The second wave of (UCU) University and College Union strikes, taking place from 20 February, has been bigger and more active than the ones that took place before Christmas. Student activity has turned up a notch, with students from arts courses and the humanities in particular organising demonstrations of support.
At my university (Brighton), before the strike began, there was an open meeting in which staff gave presentations on strikes and the history of collective action. Fascinatingly, the overwhelming majority of those present were women. Following the presentations, students discussed with one another potential actions we could take. A group of art students had begun a petition called “Boycott Brighton” and sent people to question the Board of Governors outside their meeting. Others were looking into class action for tuition fee refunds.
Because of the nature of the campus layout in Brighton, it isn’t often you get to interact with people on other courses. Being able to communicate between different groups was extremely beneficial. In the meeting, we exchanged details in order to organise. We’ve also applied to the student union to establish a Brighton University Trade Union Solidarity Society.
In the previous wave of strikes, there was a battle with the student union (SU), who issued an anti-strike statement and moreover without canvassing student opinion. Following a campaign regarding the poor behaviour of the president, who repeatedly lied to students about it, the SU was forced to actually survey its members. Just over half of respondents explicitly supported the action being taken by the UCU, and so for the first time Brighton SU supported the strikes.
On the first Friday of the strike, about ten of us got together and sat in the main foyer of one of the campuses, and had management down within five minutes. They stood on our banner, brought about seven security guards around us, and told us that the strikes were about national issues and didn’t affect Brighton!
Obviously, that’s rubbish. I have spoken to numerous staff who are devastated at the manner in which they’ve been treated by the University of Brighton, casualised, forced to take on unsustainable workloads, with the sacking and pushing out of BAME members of staff.
We sat in the foyer for four hours, reading, distributing leaflets, painting signs and eating the food provided to us by the SU cafe! By the end of the demo, the Facebook group we used to organise had grown from 30 to 70 members. All in all it was a success.
In the second week, there was another sit in and a blockade of a mezzanine at a different campus. The students, dressed in black and wearing price tags of their tuition fees, stood like mannequins in the window to demonstrate how we are not commodities. Ironically enough, the same day we saw a tweet about university Vice Chancellors attending a meeting put on by Amazon about increasing productivity. Brighton VC Debra Humpris was clearly identifiable in the picture, leading to a placard being taped to the Amazon deposit boxes that reads “People not Products”.
As we begin week three, the Trade Union Solidarity Society has been set up and will act as the vehicle for organising and educating the student body on unions, strikes and working-class politics. Planning for a fundraiser to go towards the strike fund is well underway.
Featuring testimonials from staff at Brighton, art work from students and performances from our more musically talented comrades it is looking to be a successful and fun evening that will be educational, moving and importantly – full of booze and solidarity!
Onwards to victory for UCU!
• Brighton UCU strike fundraiser, 7.30pm, Monday 9 March, Ye Olde King & Queen, Marlborough Place, BN1 1UB. £2 entry/donation on door, bring cash for donations.