The idea of students occupying university rooms or buildings in solidarity with the UCU strikes is being raised on a number of campuses. It has been attempted in Southampton and is taking place now at UCL. Given the fury amongst students over how our university staff are being treated, occupations could connect with a broad layer of students and become a useful tool through which to support striking staff and build the movement against the attacks on pensions and the marketisation of education.
When considering how to stage a successful occupation one thing in particular must be borne in mind above all else. Any occupation will only be successful if it’s connected with broad layers of students. Without mass support, including support from the local UCU, any occupation will be confined to a thin layer of activists and the action might even risk alienating some students.
For this reason, the best basis for an occupation would be a mass meeting of students and staff to discuss the strike action, the issue of pensions, the broader attacks on education, and how we can support the struggle to defend education. Every effort must be made to involve the local UCU and the local student union in such a meeting. Off the back of such a meeting, as long as it is built for and the everyone is convinced of the need to take the struggle forward, an occupation could be successful in connecting with many people. In other words, we should think of a mass meeting as the launch-pad for an occupation.
Once an occupation has started, the occupied space should be used to host mass meetings that bring together students and workers from all over the university. The local UCU and student union must be approached and asked to give official support to the occupation. Above all the occupation must be in the service of the workers on strike, not in contradiction with it. Students could use the occupied space to hold teach-outs, make food and hot drinks for strikers and send delegations to deliver it to the picket lines, and to put on events to raise money for the UCU strike fund.
Student unions and other student groups should be asked to give support to the occupation in deeds as well as words. Student unions, for example, have printing facilities and social media capacity which could be used to print leaflets and circulate information encouraging more students to join the occupation.
What must be avoided at all costs is occupations that are driven by and confined to just a small group of activists with no links to the wider student body or the striking staff, and who view an occupation as an end in itself. Only by basing ourselves on the mass of students and workers, and using an occupation as a tool through which to build the struggle against the marketisation of education, can we make successful use of the tactic of an occupation.
The current UCU strikes have awakened a militancy in the student movement not seen since 2010. This is an excellent opportunity for students and workers to prove in practice the power of united action in defence of education. Marxist students all over the country will be seizing this opportunity with both hands.