This period in Britain is marked by industrial disputes. From the RMT to the CWU to Unite and Unison, every union finds itself locked in battle. This crisis of capitalism has led the working class to fight on the industrial front. Both questions of winning reforms today and winning the class war in the long run can only be solved with a revolutionary leadership in the trade unions. This is why I fight.
First as a PhD student, and then as a postdoctoral researcher, I have been closely involved with the labour disputes at Imperial College London over the last academic year.
As a member of the Imperial College Marxists, I have worked tirelessly with my comrades to build a bridge of solidarity between students and the local branch of the UCU, which represents lecturers, researchers, and other teaching and research support staff.
I have witnessed first-hand the need for strong trade unions to defend the lives and livelihoods of workers while the bosses and the ruling class want us foot the bill of this crisis of capitalism.
But trade unions and strike action should not be regarded as purely defensive organisations and strategies, but rather as a weapon to wrench from the claws of capital what is rightfully ours, and to bring about a socialist transformation of society.
Joining the UCU and the Marxist tendency
I joined the UCU when I was still a PhD student, because I could see the important role it plays in the struggle for better teaching and learning conditions in Higher Education.
I first became aware of the UCU mere weeks after I had arrived in the UK and joined Imperial College as a visiting MSc student, back in 2018. At the time, UCU members were on strike across the UK over the attacks on pensions by the Tory government.
The strike ended with the university bosses backing off, but they would soon be back on the offensive. This was part of a pattern of attacks on workers’ rights as capitalism tobogganed towards a global crisis.
Then the pandemic hit in 2020 and it seemed to me that everything had been upended. I could not look forward to the future anymore.
Then I came across the ideas of Marxism, which cut through the fog and the confusion of the times that we are living through, by providing a clear scientific explanation of the crisis of capitalism and pointing the only way out of the horrors of this system – through socialist revolution.
That same year I joined Socialist Appeal and the Marxist Student Federation (MSF).
The last academic year saw another wave of strikes over the pensions dispute at universities across the UK. This was the same year that we launched the Marxist society at Imperial College. This time I wasn’t prepared to be a simple spectator looking on from the sidelines.
The comrades from the Marxist society threw themselves into this struggle. In order to build the forces of Marxism locally, we focused on mobilising the students in support of their lecturers and the other striking staff.
Solidarity between workers and students
The marketisation of education has created difficult conditions for students everywhere, from extortionate fees to high rents and poor learning conditions in general. It therefore makes perfect sense for students to stand with the workers as they take the fight to university management.
In fact, it is only by uniting with the workers on campus that students can effectively fight for their own demands. As Marxists we therefore stress the importance of student-staff solidarity.
However, the Imperial College bosses have tried to sow division between the students and their lecturers, by seizing on the minimal disruption to the students’ curriculum caused by the strikes. But their efforts have been in vain.
Before the first strike in early December, the students’ union called a referendum on whether they should officially support the industrial action taken by the UCU.
The Imperial College Marxists led the campaign for a YES vote, and in the end the students voted overwhelmingly to support the strikes.
We then hosted a joint meeting between the Marxist society and the Imperial branch of the UCU and mobilised the students to join the strikers on the picket lines.
The mood on the picket lines was one of unwavering solidarity between students and staff. We stood side by side with the lecturers all throughout the December, February, and March strikes.
The students who walked past the pickets were incredibly receptive to our ideas when we explained what the strikes were about and why it was important for them to support them.
Fight for free education!
We were thus able to cut across the divide erected artificially by Imperial College management between students on the one hand, and striking staff on the other.
We did so by putting forward a clear class position and explaining that the struggle for better teaching conditions and the struggle for better learning conditions are one and the same. The attacks against staff pay and pensions are merely one side of the coin in the attacks against public education.
As Marxists, we connect the struggle for better working conditions in the Higher Education sector with the struggle for high-quality public education, free and accessible to all.
But under capitalism education is constantly under attack by the ruling class, who view marketisation as a way to line their pockets from a previously unprofitable sector.
The end result is that business interests are prioritised over learning outcomes. Instead of investing money into improving teaching and facilities, universities are being cut to the bone in the name of ‘modernisation’. All the while, students are paying more in fees than ever before.
But there are piles of money that are sitting in the bank accounts of the capitalists. This is why we put forward the demand to fund education by expropriating the bosses.
This would ensure that the resources of society are used in a way that serves the best interests of students and workers, as a part of democratic plan for the whole economy. A socialist revolution will make this a reality by putting the working class in power.
Capitalism is now in its deepest crisis ever. Runaway inflation means that the situation for working people everywhere is increasingly unbearable.
The bosses see this as an opportunity to impose real-terms wage cuts and increase their profits, forcing the workers to shoulder the consequences of this crisis. They have thrown down the gauntlet and the workers must prepare for mass resistance!
Organising ourselves in the trade unions is a vital step in defending working conditions. But as capitalism staggers from one crisis to the next, the bosses will claw back any temporary gain made by the workers.
Therefore, in order to defend our most basic rights and achieve genuine, lasting reforms, the working class needs to overthrow the bosses’ system and take power into their own hands.
And when that moment comes, they will not stop at those basic rights and labour reforms, but will organise the economy democratically according to a socialist plan for production.
We therefore need Marxist ideas in the labour movement and a strong revolutionary leadership that can put forward a fighting socialist programme and guide the working class in the decisive battles that lie ahead!
If you agree with our ideas, join us in the fight for socialism!