The UCU strikes are in full swing once again in Cambridge after a hiatus between December and February. The ongoing bout of industrial action is shaping up to be more explosive. Aside from breakfast runs, picketing, etc. the rallies have been reinvigorated by the student-led occupation. Impassioned union chants are filling the air.
While the VC is rearranging his meetings elsewhere, and insisting that business continues as usual, the pickets are following him around Cambridge, making sure the message is heard loud and clear. Students and workers have rightly turned their frustration towards this rotten management, and, at the most recent rally, speeches were made drawing links between the UCU’s demands and the broader struggle against capitalism. As one worker put it: “we ask the bosses, are you the ones teaching students? Are you the ones marking papers? Are you the ones doing the research that matters?” To each question the crowd emphatically answered “no!”.
Speakers called on the UCU to reciprocate the solidarity toward the current action shown by UNITE, thereby calling for worker unity and the expansion of the struggle against the profit motive, which is what weighs down on us all. Crucially, the point was raised that the UCU’s demands are the demands of the students also. “When our lecturers are poorly paid and overworked, education as a whole suffers.”
Comrades have consistently and successfully argued that this occupation can only expect to succeed if, at every turn, it connects to the present workers’ struggle. Consequently, we are making use of our networks with Unions to bring speakers into the occupation, such that it can become a meeting point for worker solidarity and, combined with mutterings of occupations being staged in other universities, could potentially be the spark for an energetic movement of the masses.
Despite being the second time the UCU has balloted for strike action in three months and the disheartening effect of the Labour election loss, spirits remain high. A Cambridge UCU branch secretary commented “(staggering the strike periods) gradually increases the pressure” allowing the movement to continue without losing too much steam.
This occupation has emerged as the focal point of events in Cambridge since it began on Tuesday. Out of sheer curiosity, as well as solidarity, students that may otherwise have chosen to stay at home during the strike period have been drawn out to visit Old Schools, and the student demands (published below) have struck a chord, and have been published in local and national press. The same local UCU leader commented, “the occupation helps hugely, I think there’s no question there”; students have been “absolutely astonishing in their solidarity.”
Now, we must work tirelessly to coordinate the occupation on organisational and political fronts. We must use this occupation as a way to train and organise the student movement for the struggles ahead. The UCU strike is only the first spark.
The demands of the occupation are:
(1) The University of Cambridge recognises the University and College’s Union.
(2) The VC, Stephen Toope, makes a public statement calling for UCU’s demands to be met by employers and the national pensions and employment bodies.
(3) The VC sets out the University of Cambridge’s plans for meeting the national and local UCU demands, as well as those of UNITE and UNISON.
(4) The VC signs the Undoing Borders ‘Pledge Against the Hostile Environment’.
(5) The VC agrees to an open meeting before the end of term as part of a commitment to meet with students and workers twice termly.
(6) Students and workers face no disciplinary measures for taking part in peaceful direct action in support of the strikes.
Cambridge Marxist society