University staff in the UK faced changes to their pension scheme that an independent study confirmed would result in losses of over £200,000 in retirement. Obviously, staff chose to fight this injustice. After two weeks of industrial action, UCU and the employer Universities UK (UUK) offered to create a ‘Joint Expert Panel’ to negotiate a pension deal by next year.
The offer has been accepted for now, and is an attempt to scupper the momentum built up in this action. UUK have proved that they do not intend to give staff a fair pension deal, they do not want a fair outcome from this panel. We must remain vigilant and mobilized during the negotiations. Staff need to know that students are ready to support them the moment they move to industrial action.
Amidst management and UUK’s attempt to cause confusion and break solidarity, many students have found themselves concerned about the effect of strikes on their education. In an article published by Epigram, Bristol student Ed Southgate came to the conclusion that the strikes ‘victimise students’.
As students, we are being victimised by UUK, and the capitalist system. Not, as Ed suggests, by our lecturers. The staff are our allies in a wider struggle to run universities centered around education rather than profit. We must be their allies in this part of the struggle. This strike is about much more than the pension cuts.
The lecturers standing up to UUK are setting a precedent on what universities should prioritise. The pension cuts have one sole cause: marketisation. If our staff lose this struggle, further attempts to profit from the university system will be made. The fees of UK residents and foreign students could be driven up further.
This strike, as with all industrial action, reaches beyond the institutions where it is taking place. Seeing staff sacrifice two weeks of wages in order to utilize their collective power and secure rights for generations to come is astounding. They are an inspiration for which we should all be grateful.
The ripples of this struggle will be felt across the public and private sector. It’s not long before we enter the workplace full time, some will even end up in academia, under the exact same pension scheme. If you want to benefit from this struggle in the future, you must back it now.
Lecturers are workers, therefore their strike will disrupt students. If lecturers went on strike and there was no disruption to your learning it would be quite a concern. Just as lecturers are integral to learning, students are integral to a university. Causing disruption in student life is an essential part of causing disruption to the operations of the university.
A strike is not just about sending a message, it’s about realising and using your power. Without workers, an industry cannot run. Students are only provided with an education at all because university staff permit it. If they stop, the entire institution stops. Between us we have to power to change the education system for the better.
It’s true that the UCU strike hurts students in the short term. But to improve our education in the long term, this strike must not only be won but the control of the education system must be in the hands of the teachers and students themselves.
For any student who is concerned about getting their value for money, I invite you to come to a picket line, and be educated on militant action as it happens. If we listen to the direction of this strike, it is clear staff and students are fighting the same battle. Staff are talking about the de-marketisation of education, they’re going beyond the simple truth that free education is not only possible, but necessary. They’re talking about an education free from market forces, research based on needs not profit, students and workers building a better future.
In teach-outs and occupations across the country, staff and students are beginning to model how the participants of higher education have the capacity to run our institutions for public good, without money grabbing management, fees, or private businesses profiting from loans, hardship funds and accommodation.
Ed from Bristol expressed concern that not enough was being done to support students in the aftermath of the first round of strikes. As we have seen, students are inevitably affected by UUK’s decision to not budge on pension cuts. As for the aftermath, more often than not I hear stories of teaching staff going out of their way to support students. It’s high time we return the favour.
As for the two weeks of emails stacking up while lecturers are on strike and not being paid to read them, of the few that fall through the cracks, I think we can be understanding. Some staff have had to rely on food banks, they are navigating a new realisation of their power, they are reeling from seeing their fellow workers cross the picket line, they are fighting illegal attempts to dock their wages further. We must remember our staff are human, and they are fighting a goliath.
Management’s “assurances” that our education would not be affected, is an issue to take up with management not striking staff. Management underestimated how valuable our staff are and how long they would sacrifice their pay for the future of work and education. They were trying to play down the power of the workers. Despite the confusion, making student life a little difficult, I’m glad they were wrong.
Ed pointed to the mental health crisis as a reason why the impact of these strikes should be lessened. That crisis didn’t come from nowhere. Maintenance support has been slashed and cuts to core funding have led to exploitative rent levels everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of students now find themselves having to work multiple precarious part-time jobs just to get by.
Add the anxiety of obscene debt and the terrible working conditions we face after graduating and you have the recipe for a breakdown! Striking staff are fighting against all of those conditions. If you’re concerned for the health of our generation, support striking staff, and fight for socialism.
Next time your lecturer apologises for how the strikes have affected your education, tell them that there’s no need to, that you know that the blame is on UUK. Be sure to thank them for their sacrifice.
We must be willing to make sacrifices to fight for a world free from exploitation. This fight is not one we can lose. We must stand in solidarity with our striking lecturers and fight for not only a better education, but a better world. Solidarity with UCU and forward to an education system and a society run for need, not profit!
Who the strike effects most is certainly not the most crucial question. The most crucial question is ‘what can I do to help?’
by Josie Tothill and Ivan Walton, Manchester Marxists