In an effort to break the ongoing strike by UCU members, university bosses are resorting to all manner of dirty tricks to divide staff and students. In response, workers and students must unite and fight to end the marketisation of education.
A number of staff members at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have publicly declared their resignation over punitive strikebreaking measures carried out by university management.
This comes following a spate of particularly vicious attacks by QMUL management on striking workers, which has created a truly toxic environment between staff and upper management at the university.
These draconian tactics include threats to deduct 100% of pay for 39 days as a result of staff striking for just three days last year; threats of closing down courses altogether to punish strikers; and, most shockingly, encouraging students to snitch on their lecturers.
Professor Laleh Khalili, one of the academics who has quit QMUL, posted her resignation letter on Twitter, detailing the reasons for her departure.
Last week I resigned my post at QMUL. Although the sector as a whole is becoming inhospitable & I loved my students & colleagues, QMUL managerial decisions made staying untenable. For me the last straw was the cruel, craven call by management for students to snitch on us. https://t.co/gnDcUfBrhu pic.twitter.com/6ZzimMcvbd
— Laleh Khalili (@LalehKhalili) February 21, 2023
These include the hasty sackings of colleagues on precarious contracts, resulting in an increase of workload for full-time staff with no additional pay or resources.
Across the board, resources and funding have been slashed. Meanwhile, schedules have been made tighter and more inflexible – adversely affecting both students and lecturers alike. This is the logic of marketisation; of treating the university like a cash cow.
This is not the first time that poor treatment by QMUL management has led to a wave of resignations either. Only last year, 31 examiners at Queen Mary resigned in protest after striking lecturers had their pay frozen.
These hostile measures have clearly poured fuel on the fire, leading to increasing anger and bitterness among the staff, who were already at the end of their tether after over a decade of cuts and attacks.
Queen Mary bosses – particularly vice-chancellor Colin Bailey, who is infamous among students – are well known for their bullying and anti-strike antics.
But during the latest round of UCU strikes, they have developed a new method to victimise trade unionists, and to sow animosity between students and their teachers: the ‘snitch form’.
This ‘snitch form’ – which Khalili described as her “last straw” – was circulated to all students during the most recent wave of walkouts, asking them to report on their teachers if they had missed any classes because of the strikes.
Management has sacrificed the trust that is needed in a classroom, and put a big ’SNITCH’ sign on every student’s face. Many students see through this and resist.
But the possibility of 1 student filling in the form, whether unwittingly or not, has an impact on the classroom.
— Queen Mary UCU is #rising (@qm_ucu) March 6, 2023
As one UCU member commented, this is an attempt to “turn students into spies”; to allow management to gather the data they need to victimise striking staff, by threatening them with further pay deductions if they do not reschedule missed classes.
This is a vicious strikebreaking tactic that undermines the whole point of the strike.
The actions of Queen Mary management are a harbinger of what is to come in this bosses’ offensive. Already, other universities such as Leeds are beginning to employ similarly punitive measures.
The UCU, the wider labour movement, and the student movement must oppose these tactics tooth-and-nail. The bosses are escalating their action. We must do the same!
The ‘snitch form’ also serves the interests of university bosses, by giving students the impression that it is striking staff, and not the fat cats at the top, who are responsible for the disruption to our education.
Students have reported feeling distressed and deceived by the whole ordeal. “I didn’t understand I would be responsible for pay being deducted from my teacher,” revealed one QMUL student.
These methods are forcing students to consider whose side they are on: their lecturers or the bosses. This is hardly a tough question.
Colin Bailey and the rest of the senior management team earn up to £400k a year. This comes on top of their shareholdings, not to mention the perks and bonuses that they graciously award themselves.
University workers across the country, meanwhile, have been driven into desperate conditions. Years of real-terms pay cuts have left campus staff struggling to pay their bills, and even resorting to food banks.
As students, we are facing a similar situation. Maintenance loans are failing to keep up with inflation, leading to a drastic decline in living standards. An unprecedented housing crisis, with eye-watering rents, only adds to the misery and insecurity. And to top it all off, there is the possibility of a further hike in tuition fees.
Unite and fight
Students are therefore beginning to draw the conclusion that they have more in common with university staff than they do with senior management.
The bosses’ attempts to pit students against staff – and to justify their strikebreaking measures under the guise of ‘looking out for students’ – will fall on deaf ears. We know who really stands to gain from this division.
The attacks on students and workers are two sides of the same coin; the corrosive result of capitalism infiltrating higher education. We are both being squeezed in order to line the pockets of university bosses.
We must therefore call out these divide-and-rule tactics, and stand in complete solidarity with our lecturers. The only way that we can achieve an education system that works for everyone is to unite and fight against marketisation.
This means taking our universities out of the hands of bully bosses, and putting them under the democratic control of staff and students.
Above all, it means ending the race to the bottom in higher education, and providing universities with the proper funding they need, by expropriating the banks and monopolies, and transforming society along socialist lines.