Last week’s three-day strike by UCU members in higher education saw an impressive mobilisation of students in support of staff. With further strikes on the cards in the new year, this solidarity is a solid foundation for escalated action.
The latest round of action by members of the University and College Union (UCU) has come to a close. Many union branches now await the results of re-balloting, which is likely to pave the way for further – expanded – strike action at universities across the UK in the new year.
During the recent three-day strike, the Marxist Student Federation (MSF) organised students on campuses up and down the country to join picket lines and support their striking staff.
We know that solidarity and morale are integral for any strike to win, and our comrades have been busy mobilising support from students.
University management, along with the media, have desperately tried to drive a wedge between students and staff during this strike.
But our experience – and events themselves – have shown that students support their lecturers taking industrial action to defend pensions, pay, and teaching conditions, especially when this is connected to the ongoing struggle against the marketisation of education.
In a number of universities, for example, student union referendums revealed massive backing for the UCU strike amongst students.
And this was visibly seen by the large presence of students on picket lines – and at teach-outs and solidarity rallies (in many cases organised with the help of local Marxist societies) – during last week’s strike.
See below for a selection of reports from Marxist activists on the ground at various universities across the country, along with reports from an MSF solidarity rally and a UCU demonstration in London.
The MSF will continue to support strike action taken by UCU. At the same time, along with Marxist activists in the UCU, we call for future strikes to be coordinated with other higher education unions, such as Unison and Unite, as a stepping stone to a public sector wide strike. Unity is strength.
We hope to build on existing student-staff solidarity as a foundation for the next wave of action. And we will be looking to mobilise even greater numbers of students, in order to unite and fight against the attacks on university workers, and for a socialist solution to the crisis in education.
- For all-out united strike action amongst university workers!
- For a public sector wide strike!
- Students and workers: Unite and fight to defend education!
London MSF solidarity rally
In recent weeks, the Marxist Student Federation has mobilised its full forces to build up solidarity amongst students towards striking university staff.
On the last day of the strike, the MSF in London held a UCU solidarity rally, where around 50 students and workers gathered to show support for the strikers. At the rally, comrades heard brilliant speeches from Marxist activists in the UCU, NEU (National Education Union), and MSF.
The first speaker of the night was Dan Elbro, a UCU member at King’s College London, who explained the terrible conditions for teaching staff in higher education.
Dan Elbro of the @UCUMarxists calls for the @UCU to mobilise for indefinite strike action, in order to kick out the Tories and put an end to marketisation. This would require coordinated action with other unions, whose members are also facing attacks. #UCUStrikes #OneOfUsAllOfUs pic.twitter.com/qVVUzT5pNt— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) December 7, 2021
“People go into academia for the love of their subject,” Dan stated. “We want to work in it and teach students. But you can’t do this when you are being paid less and less for more and more work, on insecure and casual contracts – doubly so if you are a woman, if you are black or if you are disabled; only to have nothing to show for it at the end of your working life, because your pension has been gutted.
“This is why we’ve been forced to fight for our conditions by going on strike,” Dan boldly asserted.
Dan then highlighted that these issues are not isolated to higher education. The crisis of capitalism is affecting all sectors and industries around the globe, and workers are now starting to fight back.
These recent three days of strike action have demonstrated the resolve amongst UCU members. Now the struggle must be escalated.
“We must ask the question: what are the conditions to win?” Dan said. “If we are to win, we must show management that we are serious about these two disputes, and will stop at nothing. That means an all-out indefinite strike.”
The next speaker was primary school teacher and NEU member Aaron O’Connor, who spoke on how there are similar issues facing teachers in schools.
“The conditions faced by university lecturers and school teachers are not only linked, they are exactly the same,” Aaron explained. “Among teachers, among education workers in Unite and Unison, and among other public sector workers such as NHS staff, the mood clearly exists for a public sector general strike.”
During the strike, the Marxist societies in London (and across the country) visited picket lines on a daily basis to offer full support to the workers.
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At Friday’s rally, we got to hear many inspiring reports from the pickets, with students speaking about how the Marxist societies organised to show solidarity – and why university students must support the strike.
The last of the speakers on the platform was Fiona Lali, the national organiser for the MSF.
Fiona criticised the shameful behaviour of some of the student unions who came out against the strike. She then pointed out how students and university workers have the same interests. Students and staff must therefore fight together – not only to win the strike, but also to put an end to the marketisation of education and to tuition fees, and to struggle for free education.
At the end of the meeting, a collection was held for the UCU strike fund, with over 150 pounds raised.
It is very likely that further strike action will take place at the beginning of next year. The Marxist societies will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with staff, mobilising students to help ensure victory for UCU members.
Hundreds of UCU members, students, and supporters from across the labour movement marched across London on Friday (3 December) for day three of the UCU strike.
The demonstration was called to protest against pension cuts, against unfair pay and conditions, and against the rotten deal made between Goldsmiths management and Lloyds and NatWest banks.
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The latter would see the gutting of the History and English departments at Goldsmiths, in exchange for loans, with the main university building used as collateral in the agreement.
A clear mood of anger and militancy was on display at the protest – and with good reason.
In speeches and interviews by Marxist students, lecturers and academic staff all stated that they could not carry on with current workloads and conditions. All the while, their pensions and pay are being eroded away by university management.
University workers go into their respective fields because they are passionate about their subjects, and want to teach and advance them. But this is impossible when they are placed under ever-increasing strain, and are stripped of the resources required.
The slogan ‘our working conditions are students’ learning conditions’ was consequently very popular on the march, and was enthusiastically taken up by protestors.
Even more aggravating is the role of the banks – notably in the re-evaluation of the USS pension scheme, and in the backdoor deals at Goldsmiths, which will result in the loss of 52 staff and the futures of 270 students being endangered.
Much solidarity was expressed with the Goldsmiths strike across other striking universities. Workers understand that this is not an isolated dispute, but part of the general marketisation of education that they are fighting against.
And higher education workers understand that these attacks at Goldsmiths are a harbinger of things to come in many other universities. Besides, the domination of the banks is symptomatic of the lack of control that workers have over the education sector, as is the case in the disputes over pay and pensions.
As one speaker said at the end of the march: “We are the ones who are running the university. So why should the decisions be made by university chancellors on six-figure salaries – let alone in the boardrooms of the banks?”
Consequently, the strikers marched through the City to the gates of the NatWest HQ, chanting “Bankers out! Strikers in!” and “Lloyds, NatWest, get out! We know what you’re all about! Cuts; job losses; money for the bosses.”
The anger displayed on this protest was coupled with a desire to do more and escalate the fight.
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, spoke at the demo, stating that: “We’re reballoting and want 42 more branches out in the new year. We are going to do everything in our power to defeat the Tory anti-union laws that have prevented all of us from being out here together today.”
This is good. But there is also a mood for larger, co-ordinated action with other workers in higher education, and in other sectors of the economy.
Solidarity speeches from a Tube driver on strike and from RMT general secretary Mick Lynch received many cheers and applause, with these militant trade union activists referring explicitly to the need for “industrial action co-ordinated right across our movement”, against “conditions that are exactly the same” within many different sectors.
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The willingness is there within the UCU membership for all-out united strike action, in order to achieve all of the demands of the two ongoing national disputes.
Such action could act as a springboard for coordinated action with other unions, such as the NEU, Unite, Unison, and RMT, where the rank and file is equally prepared to struggle.
And this, in turn, could pave the way for a one-day strike across the public sector, which would take the fight to the Tories and bosses. This is the militant, determined strategy that is needed for victory.
The strikes in Leeds garnered particular attention after the Leeds University Union (LUU) released a statement condemning the strikes, in an attempt to divide university workers and students.
Jonathan, a postgraduate researcher we interviewed, stated that the LUU’s statement was “absolutely shameful”. Even after having an emergency operation, he still found the time to teach, showing that staff regularly go above and beyond for their students.
The student union’s statement not only received backlash from staff, but also from students at Leeds University.
The week before the strikes, the LUU held an open meeting where angry students were spilling out of the room to voice their disgust at the stance taken by the student union.
SHAME ON LUU! ‼️— Leeds Student Staff Solidarity (@SSSLeeds) November 18, 2021
Our ‘Student Union’ executives released this appalling statement in response to the UCU announcing strike action.
What this bizarrely long twitter thread makes for in quantity, unfortunately does not make up in quality. pic.twitter.com/fiIqN11cHD
In attendance at this meeting were comrades from Socialist Appeal, who have been playing a leading role in the Leeds Student Solidarity Campaign (LSSS).
A panel discussion was then organised two days later with the Leeds UCU president Chloe Wallace, along with two comrades from the Leeds Marxist Society.
The event was well attended, with approximately 50 students and staff coming to listen and make contributions. The mood amongst students was very radical and enthusiastic, with people linking the trade union struggle to the struggle for socialism.
The week of the strikes saw a big mobilisation by Leeds University students – largely thanks to the work of comrades in the LSSS, who organised leafleting campaigns and banner making sessions.
There was a particularly energetic mood on the picket lines in Leeds. The BBC attended on Wednesday, hoping for a low turnout. But they were to be disappointed.
Instead, they found students actively handing out flyers and leading chants alongside their lecturers.
We’ve had amazing turnouts on the UCU picket lines. Remember our fight is not over, we must continue fighting against the system of capitalism that exploits workers in this way! ✊🏾 #EndMarketisation #SupportUCU pic.twitter.com/BlUj9GrpmK— Leeds Student Staff Solidarity (@SSSLeeds) December 3, 2021
There were rallies everyday at the pickets. Student comrades from Socialist Appeal took to the mic, expressing solidarity with the UCU staff, and putting forward the case for the socialist transformation of society.
Slogans like ‘open the books’ and ‘for a democratic running of the university by staff and students’ particularly struck a chord among the crowd.
This shows that workers and youth want more than simply empty calls for solidarity. They want perspectives and political backbone, which can only be supplied by the ideas of Marxism.
These strikes will only be the start of a more intense struggle after the Christmas break. The employers and pensions bureaucrats are showing no signs of coming to an agreement with the UCU. Rank-and-file UCU members, however, are determined to continue the fight.
This is the trend across the country. Workers are facing an all-out attack by the bosses on pay and conditions. This is causing an increased ferment within the trade union movement.
Workers will move into action, channeling this determination and anger, and attempting to transform their unions into fighting weapons.
The task for Marxists is to show solidarity – not just in words, but in action. This means linking the staff and student struggles together, actively raising political consciousness among students.
Ultimately, the UCU demands must be linked to the wider labour movement and the collective struggle for Socialism. Where higher education is run not for the profits of landlords and private investors, but for the students, staff and the working-class as a whole.
Imperial College London
The students’ union (ICU) decided to ballot students on whether it should officially support the strike. This referendum was announced only a week before it took place. And during that period – after a swift mobilisation of our comrades – we campaigned enthusiastically for a ‘Yes’ vote.
We put up posters and distributed leaflets, and found that the mood amongst students was very supportive. The ‘Yes’ campaign massively won the referendum, with an overwhelming 73% of students voting to support the UCU strike.
After the vote, we organised a joint panel with speakers from the local Marxist society, Labour society, and UCU branch. The UCU rep explained the background behind the strike action, and comrades linked the struggle of academic staff with that of students.
During the strike, Marxist society activists attended the picket line on all three days, handing out leaflets and talking to students and UCU members.
Comrades were again at the picket line in solidarity with the @ImperialUCU strike for the last of the 3 days. ✊— Imperial College Marxists (@icmarxists) December 3, 2021
Victory to the #UCU! #UCUstrike pic.twitter.com/0wJo36ETAO
At the end of each day, striking staff came together at the picket for speeches. We made a speech on the last day of the strike, focussing on the need for unity between students and workers in order to win.
Our message at the #UCUstrike picket.— Imperial College Marxists (@icmarxists) December 3, 2021
Victory to the @ImperialUCU! ✊ pic.twitter.com/jjyEyanAfR
The only way in which the ICU have actively supported the strike so far is by letting UCU members use their building to meet.
We think that the student union has a strong mandate to use its full resources to mobilise students in solidarity with the UCU, and we will be calling for them to do so in the next round of strike action.
Manchester Metropolitan University
At Manchester Metropolitan (MMU), the Marxist society launched the campaign for student-staff solidarity.
We spent the run up to the strike building staff and student solidarity, handing out leaflets, and talking to UCU representatives about what we could do.
We held an off-campus meeting – with 40 MMU students in attendance – to discuss how students and staff could best fight university bosses. Speakers from the MMU UCU branch, Unison branch, and local Marxist society, spoke about the need for the strikes, why students should support them, and how to fight against the marketisation of education.
Supporting UCU picket lines this morning! Victory to the workers! @UM_UCU @manmetucu @MMUs4s @MarxistStudent pic.twitter.com/LD4pp9yZZY— Manchester Marxists (@MCRMarxists) December 1, 2021
During the strike, we visited the picket lines to support university workers, with a banner made by the Marxist Society. We talked to lecturers and other staff on the picket line, all of whom were extremely angry at university bosses.
The pickets were militant and strong. And on the last day, we marched with the UCU from MMU and the University of Manchester to the city centre, in order to show people on the streets why we are fighting against university management.
It is unlike Lancaster University students to wake up before 10am, let alone 7am. However, we were more than willing to make an exception last week, so that we could show solidarity with UCU members on strike, both locally and nationally.
Cold winter chills were kept at bay on the picket lines through the sheer enthusiasm shown by students and strikers standing alongside the entrance to the campus.
Lancaster Marxists were quick to put our hands and voices to good use, and we were honoured to carry the UCU branch banner on the picket line. We also helped hand out UCU leaflets alongside our own leaflets, which called for student-worker solidarity and for democratic control over our universities.
Fantastic first day of helping the #UCU strikers at @LancasterUCU on the picket line! #Student & Staff struggles against the horrors of marketisation are joined at the hip. Join @socialist_app and our society to fight back ✊ pic.twitter.com/3FZTPgmQvA— Lancaster Marxists (@marxist_society) December 1, 2021
Throughout the three-day strike we had many conversations with staff and other supporters of the strike, learning from their experiences.
One undergrad student informed us that her lecturer had recently sold her only car in order to make ends meet on such a miserable salary. This same undergrad informed the vice-chancellor – who briefly, and quite cynically, attended the picket – about the unnecessary stresses inflicted upon this lecturer by her working conditions.
To this, the VC scandalously responded along the lines of, “well you don’t have to work here if you don’t want to”. This clearly demonstrates the callous nature of these employers, who earn their high salaries and bonuses off the backs of these exploited workers.
On the last day of the strike, Lancaster UCU held a demonstration outside of the town hall. A member of Lancaster Marxists and Socialist Appeal was invited to speak at this rally.
In their speech, our comrade spoke about the need to link the struggle of students to the struggle of workers, both on and off campus, drawing on the militant example of May 68 in France.
The comrade enthusiastically called for coordinated action across the education sector, and for militant class-struggle demands, including the democratisation of university administration – a demand that resonated with all those present.
Despite being a young society, the Lancaster Marxists have made a noticeable impact on the picket line, and we have started building links with organised workers on and off-campus.
UCU members at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) unfortunately did not go on strike last week, as they narrowly failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold imposed by the Tories and their anti-trade union laws.
Undeterred, the UCU branch and student activists organised a ‘day of action’ on the second day of the strike. The aim was to build staff and student support for further strike action, which may take place early next year.
Around 50 workers and students were in attendance. Rousing talks were given by representatives from the UCU, Unison, and IWGB, as well as student activists.
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Speakers correctly pointed out that students and workers have the same interests, and that all of the problems we face in higher education can be traced back to marketisation.
Most notably, Unison members on campus are also balloting for strike action. This opens up the possibility for coordinated action between the UCU and Unison, which would strengthen workers from both unions in any future dispute.
Despite the fact QMUL Marxist society activists didn’t get to speak at the rally, due to time restraints, it was nonetheless a successful day.
After the rally was over, four Marxist Society comrades handed out over 100 leaflets to students and staff on campus. We were able to sell several copies of the Socialist Appeal newspaper, and we met a number of people who were interested in joining the Marxist society.
Crucially, the Marxist society has started building links with organised workers on campus, and we look forward to supporting any further action. Those workers we spoke to responded positively to our militant, class-struggle demands, and to our analysis of the crisis in education.
Many students also sympathised with our demands, and agreed that the grievances of the UCU were valid and worth fighting for. This flies in the face of the lies spun by upper management, who have shamefully tried to pit students against workers.
The Queen Mary Marxist society expresses its full solidarity with the UCU for all striking unions.
On 29 November, Reading Marxist society hosted an online meeting, with the aim of convincing students to support the strike. A local UCU representative and NEC member gave a speech explaining the background to the strike, and highlighting the need for student solidarity.
After an hour long discussion, we were invited to a UCU solidarity meeting – in effect, a meeting of the left within the UCU.
Here – alongside speakers including the president of UCU and John McDonnell MP, and with an audience of 150 UCU members – we gave a short contribution, in which we linked the strike with the general struggle for socialism.
We made it clear that the MSF is the most militant and determined group on campus, and that UCU members can confidently turn to the Marxist society for support.
During the three-day strike, we attended the picket lines, and held useful discussions with local UCU members on how to unite students and staff together.
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The Marxist society in Greenwich is still very new, having only been established properly last year. Due to this, we were looking forward to getting involved in the political life of the university during this time of acute crisis.
Before the start of the strike, Greenwich Marxist society hosted a solidarity meeting with the UCU, asking how we could best support the strike. Greenwich UCU were excited to see some student solidarity, especially given the student union’s scandalous position of neutrality.
We attended all three days of the strike, as well as supporting the picket line at Goldsmiths University too.
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During the strikes, we held a Marxist society meeting where we raised £120 for the UCU.
It looks like there will be more strike action for the UCU in the coming months. We call on the student union to change its position and back further strikes. In the coming months we will be submitting motions to the SU to try and get them to support strike action.
Solidarity with the UCU!
Six comrades from the Oxford Marxist Society took part in the UCU rally on Broad Street, in support of strike action by academic staff across the country.
The strike threshold was not reached at Oxford University, with the local UCU branch falling short by around 50 votes. In Oxford Brookes, the UCU branch missed the threshold by just two votes. However, a reballot started on Monday 6 Dec – the results of which will be announced in the new year.
The Marxist society immediately reached out to the UCU branch to ask if we can do anything to support the reballot. We intend to use this time to build support and solidarity amongst students towards the strike.
We have been inspired by the student-staff solidarity campaigns run by other Marxist societies, and hope to replicate this if the reballot succeeds!
This was the first strike to happen since our local Marxist society was established. We were therefore extremely excited to get out onto the picket.
We found that most staff were very sympathetic to socialist and Marxist ideas – all clearly speaking about the problems arising from the marketisation of education, and linking these to the wider attacks on students and the working class.
There was a clear feeling that further, larger-scale strikes and other industrial action would be necessary. And many agreed that the UCU struggle should be united with other unions.
The Nottingham Marxist society is looking forward to getting involved, and mobilising students in support of striking staff.
This year’s UCU strike was the first strike that the Bristol Marxist Society was able to intervene in and mobilise for and we’re really happy with how it went!
We made sure to raise the UCU strike at the Marxist Society discussion groups before the political discussion began in the weeks leading up to the strike. In these discussions, we would explain what the strike was about, why it was so important for students to mobilise for it, and we read out the motion put forward by the MSF.
We also declared our support on social media pages and outlined our perspective on it. A couple of our members sent an email to the UCU declaring our support for the strike. We also planned a banner-making session the day before the first day of the strike. A few members of the society got together with members from the branch and crafted a big red banner that read ‘Solidarity: Marxist Students.’
The following day, members from the society and the branch met at the picket line to support the striking lecturers. We stood proudly with the banner at the picket line while people gathered to listen to the speeches from various lecturers and UCU staff.
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The first day had a really great turnout with lots of staff and students attending to support the strike. We handed out our leaflets and lots of people liked our banner! We marched behind it with members from the society and even got interviewed by Sky News about why we think students should support the strike.
Overall it was a great experience for the Bristol Marxist Society. We managed to mobilise members of the society and were clearly one of the loudest, most organised groups on campus despite being a very new society. Onwards and upwards!
Comrades spoke to workers on each picket line across the three days to introduce themselves clearly and offer support. We decided to focus efforts on the library picket, as this proved to be the best place to build solidarity between students and workers.
Strike ballots at LSE have historically failed to pass, with the UCU branch secretary telling us there hasn’t been this level of support since the 1970s. The picket outside the library was energetic and actively discouraging students and staff from crossing the picket line. This showed a sharp increase in militancy on campus compared to previous years.
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Comrades raised the Marxist perspective in conversations with workers and this was well received, proving that intervening with the ideas boldly resonates with workers in the current conditions.
In the future, our society will plan to use the new connections made with the local UCU branch to build greater participation, and work more thoroughly through all the student comrades to ensure ownership over this work.