not isolated. Birkbeck, for example, part of the University of London, has announced plans to cut 140 jobs by July, due to a deficit of £13 million. And what is occurring at UEA and Birkbeck is only a harbinger of what is set to hit the rest of higher education, with disastrous effects for staff and students alike.
That is why we must fight back on the basis of a clear socialist programme.
As Marxists, we stand for free education, funded by expropriation; and for democratic control of universities by staff and students.
To achieve this, we need a mass movement of workers and students – capable of taking power out of the hands of the bosses, and transforming society along socialist lines.
The campaign at UEA is a stepping-stone in this struggle: to unite staff and students; to realise our collective strength; and to build the forces capable of overthrowing this rotten system.
If you agree, get in touch today and join the struggle for socialism!