Marxist Societies across the country actively participated in the latest UCU strike action in March. The strikes were split across two weeks, commencing on 21 March, to take into account different universities’ term dates around the Easter holidays.
Our Marxist societies were active in over 30 university campuses, mobilising its members to be on the picket lines every day in support of the striking staff. We raised money for the strike fund, organised meetings where UCU members were invited to speak, and brought along more students to the pickets in support of the strike. We always put forward the common interest that students share with the staff. We share the same fight against the university management and against marketisation of education. We stand firmly for free, quality education and democratic control of universities by staff and students.
Occupations were organised by students in support of the striking staff in Nottingham and Kent. In Kent we were invited to help organise and participate in the occupation, a report of which can be found below.
The reports we have received clearly indicate a changing mood among the rank and file of the UCU compared to previous rounds of strike action. Our comrades mention a lower turn-out than before, and frustration concerning the strategy behind the strikes. Those who are deciding to go on strike still want to win the disputes over pensions, pay and conditions. The cost of living crisis has re-emphasised the pressure workers are coming under.
The workers are ready to fight, but they need more support. The UCU Marxists pointed out in their latest article, that many members have said that they recognize a successful fight will require a change of strategy. More UCU members have spoken in favor of indefinite strike actions. In the article, the UCU Marxists also comment on the call for a marking boycott, and how it should go alongside indefinite strike action.
This fight is not over and it is most likely going to continue in the new academic term. The Marxist Student Federation is prepared to mobilise its Marxist Societies in support of the UCU strikes as soon as the strikes are happening again, and put forward our common struggle. We will help out in any way we can to achieve victory for our striking staff!
Their fight is our fight, solidarity!
Comrades from the two Birmingham Marxist Societies (UoB and BCU) have been out on the picket lines at the University of Birmingham supporting them in their third round of strike action this academic year. The workers are understandably frustrated by the further attacks of the bosses in pushing through the shameful pension cut. At Birmingham, a layer of workers have been placed under a university subsidiary (which the university wholly owns) and bureaucratically isolated from the union by management, who are also threatening workers with pay cuts from action short of a strike. This has raised the question for these workers, what is the next step? The answer must be indefinite strike action.
Our comrades argued that these disgusting attacks and sharpening of the struggle by the bosses must be met with national militant action by the UCU. Our perspective on the need to escalate strike action is shared by members, who see this as the only way they can win the strike. At the strike rally on Friday, our comrades will be speaking on the demand for indefinite strike action.
Our comrades have also been at the forefront of the student-staff solidarity campaign, and an open letter written by the campaign group has been signed by over 300 students demanding that the UCU’s demands be granted. We also raised £175 through a bake sale for the strike fund.
Birmingham Marxists will indefatigably support students and workers in the fight against marketisation. Solidarity with the UCU! Students and workers, unite and fight!
In Glasgow we have been seeing gratifying results to our consistent intervention on the UCU picket lines. We have established a strong rapport with the UCU members and strike organisers, which has allowed us to collaborate in holding campus solidarity meetings and raising support for the strike among students.
Although the strikers may be starting to have their doubts about the union strategy – as shown by a motion passed at the UCU Glasgow branch calling for local actions that will have more effect on the University management – they have been vocal in expressing their gratitude towards students and the Marxist society for providing a reliable base for student solidarity.
We are not yet the main point of reference for strike solidarity and radical politics on campus, and still have work to do. There is a space there however, and we are ready to fill it. We have the ideas and the organisation, we need only push forwards with boldness and determination.
During this week of UCU strikes, a number of student activist groups, including our JMS comrades, occupied a university building as a means of solidarity and a place to use for events/discussion and organise support for the pickets. JMS organised a discussion inside around Education and Capitalism.
Around ~35 students participated. We broke the discussion into three general themes:
– Current problems of Education
– What are the causes?
– How to fight back?
For each part, a comrade was introducing and summarising the point and we encouraged all the participants to think about and contribute. This led to a very lively and quite radical discussion. Everyone was disgusted at the way the universities are working under the current system, identifying many cases of profit seeking and corruption.
Students are already reaching more radical conclusions, understanding this as a systematic issue, not just a “university problem”. We emphasised there the role of education under capitalism, how all these phenomena result from the attempt of higher education to work within the market. We also connected all the above with the recent UCU strikes.
The point that was hardest for students to answer was “how to fight back”? There we emphasised the need of the struggle to not be restricted on education demands, but hit the root of the problem: capitalism. We pointed out the need to be organised and fight these campaigns collectively with a socialist programme. We called all interested to join us in our fight to end capitalism. Many took up the call!
Last week the Sheffield Marxist society was intervening on the UCU picket lines with our roving picket. This provided great support for the strikes. When speaking with the UCU members there was a clear disillusionment with the strategy. The militancy of the staff however was apparent when in conversation about strategy, staff were saying “yes, I voted for the socialist appeal motion for indefinite strike”!
The mood shifted throughout the week and whilst there were still fewer people out on the pickets than in previous rounds there was a renewed enthusiasm. Especially after the UCU Sheffield branch EGM on Wednesday, where another motion for indefinite strike was passed which will be going to the national UCU conference in June. People were generally optimistic about taking further more militant action.
Comrades from the Kent Marxist Society took part in a week-long occupation that was organised by students to express solidarity with the UCU. Many UCU members found the occupation to be a huge morale boost, and the local branch was further emboldened by a victory on Wednesday where after lengthy negotiation, the university finally agreed that there would be no compulsory redundancies and promised a better work-life balance in exchange for an end to the marking and assessments boycott.
The student occupation likely only had a minor influence on the result of these negotiations as the disruption it caused was only minor. However, the fact that it even occurred is a positive sign that students have a keen interest in getting involved in the struggle and some are willing to take bold action. Comrades attended the occupation, encouraged political discussion and expressed the need for a long-term strategy that can keep the fight going after this batch of students graduate.
According to polling by the Kent Union, 54% of students support the strikes. Despite this, student turnout at recent pickets and this occupation were low, and this seems largely due to many students being uninformed on the purpose of strikes in general, even if they are sympathetic to the workers. The majority of students don’t seem to have heard about the occupation or of the strike’s recent victory. This is due to the lack of communication from the Kent Student Union, which only sends out emails occasionally but fails to communicate the UCU’s position.
Neither the Kent Union or the University Management acknowledged the occupation, and so it was left to the few students involved to spread the word. This is one of key reasons why we must connect the action of students with that of the workers. To elevate the UCU demands, and establish student and staff cooperation and solidarity. This could form the foundation for a collective fightback against marketisation that we will need over the next few years.
The Marxist society will continue to support strikes and student protests, through the course of which we aim to keep students informed and consistently express the need for student-worker solidarity.on