University workers strike, students occupy in solidarity

Submitted by AWL on 4 December, 2019 - 4:09

University workers strike

By Ollie Moore

The strikes by higher education workers in the University and College Union (UCU) around pensions, pay, and workload, running from 25 November to 4 December, have seen significant student support.

A UCU striker in Cambridge sent this report of picketing at his university to Solidarity:

“There was a much noisier response from the road traffic today [27 November] where the West Cambridge picket is based. Possibly a sign that locally the news that a major strike is going on has got through.

“It genuinely also felt like fewer people were crossing our picket line – students and staff alike – but still lots of those telling us they were ‘supportive of the strike’ were still crossing and going to labs/lectures/work. This aspect has been extremely disheartening.

“I’ve taken to shouting ‘some university staff are earning less than the minimum wage – we’re on strike to change that’ after them as they do so. I hope this at least makes them realise what we’re trying to achieve, and that their actions are undermining that goal.

“Although I’m hearing very few accounts of people going to the picket lines and then turning away as a result of our conversations, the (admittedly anecdotal) lower numbers that I have noticed could easily mean they are actively choosing to stay at home or work elsewhere (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it out of support).

“Most significantly today was Billy Bragg’s welcome intervention – joining the largest of the picket sites at 11, and then playing on King’s Parade at our daily strike rally an hour and a half later. I was pleased that he said ‘it was his job’ to be there.

“Despite some political disagreements with parts of Bragg’s politics (stop trying to make ‘left patriotism’ a thing!), joining our pickets and playing a set for striking staff was a genuinely positive thing to do. The set went down very well, and ended with a verse and chorus of Solidarity Forever.

“During the student occupation of Cambridge’s Old Schools in 2018, students who suggested singing this as they marched out were argued down as this would be an ‘appropriation of working-class culture’. Aside this argument being utterly nonsensical, perhaps Bragg’s rendition may have helped to convince them otherwise?

“For the second day in a row one of the local Labour candidates (Cambridge covers two parliamentary constituencies) joined our pickets. Daniel Zeichner, who has been an MP since 2015, joined yesterday morning as well. This being noteworthy gives some idea of the state of class struggle and the relationship between the Labour Party and strikes, but I am pleased this is happening again after Labour’s long departure from involvement in industrial action”.

Five unis occupy to back UCU

By Maisie Sanders

As I write, there are five occupations under way, by students supporting the UCU university workers’ strike — at Strathclyde, Exeter, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Stirling.

The occupations are demanding that senior management negotiate with UCU and lobby Universities UK (UUK, the university bosses’ organisation) to do the same. Strathclyde students are demanding three members of senior management resign and conduct an investigation into mismanagement, corruption and fossil fuel investment.

Exeter occupiers say they want no victimisation of striking staff and students involved in solidarity action, plus fee refunds for students who have lost contact hours during the strike. Stirling students are linking the strike demands to calls for better funding for mental health support services and lower rent.

The Nottingham occupation also call for the end of outsourcing through companies such as UniTemps who employ workers on zero-hour contracts, an end to the attendance monitoring of international students, and the removal of links between the engineering department and Rolls Royce, Boeing and BAE arms departments. From the occupation, they are holding rallies and teach-ins for students and staff.

Students at Sussex and Liverpool have also blockaded management offices in support of the strike demands. UCL students protested outside UUK. Sussex students are demanding senior management commit withheld wages to the hardship fund, as well as the cancellation of attendance monitoring for students on strike days. For migrant students, they say this “amounts to the cynical use of students’ visa precarity against workers’ right to industrial action.”

Liverpool students also demand that management drop plans to replace librarians with new less qualified staff.

Students in the Stirling occupation have been threatened with charges on deemed as “Level Two” on the code of student discipline: the same level as sexual assault, possession of firearms and theft or forgery. A student at Reading University involved in an attempted occupation on Sunday 1 December has been suspended from studies and banned from campus.

On Saturday 30 November in Sheffield students from various local solidarity campaigns joined a meeting hosted by the Student Left Network. The meeting founded Student Strike Solidarity, which aims to link up local groups supporting the strike in order to nationally coordinate support for the strikes, fight for the maximum local and national strike support from activists groups, NUS and students’ unions.

We made plans to hold national days of action on Wednesday 4 and 11 December against docking of staff pay during action short of a strike, and “Vice Chancellor Day” parties to highlight pay inequality in the second term, as well as further meetings.

We will also be organising in solidarity with victimised students at Reading and against any further victimisation of students engaging in their right to protest.

Autistic workers and the strike

By Janine Booth

An autistic UCU member tweeted a long thread about barriers to autistic workers striking. Another UCU member alerted me, and I worked with this UCU member over the weekend to turn the list of barriers into a guide to making striking accessible, and dropping the stuff that looked like it justified strike-breaking. This is the result — — and it has gone down very well. I think this is a model of bringing disability politics to workers’ struggle and avoiding them becoming counterposed.□

• Janine Booth is a member of the TUC Disabled Members’ Committee, writing in a personal capacity.

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