Attacks against higher education have pushed students and staff to the brink. As a result, a defiant mood has erupted on campuses up and down the country.
Building on the back of the last round of successful UCU strikes in December, staff are gearing up for a fresh wave of action, starting on 14 February.
Covering two disputes over pensions and the ‘Four Fights’ (on wages, workloads, casualisation, and pay inequality), strike action is planned for 14-18 February; 20-22 February; and 28 February to 2 March.
In order for these strikes to have maximum impact, it is vital that students provide support and solidarity for university workers.
The Marxist Student Federation (MSF) will be mobilising students to attend the picket lines everywhere we have a presence, as was seen during the previous strike last December. And solidarity meetings and student-staff action committees are being organised, in order to strengthen the links between workers and students.
We are supporting the upcoming UCU strikes and building for the NUS walkout on the 2nd of March. Only through united action can we strike a blow against the marketisation of education.
So get involved! ✊ Sign up here: https://t.co/vGqOt3oue8
Students & Workers – Unite & Fight! pic.twitter.com/C5gHGUkyll
— Marxist Student (@MarxistStudent) February 8, 2022
This sends a clear message to university management. They cannot divide us to weaken the strike. As Marxist students have been arguing: staff teaching conditions are our learning conditions. Our interests are the same – and are opposed to the interests of education bosses.
Coinciding with the UCU strike is the national student walkout called by the NUS (National Union of Students.
A number of Marxist societies have already passed motions committing to support the walkout and build for it. These motions are also being taken to local student unions.
If we can seriously mobilise students to walk out at the same time as our lecturers are on strike, this will significantly strengthen both workers and students in our demands – laying the basis for a powerful united mass struggle against marketisation.
Students and workers: unite and strike!
Over the past year or so, Goldsmiths University has been another victim of the crisis of education’s marketisation.
A restructuring scheme was made in a backroom deal with Lloyds and NatWest banks, and was outsourced to a multinational consultancy firm.
A series of loans were issued by these banks on the basis that mass redundancies would take place. Additionally, the university’s main building was to be provided as collateral if repayments could not be made.
As a response to this gutting of the university, Goldsmiths staff – represented by the UCU – launched a period of strike action in November and December last year.
Now, with the university’s senior management team (SMT) refusing to meet the union’s demands to abandon planned job losses, another period of strike action has been launched.
Members of the Goldsmiths Marxist Society have been visiting the picket lines; standing in solidarity with these striking university workers and UCU members.
Activists and lecturers have given impassioned speeches, whilst students and other individuals have come along to offer words of solidarity and defend the workers.
One speaker pointed out similarities with other areas of the public sector – citing the dismal pay that many NHS staff receive, even after working to the point of collapse on the frontline throughout the pandemic.
— Franca (@FrancaMarquardt) February 7, 2022
The atmosphere on the picket lines has been one of hope and genuine optimism.
Although this is the second time that staff have had to strike this academic year, they are not demoralised. Instead, UCU members have stressed how those making the cuts did not expect such a forceful response.
As another speaker noted, management have made efforts to isolate the departments from one another; but they have clearly underestimated the staff’s potential to organise.
Turnout on the picket line has been good, with a significant number of students present in support, and an enormous anger towards those responsible for the cuts. As one student stated: “As a student, and just as a human being, nothing has caused me more distress and uncertainty than the cuts that the SMT are pushing for.”
There has also been an emphasis on the strike’s importance nationally, with speakers emphasising that the model of higher education being rolled out at Goldsmiths will be replicated by university bosses across the country if these attacks are not resisted.
Lizzie Dickson, Goldsmiths Marxists
The strike of teachers at NewVic sixth form college in Newham – over issues of bullying, intimidation, and arbitrary workload increases – was recently resolved, with rank-and-file NEU members voting to accept management’s offer.
This is a tremendous victory for NEU members at the college, and is another example of what student and staff solidarity can achieve in defending education.
Activists from Socialist Appeal and the MSF have been helping out at the picket line for weeks. And as a student at the college, I was able to build support for the strike amongst the students themselves. This was essential to the strike’s victory, as college management ran a campaign of misinformation against the strike from the beginning.
In the weeks before the resolution was reached, the student presence on the picket line increased. Numerous others expressed support over social media, and through sending emails to management, local councillors, and the local MP.
We started building support by promptly producing a flyer about the strike, which we handed out to thousands of students (with permission from local NEU members).
Furthermore, those of us who had been attending the picket lines organised a meeting with other supportive students. And we texted people who had shown interest in winning the strike, informing students of the reasons for this action: plans to academise; uninvestigated cases of staff bullying; massive workloads; and overwhelming testing and monitoring.
At the picket line with NEU members at @newhamsixthform
on strike against academisation, work overload and staff bullying. Great mood on the picket line on second day of 3-day strike this week Solidarity! @NEUnion #newvic #newham pic.twitter.com/4TtIOa4aY3
— Julian Sharpe (@juliansharpe) January 12, 2022
We encouraged people to attend picket lines, building in particular for the weekly strike rallies outside the college.
Similarly, we spoke in our classes about the teachers’ demands, and the shared interests between students and staff.
After discussing with the local NEU secretary, we began building for a mass student and staff meeting, using flyers and social media to organise an event where students could hear the truth about the strike.
Above all, the main way we attempted to win over students was to convince them politically – linking the student and staff problems to the overall crisis of capitalism. In this respect, our flyers and online posts were political in nature, instead of merely repeating facts about the dispute.
This meeting was intended to build up towards an all-college walkout, which would put pressure on the college management to accept the NEU’s demands.
In the end, the strike was resolved on the day of the planned meeting – partly due to the growing student support for the strike.
With the strike resolved, we are now planning to set up a student activist committee in the college. This will help organise students on the many other problems that they face, as will enable us to build support for the national student walkout on 2 March.
Vic Lancaster, NewVic college student and MSF activist
In Birmingham, we held a meeting on 3 February to coordinate work for the upcoming UCU strikes and NUS walkout. The meeting was attended by student activists from both the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University. Dozens of people have already agreed to help mobilise for the walkout.
We discussed the political background to the strike, making a case for linking the UCU and student struggles together, and emphasising the need to build a mass base of support amongst both students and staff.
In order to highlight the need for linking the struggles together, a UCU representative was also invited to speak about their demands.
At the end of this meeting, we unanimously decided to hold a rally around the student walkout and its demands. This is scheduled for 2 March: the day of the NUS walkout, and also the final day of the UCU strike. Importantly, this action has the support of the local UCU and Unison branches.
We noticed that very few students actually know about the student walkout, so raising awareness is going to be a key task.
Most importantly, Marxist activists will be campaigning to politically convince students of the need to take action, fight for free education, and support the UCU strikes.
There is going to be a further strike solidarity meeting on 11 February, in order to make final preparations before the UCU pickets begin the following Monday.
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We are busy spreading the word about the upcoming NUS student walkout, with frequent flyering sessions on campus. These have resulted in an impressive level of engagement from students.
On 3 February, we had our first Marxist society event of the term. We brought up the student walkout, and specifically the MSF model motion and its demands, which were printed and distributed.
Society members discussed the NUS walkout, why we as Marxists support it, and the ways in which we intended to build for this movement. The motion was passed unanimously, and a call out was made to join a WhatsApp group to help organise and get involved.
The next day we began our social media push. Our main post showed the motion that was passed. We will continue to share political content that the MSF publishes, as well as our own.
Through this campaigning – online and on campus – we hope to reach and convince other activists, groups, and societies to join the walkout.
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Here at Newcastle, we are being very proactive in relation to the upcoming UCU strikes. Early contact was made with the local UCU branch. We offered our solidarity, and set up a meeting to discuss how we can best support the strike. We have offered to assist with fundraising, in addition to bolstering picket lines.
We are also holding a student-staff solidarity meeting to raise awareness for the strikes, and to educate fellow students about why they are taking place. A UCU representative has been invited to speak at the meeting, alongside Marxist society members.