Academic staff organised in the UCU are due to strike across the country for three days this month, on 24, 25, and 30 November. Earlier this term, meanwhile, university workers in 22 Unison branches took action over pay.
It is vital that students join forces with workers in struggle, in order to offer solidarity and fight back against the bosses’ onslaught.
Cuts and crisis
Capitalism is lurching from crisis to crisis. And it is workers and youth who are being made to pay, through austerity and attacks.
Higher education is facing particularly sharp cuts, with the burden falling on students and staff alike.
University vice-chancellors have already called for a rise in tuition fees, which will only increase the mountain of debt that faces students upon graduation.
But instead of improving campus life, the marketisation of education has resulted in worsening conditions for both students and workers.
Massive amounts of money are spent on vanity projects and marketing to attract investors and business sponsors. Meanwhile, essentials like affordable accommodation and mental health facilities are cut back.
Consequently, many universities have been forced to place students in halls miles away from campus. Students in Manchester have been sent as far away as Liverpool, for example; forced to commute between cities in order to attend lectures.
All the while, private accommodation companies and landlords are squeezing mega-profits out of freshers.
Profits over education
With all of this money sloshing around, students and staff are increasingly asking: where is it going? After all, it is clearly not going towards providing decent services, or raising lecturers’ pay.
Repeated strikes by UCU members demonstrate the prolonged attack on pay and conditions that academic staff have faced. Pathetic pay increases over the last 12 years have amounted to a real-term cut of 20%, once inflation has been accounted for.
At the same time, upper management have enjoyed healthy pay rises and bonuses.
Job losses are also an ever-looming threat, with universities closing down departments and courses that don’t bring in enough money.
Shockingly, some staff have even been forced into relying on foodbanks, as casualised contracts and poverty pay become the norm for those entering the sector.
Divide and rule
On the other side, students see diminished module options and increased class sizes. Yet university bosses shamelessly try to drive a wedge between staff and students, pretending that striking workers – not marketisation and profiteering – are to blame for the deteriorating state of higher education.
In official statements from universities up and down the country, the same cynical tactic is being deployed. Management are trying to turn students’ rage towards staff, arguing that strikes are only adding to the disruption to learning, after the tumultuous years of the pandemic.
The anger of students is palpable. It is not strike action that should be blamed, however, but the actions of university bosses themselves.
In any case, this divide-and-rule strategy is clearly failing, with support and solidarity from students far outweighing any opposition when it comes to strikes on campuses.
Last year, for example, there was strong support amongst students for the UCU strikes. And Marxist societies played a prominent role in this movement: bolstering picket lines; organising student-staff solidarity campaigns; and mobilising mass demonstrations of student and trade union activists in cities like Leeds.
These examples must be replicated and built upon for the upcoming wave of action – not only to provide solidarity to university staff, but to NHS workers, teachers, and posties too.
The UCU strikes are not isolated. Workers everywhere are facing the same struggle.
Only through a united fight of students and workers can we fight back against the marketisation of education, and against the crisis-ridden, profit-driven capitalist system that lies behind this.
Such a movement must be linked to the fight for a clear socialist alternative.
We cannot trust the Tories or university bosses with our education. Instead, workers themselves should be in control of campuses and courses, free from the interests and influence of the profiteers.
At the same time, education and research needs to be fully-funded. But instead of relying on eye-watering fees and piles of debt, we must point to the hundreds of billions sitting in the bank accounts of big business and the billionaires.
This is why we argue for free education, funded by expropriation.
This can ultimately only be won and safeguarded as part of a wider socialist transformation of society. Only through uniting our struggles can we – students and workers – deal a decisive blow against the capitalist system that is responsible for destroying our universities, our education, and our lives.