This week, from 1-3 December, UCU members in higher education will take part in three consecutive days of strike action, alongside action short of a strike (ASOS).
These actions mark the beginning of a new phase of struggle in defence of pensions and for a new settlement on pay, casualisation, equalities, and workload (the Four Fights). UCU Marxists call on all members to participate in the industrial action, attend the picket lines, and join the marches and rallies.
This three-day prelude of action will set the tone for the coming months, which will prove decisive in determining the future direction of higher education (HE) and our union. It is therefore essential that higher education workers prove their unity, their determination, and the strength of their numbers by participating.
Mood of anger
The results of the recent ballot demonstrate clearly that there is a deep mood of anger among UCU members.
In an unprecedentedly short voting period, the union achieved remarkably high turnouts and resounding endorsements for strike action. This is evidence that higher education workers are resolved to win these struggles.
Turning members out for the ballot is only the first step. The next is organising them for the strike.
This requires that members understand how their sacrifices will produce gains. It also requires that the general mood of anger be channelled, concentrated, and disciplined into an effective, determined, fighting force – a force willing to confront cold weather, diminished pay packets, and the bosses’ demoralising propaganda in order to win.
To build such a force and understanding, the UCU leadership needs to put forward a strategy that members trust will lead to victory. As part of this, union leaders must be willing to call for any action necessary to achieve this.
Leading the charge
There are local examples of effective organisation of workers engaging in industrial action.
At Goldsmiths in London, for example, staff are currently engaged in a three-week strike against mass redundancies.
The argument for the redundancies is based on a fallacious presentation of the university’s finances. In response, the union is calling – boldly and correctly – for the university to open its books.
In part because of this excellent demand, which highlights the need for higher education to be under the democratic control of workers and students, the rallies at the Goldsmiths have been large, lively, and impressive.
Equally, recent industrial action at the University of Liverpool demonstrates that a bold and militant approach is needed. Again, the university was attempting to impose redundancies; and again, staff responded with a three-week strike and a marking boycott, which succeeded in stopping the redundancies.
These local battles point the way forward nationally. To win the struggle over pensions and the Four Fights, we will need not just three days of action, but a plan of action similar to those implemented at Liverpool and Goldsmiths.
This is why UCU Marxists have called for a marking boycott over Christmas, building toward a period of indefinite strike action in 2022.
For student-staff solidarity!
In this strike, as in previous industrial action over recent years, the stance taken by both students and by HE workers in other unions will be of great consequence.
On the student front, the Marxist Student Federation is already at the forefront of efforts to organise student solidarity campaigns locally. On dozens of campuses around the country, Marxist students are visiting picket lines, holding meetings in support of the strike, and raising funds for workers.
The MSF is calling for student unions to express full support for the strike. Such grassroots campaigning will be essential for winning student support – demonstrating to university bosses that workers and students are united in defence of education.
For coordinated action!
There will also be a great deal of support from HE workers organised in other unions. It is imperative that UCU forges links with these, and with unions in the towns and cities to which they belong.
There is discontent among many Unison and Unite members in higher education, which opens the door for coordinated action. Similarly, teachers in the NEU are at breaking point.
Coordinated action should be arranged across the entire education sector, to act as a springboard for a one-day public sector strike, alongside workers in the NHS and local councils – marking the beginnings of a militant struggle against this corrupt and criminal Tory government, and the capitalist system they represent.
Importantly, UCU branches that did not cross the threshold for industrial action in the last vote are set to reballot. This is an opportunity for UCU members to extend the scope of the strike.
UCU members in branches not yet participating in the current action should donate to the union's strike fund and show their support for those on strike.
They should also begin preparing the way for a huge turnout when reballoting begins in December. This could help to inject new momentum into the struggle, as we head toward a longer period of action in the new year.
With maximum unity amongst all workers and students; with a clear and bold strategy from the leadership; and with a socialist programme that can solve the problems facing our education system and public services, we can win!