This week, from the 1st to the 3rd, the University and College Union (UCU) will be striking over pensions, pay and conditions, and the ‘four fights’ dispute. The MSF has been up and down the country preparing to intervene in the UCU strikes, and to build solidarity amongst the students.
In London all Marxist Societies are ready to support staff, covering every picket line in the city. Marxist Societies are holding solidarity meetings and teach-outs on the picket lines. At Imperial, UCL, LSE, KCL, and SOAS we have invited UCU members to speak at our Society meetings about the strike, and collections were done to raise money for the strike funds.
At Imperial and Birmingham, we have been heavily involved in the referendum set up by the student unions on whether to give support to the strike or not. Our Marxist Societies have immediately mobilised in order to support the Yes vote – campaign. We made a range of material, with posters and leaflets explaining why it’s in our interest as students to support the striking staff. This resulted in a great success as Imperial College students overwhelmingly voted to support the strike with 73.4% of the vote!
In Goldsmiths the 3 week strike has already started, and we have immediately been active at the picket lines. There were amazing radical speeches, expressing the anger and frustration with the working conditions. Most of the people at the picket lines were students, clearly understanding why it’s also their struggle. As one student said: “education shouldn’t be compromised so they [the university board] can make ends meet”.
We have also attached more reports from Leeds, Greenwich, Manchester, York and Cambridge.
The MSF will continue to build and mobilise for the strikes this week. 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!
Reports on the Vote Yes – campaign
Imperial College London
Comrades at Imperial College London postering for the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign
At Imperial, the student union ran a referendum on whether to give support to the strike or not. The union put out the question “Should Imperial College Union support the strike action due to be carried out by the UCU during the 2021/22 academic year?” The Marxist society immediately mobilised in order to support the Yes vote.
We made a range of material, with posters and leaflets explaining why it’s in our interest as students to support the striking staff. Throughout the campaign, there was a clear supportive mood amongst the students. Whilst canvassing, students were incredibly receptive to our arguments.
This led to a huge victory in the referendum. The Yes campaign won 73.4% of the vote. This is a clear mandate that shows students are fully behind staff. We must now see this energy brought to the picket lines, to build morale amongst those on strike!
We now look forward to our meeting on Monday 29th November, where a panel of speakers from the Marxist society, UCU, and Labour society will speak in support of the strike. Given the success of the Yes campaign, we hope to have a good attendance, where more can be organised to create student and staff solidarity over the course of the strike.
Comrades at Birmingham University after a meeting with a UCU representative
At the University of Birmigham, the SU is holding a referendum to see whether students support the strike. We’re involved in the Yes campaign to allow the lecturers to feel supported by the students.
The Birmingham Marxist Society invited a representative of the UCU branch in Birmingham, to come and speak on the upcoming strike action. Academic and support staff are fighting back against pension cuts, pay cuts, casualisation and workplace equality.
The university management has issued panicked emails to staff and students claiming that the number of staff threatening to strike is insignificant (but simultaneously disruptive!). Both the UCU rep and Marxist society members highlighted that if a stand wasn’t made against the marketisation of our education system then it will not just be a small group of strikers who will suffer but all those working and studying in higher education.
The subsequent talk on the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism explained how quantity transforms into quality – how one strike victory can be all that is needed to catalyse the build-up of anger in society into a revolutionary movement. This can easily be related to the UCU strikes and further compounds our duty to give every bit of support to the strikers on picket lines this December. The comrades have also raised money through a bake sale which they donated to the striking staff.
Solidarity with striking university staff!
Victory to the UCU!
More reports from across the country
UCU representative at the UCL Marxist Society meeting
UCL Marxists held a well attended student, staff solidarity meeting. UCU activist, Nalini Vittal, put forward the case for the strike, with our comrades speaking in support and tying it to the general crisis of capitalism.
The mood in the room was very enthusiastic, and people were looking for answers on the marketisation of education. We held a collection afterwards to raise money for the strike fund, which we were told to give to Goldsmiths UCU as their battle is longer.
We are now pushing all Marxist Society members to be on the picket lines with us this week.
Marxists – doing it since 1848#Solidarity comrades ✊✊🏼✊🏿✊🏽
— UCL-UCU (@UCL_UCU) November 25, 2021
KCL Marxist Society held a UCU strike rally with the UCU branch president presenting to students why lecturers are striking. He pointed out the stark 36% pension cut, as well as the gender, race and disability gaps. He finished with the question of since staff are facing these cuts, and students are facing extortionate tuition fees, where is the money actually going? The money is accumulated at the top of the university, into the hands of a minority who take home six figure pay checks. KCL Marxists organised a strike fund collection, and invited all students present to attend the picket lines this week.
Solidarity with the UCU!
A comrade speaking at the Leeds solidarity meeting
On Thursday, comrades organised a panel event with 2 speakers from the Marxist society and the President of Leeds UCU.
Around 50 students and lecturers attended to join the discussion and get involved with the student solidarity campaign. This campaign is a united front with the University Labour Society.
Comrades made contributions on the political/economic context of the strikes and linking it to the struggle for socialism. Transitional slogans like calling for the University to ‘open their books’ received very positive responses among angry and quite radical students. Our perspectives and political line are getting a good response and are differentiating us from the pack.
There’s now a good core of enthusiastic student activists in Leeds who will be on the picket lines next week, which will be a vital step in gearing towards further UCU action after Christmas.
We will continue to put forward our perspectives and win over the best layers of the student movement.
Onwards and up
MMU meeting leaflets being handed out
Marxist students at Manchester Metropolitan university launched a public campaign group called ‘MMU students support the strike’, linking with the UCU branch, as well as other student groups like Labour Students and MMU rent strike.
We organised an energetic postering and leafleting campaign, covering the campus and accommodation buildings, and promoted the strike in classes and lectures.
On Thursday 25th we held a very successful public meeting, with around 40 in attendance. We were joined by Linnie Blake, equalities officer for MMU UCU and lecturer in gothic studies. We also invited a speaker from the MMU Unison branch, and a Marxist Society student comrade also addressed the meeting as a panel member, speaking about the student struggle against marketisation.
The meeting had a great energy and really helped cement the student staff solidarity movement at MMU. It helped build towards a planned strong presence on the picket lines, as MMU staff and students stood with comrades at UoM, RNCM and Salford Uni too. The Marxists who led the MMU campaign consistently raised the need for a winning class-struggle strategy involving escalating the struggle and linking with other unions, and linked student and staff struggle against cuts and marketisation, which is rooted in capitalism and requires a socialist solution. MMU Marxists have proved their place as the voice of the labour movement among MMU students, and the voice of revolutionary socialism in the labour movement.
Goldsmiths and Greenwich students at the UCU rally
At Goldsmiths, a 3 week strike is already underway due to cuts to the History department.
We stood in solidarity with striking Goldsmiths university workers and UCU members in the starting rally on Tuesday. The UCU’s actions were a response to the gutting of administrative staff, affecting numerous lecturers’ pay (as well as the quality of students’ education), and the dismissal of a number of lecturers. We listened to the speeches of a number of impassioned activists, as well as the words of students and other individuals who had come along in solidarity.
The speeches, given by UCU activists and others from the students’ union and supporting unions, showed an increased radicalisation since the last round of strikes. One speaker pointed out the pattern of various sectors, not only education, slowly withering after over a decade of austerity and cuts, and there was a real sense of anger. One iterated that it was their fourth time on a picket line at Goldsmiths in the past year and a half. In a poignant speech, one history lecturer remarked how “those who control the present control the future, but also those who control the present control the past”. This is in reference to the gutting of the history department at Goldsmiths.
There was a good turn-out of around 250 people, the majority being students. The general mood of the crowd was, rightfully, one of anger; one student said that “education shouldn’t be compromised so they [the university board] can make ends meet”. Another described the strikes as “incredibly necessary” and understood that if students do not support the lecturers, it would only benefit those at the top. In fact, there seemed to be a good understanding of the systemic causes of the cuts and the persistent marketisation of academia, as one student summarised: “education should not be a corporate entity”.
The York Marxist society held a student-staff forum, focussing on why UCU were going on strike, and why students should support it. The UCU speaker started by explaining the conditions that had brought staff to this conclusion. They explained the demands of the strike, and the general crisis facing Higher Education.
This was followed by a speaker from the Marxist society, who explained the attacks on lecturers’ pensions, and conditions of work are part of a general attack on workers we are seeing across the public sector. These attacks are a feature of the capitalist system which is in crisis.
At the end of the meeting, we put out an appeal for donations to go toward the UCU strike fund. With this we were able to raise over £100, which we will be taking down to the picket lines on Wednesday the 1st December.
We are confident that our forum has helped lay the basis for genuine student/worker solidarity over the coming week, which we hope provides a backbone for the striking workers as they fight for victory!
At Greenwich, the Marxist society has been proactive in getting involved with the UCU strike. We organised an open solidarity meeting that drew in a new layer of students, where the secretary of the local UCU branch was able to explain the strike. This was followed by a Q&A, as well as a lively discussion on how to concretely build support for the strike.
Moving forward, the Marxist society has agreed to do ‘Teach Outs’ on the picket line. This is when a meeting is held on the picket line itself, on a range of political topics. We can use this to build morale on the picket itself, as well as encouraging students and other staff not to cross over.
Supporting the picket is vitally important, so we will make sure to join the picket and encourage others to do the same. Victory to the UCU!
In Cambridge the comrades in the UCU branch there have proposed our demands for joint action with other campus unions, which is a great step forward. It’s important to join forces and to build our strength in the upcoming period.
Our comrades have mobilised students to help out in the strikes as well. This has been incredibly successful with our Unite solidarity campaign and our recently launched UCU solidarity campaign. We have distributed leaflets of which the content has been decided by students and staff, which includes transitional demands, e.g., workers’ control.
We have also organised picketing on three major sites: Downing, Sidgwick and Senate House. We will help out our striking staff in whatever way we can, and encourage others to do the same. One way is to bring them tea and coffee as it will be cold, and it’ll be good to have conversations with the workers.
Solidarity with striking university staff!
Victory to the UCU!