England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

UCU strikes: Students report from the picket line!

Friday was the third and final day of the University and College Union’s round of national strike action. At a total of 58 universities, university staff have organised to try and beat back the attempts of university management across the country to introduce a 35% cut to pensions, while overseeing the dramatic scaling down of conditions and pay along with a widening gender and race pay gap among staff. 

As Socialist Alternative members in UCU have pointed out, this hugely important action should only be the beginning of a coordinated campaign of escalated strikes in the new year. Only this, with urgent preparation for reballoting to smash the thresholds will mark the way forward. Mass meetings of the union’s rank-and-file membership, along with students who stand in solidarity with staff can be prepared and force the hand of management. 

Unfortunately, while the national leadership of the union has often been slow to meet these challenges, the initiative to fight for a real victory for staff can only be made along these lines. This was the argument being put forward by members and supporters of Socialist Alternative on the determined pickets that have been held across the country. As these reports show, solidarity among students for an escalating strategy to fight marketisation and the rotten effects of the capitalist system on education can set a great example of what can be done, both for students themselves in the fight for a free, publicly-run and democratically-controlled education system, but also workers everywhere. 

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Reports from the picket line

“At UCL, the days have been filled with student-solidarity meetings and teach-outs, where students and striking staff discussed vividly the ways universities could be transformed. There were pickets covering every entrance and every department of UCL, with staff and students standing together. Some students had come to the picket line not knowing its meaning – we managed to convince them there and then to turn back!

The energy generated by the strike has also allowed us to completely overshoot the necessary signatures to force a referendum on the Student Union’s position against the strike. Through this strike, many students have drawn important political conclusions about the nature of our increasingly commercialised education system.”

Members of UCL Student Socialist Alternative

“On Thursday, Edinburgh’s Socialist Alternative members turned out to show support at the UCU strikes at Edinburgh University with the disaffected lecturers and students standing side by side outside as many of the University buildings as they could. The energy was high, and there was a roving group of singers who went around each of the pickets and encouraged them into singing with them, which really kept morale high. 

One staff member remarked to us that they were astounded by the University’s principal, who tried to convince the staff ahead of the action that, while times were hard, the staff should feel pride in their work as they had the opportunity to work at such a prestigious institution. This after having cost the university more to transport his pets than was spent on this worker’s entire departmental budget for paying tutors for the year!

The strike and picketing has been a fantastic show of what can be done, and we need to ensure the momentum keeps up to fight for real education system change.”

Josh Shanks, Edinburgh Socialist Alternative

“It was great to see and be a part of Socialist Alternative’s intervention into the UCU strike. As well as the major support from students who stood in solidarity with their striking lectures, there have been some good conversations over the past few days about extending UCU strike action, linking it with the struggles of workers in other sectors and with the bigger fight against capitalism.”

Cameron Halliday, Manchester Student Socialist Alternative

“Really inspiring to join the UCU lecturers strike in Birmingham today. The energy of the 100 or so lecturers and students who joined the picket was palpable with some impassioned speeches outlining the struggles University staff are facing. Moving forward it’s crucial that staff and students continue to work together to build the campaign, escalate the strikes and fight for a system of education that is run in the interests of both.”

Jack Beswick, Coventry Socialist Alternative 

“Around Glasgow University on a frosty morning, over 200 people turned out to show the bosses who really makes universities run, in direct opposition to the creeping marketisation in Higher Education that sees students as mere consumers and the workers as an expense to be minimised. A good spirit on the picket lines with drums and singing was in stark opposition to the working conditions of staff who often are forced to work many unpaid hours in rapidly worsening conditions. I think the excellent turn out and unity shows that, with a good clear plan and continuing action by workers, it is a struggle that can be won.”

Archie MacLellan, Glasgow Socialist Alternative

“On arriving at the picket line early in the morning it was obvious that there would be a strong supportive presence from Sussex Uni students, with many maintaining the picket before people began arriving for lectures. The protests were loud and vibrant, which moved through the campus, ending at the administrative centre where the crowd made its presence known. Speeches were made that linked the struggle of university with other movements on campus as well as globally, including BLM and demands for trans liberation. Only by taking further action in the new year – by making demands with the help of the Unions – can real change be brought about.

Jesse Brockhill, Brighton 

(Image credit: Paul McGowan)


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