The University and College Union (UCU) has announced 3 days of strike action over pensions, pay and conditions, and the ‘four fights’ dispute. The strike will take place from 1st December to 3rd.
This is the third time in four years that UCU members have strongly supported strike action, showing the strength of feeling on campuses. Although historically lecturers may have been privileged workers, in the present day the profession is characterised by stagnant pay, unbearable workloads, job insecurity, and increased casualisation.
There has been a continuous attack on pensions in particular. The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a major pension provider for HE workers, is demanding a massive increase in staff contributions – from 30.7% of payroll to a “worst-case scenario” of 56%. USS claims the scheme is in a bad financial state and only staff increases can fix it. This is untrue. They said the same in 2018 when the first wave of UCU actions started. This is a situation not unique to higher education, but reflects an ongoing attack on workers’ conditions across multiple industries.
Scandalously, some student unions have come out against the UCU strike. At KCL, Leeds, and elsewhere. In Leeds, the student union used ‘working class and marginalised students’ as an argument against the strike. This shows the reactionary role identity politics plays in the workers movement. We must be firm against this divisive rhetoric.
The reason UCU staff are going on strike is due to the ongoing marketisation of education. This marketisation doesn’t solely affect UCU staff, or lecturers. It impacts students, especially those who are working class and marginalised. As the marketisation of education has increased, so have tuition fees, and student access to learning. Staff teaching conditions are our learning conditions. Their fight is our fight.
To oppose the strike in order to support marginalised students is an oxymoron. It is in our interest as students to mobilise heavily in support of UCU staff, who are taking the fight to university management. This is the same university management who brought students back to university last year under false pretences of blended learning, to assure that rent money and other expenses were paid. The same university management who sit on fat cat salaries, while important university services (such as pastoral care and support) remain severely underfunded. The same university management who have overseen course closures, forced redundancies (like at Goldsmiths) and much more.
This all fits in with the general pattern under capitalism: despite the fact that their system is failing, the bosses have never been richer. It is the workers, youth, and poor who are being made to pay for this crisis.
The MSF has mobilised massively for UCU strikes in the past and we will do so again. Employers think they can just wear the unions out over time, that is especially the case for the UCU since this is the 3rd wave of strike actions. Therefore the strike must keep on growing and gaining support if it is to succeed in all of its demands.
If this strike does succeed, it will be an immense blow to the business-like system under which universities are run. From there, we can achieve much more: free, quality education; and control of universities by staff and students.
Students and workers – unite and fight!
The Marxist Student Federation expresses its support for the UCU strike action and encourages every Marxist student to do the following:
- Move the resolution below in your local Marxist society
- Move the resolution below in your local student union
- Write an article for the local student press on the importance of student/staff solidarity during this strike action
- Invite a local member of UCU to speak at the Marxist society about the strike action and the need for student support
- Raise money with which to buy coffee, sandwiches, etc. to take to the picket lines during the strike action
- Organise as large a delegation as possible from your local Marxist society to attend the picket line and offer solidarity
- The Marxist Student Federation (MSF) gives its full solidarity to UCU members across the country, who have voted in favour of industrial action over pensions and the Four Fights.
- For ordinary lecturers, work in Higher Education is increasingly characterised by stagnant pay, unbearable workloads, job insecurity, and casualisation. This is the third successful ballot in four years, showing how dire the situation is for lecturers.
- However, while pay is stagnant and conditions are attacked for ordinary staff, senior management continue to take home bumper pay packages. Many higher education workers will find themselves struggling at the end of the month, or will be let go by an institution at the end of the summer term, with no guarantees about whether a job awaits them in the autumn.
- This is while students are forced to pay through the nose for tuition and rent. This situation is the logical result of the marketisation of higher education, which the MSF fundamentally opposes.
- Given that staff working conditions are also student learning conditions, we stand firmly on the side of our lecturers and will support any industrial action in whatever way we can. This is because the only way to end the marketisation of higher education is through a united fightback of staff and students for staff and student control.
- We further call on Student Unions to openly support our lecturers. They should not repeat the mistake of neither supporting or opposing the strikes, as it has occured during the last round of strikes in 2019-20. A failure to take a stand against attacks on staff can only mean, in practice, support for the status quo.
- Such attacks can only be fought with a united movement, on a clear class basis, and with a bold socialist programme. This is the kind of fighting strategy our UCU leadership should be adopting. Ultimately, all disputes are winnable. It is just a matter of being prepared to do whatever it takes.
Victory to the UCU!