As we go back to our universities and colleges, capitalism is in crisis. Costs are surging to untenable levels, while the government has no solutions to what is affecting millions of people. From the racist and reactionary Tories, down to university vice-chancellors, brutal offensives are being prepared against oppressed people. Now is the chance to arm yourself with the political ideas and analysis needed to join the struggle against the system.
Hundreds of thousands of workers are shaking Britain by showing their power. We as students have to link up with workers on and off campus. Our hopes of a future under capitalism are being rapidly dashed by reality: the only way out is to overthrow the system and fight to establish a socialist world.
Tories attack students as cost of living continues to skyrocket
In this year alone, rent for students has gone up 12%, energy bills up 70%, student essentials (textbooks, public transport, etc) up 9%, and one in ten students depend on food banks. Rather than try to address this, the capitalist Tory government is further attacking students with cuts in maintenance loans. The poorest students stand to lose out on £1200 per year. Loan payment periods have also been extended from 30 to 40 years.
We should be clear, inflation is not a mysterious and unknown force. It is an attack on the working class waged by Britain’s capitalists and landlords, who are trying to nakedly increase profits after their total mismanagement of COVID-19. The idea that it is due to workers asking for higher wages is laughable. Workers are being robbed blind as wages continue to fall for two decades.
Students also face a housing crisis. 22% of students know a friend who has become homeless. Simply put, student accommodation is completely unaffordable. Even if you were on the maximum student loan, three-quarters of it would have to be spent on halls rent. Two-thirds of students are falling behind on rent or struggling to afford it.
In 2020, rage over this obscene housing rip-off led students to initiate an explosive rent strike, which Student Socialist Alternative (SSA) was actively organising to build. Local student rent strike groups across the country demonstrated our collective power, with a wave of occupations protests. Although it could have won more, major concessions were still wrested from management. The Manchester Rent Strike won almost £11 million in rent rebates.
We face a similar situation again, but with even more students, higher rents, and the same amount of rooms. There is a rapid scramble for housing as more than 50,000 UK students have been put into clearing. Shamefully, many universities are straight up denying students from living in halls, forcing them to rely on private vulture landlords. On average, private accommodation is £1775 more expensive than halls.
Figures show we need 2.5 times the amount of rooms universities currently have. They need to be made free. Instead of spending millions on lavish new buildings for petty prestige, those funds should be spent to make student housing free and available to all.
Why is education so expensive today? Decades of university marketisation, where services are privatised and funding is massively cut to force universities to act like for-profit companies, have devastated the sector for workers and students. Starting in 2010, the Tories have slashed higher education funding year on year, with recently the worst education cuts since the Second World War.
Judging academics by what works for the capitalist market and funding courses only on the basis that they create ‘useful workers’ to exploit has caused a huge decline in vital research and diversity of courses. It has also allowed the capitalist class to dictate what can and cannot be taught in courses, with many universities following the steps of the Tories in waging a ‘culture war’ against discussions about racism and queer oppression.
To fight the transphobic culture war we need to struggle to completely change how universities operate, instituting democratic control of our learning by workers and students.
Strike wave shows the way forward
The working class is moving into struggle in Britain in a way unseen for 40 years. Hundreds of thousands of workers, from railways to the NHS are moving to strike. Already, workers have scored victories against lay-offs in British Airways, Arriva North West buses, and many others. The student movement will have to follow these examples and rally in support.
This is why Socialist Alternative calls for maximum coordination and escalation of the strikes. Our members spent weeks before the RMT and CWU strikes building support for their actions. Recently, we have been helping link Amazon workers who are walking out across Britain with Amazon Labor Union organizers in the US. After all, the capitalist class and Tories only understand the language of class struggle!
Prepare for a mass strike on campus – build maximum student solidarity!
UK universities are hoarding a massive chest of profits. This year saw a £41.1bn record income for universities, and profits of £3.4bn. Meanwhile, university staff face a real-terms pay cut of 25% due to inflation. This has led to a quarter of staff skipping meals and two-fifths restricting hot water usage. Instead of paying staff and easing costs for students, university vice-chancellors are openly touting their plans to splurge £4.6bn on vanity projects.
Birmingham University is to open a new campus in Dubai, where staff have been told they have to hide their sexuality. The University of Chester is literally building a new campus next to an oil refinery, which has recently been forced to close due to obvious health and safety hazards. To make things worse, some universities are calling to raise tuition fees to £24,000 per year.
The University and Colleges Union, which represents academic and administrative staff, are currently balloting for strike action. So are campus cleaners, catering staff and security guards represented by Unison. We stand in absolute solidarity with the upcoming strike, where workers are demanding that their wages keep up with inflation. They are also fighting back against the continued casualisation of 90,000 academic staff in Britain, which means they are on contracts as short as three months.
Casualised workers we interviewed described the stress of not even being able to know which city they will live in every few months, and having to spend months re-applying for jobs. Through the #CoronaContract campaign, our members have led the rank-and-file effort to get UCU to put forward demands for a minimum of two-year contracts. Now is the chance to ride off this strike wave to paralyze the university capitalists and win back decent jobs!
Student Socialist Alternative will be actively campaigning to maximise student-worker solidarity, both on and off campus through the next academic year. The recent victory at the Open University in which 4800 casualised staff won a 10-15% pay rise and additional annual leave that real victories for students and workers can be won. The threat of a marking boycott at Goldsmiths also stopped the universities’ (and behind it, NatWest and Lloyds Bank) redundancy plans in their tracks.
Now more than ever, we need a revolutionary socialist student organisation, armed with Marxist ideas to help carry these struggles forward. If you are interested, join Student Socialist Alternative today!
Student Socialist Alternative has been integral in building student solidarity with the strikes. At UCL, we collected hundreds of signatures to overturn the Student Union’s undemocratic decision to come out against last year’s strikes.
Voting on “Should the Students Union support the UCU strikes of 2021“, we were key in delivering a massive victory of 60% out of 5000 and led protests with two hundred students and staff to call for full funding for free education. We are calling on students to talk to your lecturers and tutors, and tell them you support their struggle! If you want to help mobilize for strike solidarity, get involved with SSA!