Following on from yesterday's reports of the joint strike action by UCU, Unite, and Unison, we publish here a further set of reports from across the country, highlighting the support and solidarity given by Socialist Appeal student supporters in the Marxist societies towards striking workers in the universities. The reports highlight the real militancy, anger, and radicalisation that exists amongst workers.
We joined in at 8am with other students taking part outside one of the student unions, then went to the Main Gate, where the main picket line was situated. There were around 150-200 unionised staff members in total, forming picket lines at various entrances across the university. 25-30 students also attended the picket lines in support, including several from the Glasgow Marxists. The workers seemed to greatly appreciate the student support, which contributed to the generally good mood across the picket lines.
A great victory that day was the closing of the university library, a very popular student facility, due to the industrial action, which ensured that even those who weren't previously aware of the strike knew about it, as word spread quickly. Also there was a great show of solidarity from delivery workers who approached the entrance to the main gate and agreed to not cross the picket line in support, returning without entering the university.
The crowds dispersed at around midday, with some heading to a rally in the city centre. Overall it was a successful day, which certainly raised student awareness of the workers' treatment at the university. As one union member put it "Our working conditions, are your learning conditions".
We had a great turn out from the Sheffield Marxists, with around ten Marxist students arriving at 9am in order to join the picket lines with the university staff. Earlier in the week, Marxist society members had been giving lecture shout-outs and e-mailing lecturers to offer solidarity and support. We spent the first hour outside of the union handing out leaflets and talking to as many students as possible, encouraging them not to cross the picket lines and explaining why.
There were multiple picket lines outside each school and department, as well as outside the libraries and the student union so we moved from picket line to picket line talking to staff, buying them tea and coffee from the strike fund that we raised at a joint meeting with the Labour Students last week.
Picketing ended at 11.15am (to the annoyance of some striking staff, who wanted to picket until at least after lunch time when the largest mass of students and staff would be moving around campus). However, all striking staff, and those supporting them, congregated together outside of the union and we marched in and around town, linking up with the striking staff from Sheffield Hallam University and eventually ending at the rally venue. To everyone's pleasure there were too many out on the rally to fit into the booked venue, so an impromptu gathering was assembled in Barkers Pool, where there were four speakers addressing everyone, including two union representatives and the Education Officer from Sheffield University.
Socialist Appeal supporters made the logical link between this strike and the strikes of the teachers, postal workers, firefighters, etc., pointing out that these are all part of a wider attack on the working class as a whole. It is clear that these fights cannot be separated from the fight for socialism: to place colleges and universities under the control of staff and student, with decent education funded through the nationalisation of the banks, energy companies, and major monopolies. This is the only solution that can guarantee staff on strike a decent wage.
Queen Mary's University of London
We arrived at 7am as the picket line was just forming. We handed out our leaflets - in which we linked the strike to the wider attacks in society - along with the main flyers that the trade union representatives gave us. The biggest support came from actual staff at Queen Mary, or from contracted workers driving lorries and vans for example. Several lorry drivers, including Post Office and Tower Hamlets workers, actually decided to turn back around after seeing the picket line and talking to some of us. We also had a lot of support from staff at the Mile End Hospital round the corner, who understood and agreed entirely that the cuts to education are part of a wider attack on society, which includes healthcare.
The Queen Mary student union leadership is largely to blame for the lack of student support for the strike. The most it could muster was a meekly worded email sent round to all Queen Mary students. There were no posters, flyers, lecture shout-outs etc. The QMUL Marxist society plans to write an article on the strike for the student paper, and we will demand a stronger stance from our student union for future action.
City University in London
I arrived at 7.20am as members from the three unions that were on strike were setting up. I approached people for interviews for the Socialist Appeal, and offered to help out in anyway on the picket lines. I ended up in a very good conversation with one of the staff for about half an hour, and it is this that I thought worth reporting on, as I think it is a good indication of the mood in general.
We began talking about the problems and restructurings at the university - how cleaners were refused a living wage, even though the uni was spending millions on unnecessary refurbishments, and paying the enormous salary and free mansion of the Vice Chancellor.
I linked this to the crisis in general, and how the capitalists are trying to make the working class pay for it. Everything then started coming out, beginning with the energy price rises. I said we should nationalise the lot, and then another member of staff walking past to go to another entrance shouted "we should nationalise EVERYTHING!".
The worker I was talking to then agreed entirely with the need to nationalise the banks, insurance companies, land, big business, under democratic workers control, as part of a plan of production. He also agreed with the need for a general strike, and for the unions to reclaim the Labour Party. Another member of staff on strike said she had overheard this conversation and that she completely agreed.
Overall the conversations I had highlighted the revolutionary mood that exists among a certain layer of workers.
The Marxist society's involvement in supporting the strike yesterday was a successful one. A large number of students were involved, talking to other students crossing the pickets and engaging them in what was going on and in some instances, convincing them not to cross the lines. A few vehicles were also persuaded not to enter campus, including external companies. The Brighton buses which run a service on to campus were refusing to enter the university which was a great sign of solidarity. The numbers of students on campus was much smaller than normal. The mood on the pickets was positive with free tea and coffee being distributed by the Student Union, and the staff often expressed their gratitude at such a show of student support.
Two days prior to the strike, the Student Union held an Emergency Members' Meeting in order to consolidate the SU position on industrial action. Unfortunately, not enough students attended the meeting to make any decisions made binding, but it still raised the forum for debate. A vote was taken on whether the SU should unconditionally support the strike, and any strikes in the future, and whether the SU should organise a student strike in solidarity. Both of these were supported almost unanimously by the students present. Marxist society members contributed at this meeting, expressing the need for the Student Union to lead the students in supporting the workers on strike. In a demonstration on Wednesday, some students occupied a lecture theatre in solidarity with the strikers.
The Marxist society had discussions with many people about the importance of strike action, as well as the context in which they are taking place. We advertised the strike quite widely beforehand and encouraged students to not break the strike. We also engaged with students and staff members, both on the picket lines and those who were crossing it. We were even photographed with our banner and interviewed for both the university paper and the local paper! Overall it was an enjoyable and successful day!