The University and College Union (UCU) has announced three days of strike action in a dispute over pensions and the ‘Four Fights’, which includes demands around pay and conditions. The strike will take place from 1-3 December.
This is the third time in four years that UCU members have strongly supported strike action, showing the strength of feeling on campuses.
Education under attack
Although historically lecturers may have been a privileged layer of the working class, the profession has increasingly become characterised by stagnant pay, unbearable workloads, job insecurity, and casualisation.
There has been a continuous attack on pensions, in particular. The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a major pension provider for higher education (HE) workers, is demanding a massive increase in staff contributions – from 30.7% of payroll to a ‘worst-case scenario’ of 56%.
USS managers claim that the scheme is in a bad financial state, and that only increased staff contributions can fix this. They said the same in 2018 when the first wave of UCU actions started. But this is untrue.
This is a situation not unique to higher education, but reflects an ongoing attack on workers’ conditions across the public and private sectors.
Scandalously, some student unions have come out against the upcoming UCU strike – for example, at KCL, Leeds, and elsewhere.
In Leeds, the student union has opposed the strike on the grounds of protecting ‘working class and marginalised students’. This shows the reactionary role that identity politics plays in the movement. We must be firm against this divisive rhetoric.
At root, the reason UCU staff are going on strike is due to the ongoing marketisation of education. This marketisation doesn’t solely affect university staff and lecturers. It impacts students – especially those who are working class and marginalised.
As the marketisation of education has increased, so have tuition fees, reducing access for the poorest and most vulnerable students.
Staff teaching conditions are our learning conditions. Their fight is our fight.
System in crisis
To oppose the strike on the grounds of supporting marginalised students is a contradiction. It is in our interest as students to mobilise heavily in support of UCU members, who are taking the fight to university management.
This is the same university management who brought students back to university last year under false pretences, in order to ensure that rents and other expenses were collected.
It is the same university management who receive fat-cat salaries, while important services (such as pastoral care and support) remain severely underfunded.
And it is the same university management who have overseen course closures, forced redundancies (like at Goldsmiths), and much more.
This all fits in with the general pattern under capitalism. Despite the fact that their system is failing, the bosses have never been richer. Meanwhile, it is workers, the youth, and the poor who are made to pay for this crisis.
Solidarity and support
The Marxist Student Federation (MSF) has mobilised massively for UCU strikes in the past – and we will do so again.
University employers hope to wear the unions out over time. This is especially the case for the UCU, given that this is the third wave of strike action in recent years.
To succeed in all of its demands, therefore, the strike must continue to grow, spread, escalate, and gain support. And students can play an important role in this respect.
If this strike does succeed, it will land an immense blow to the business-like system under which universities are run. And from there, we can go on the offensive and fight for much more – including free, quality education, and democratic control of universities by staff and students.
Victory to the UCU! Solidarity to staff! Students and workers – unite and fight!
The Marxist Student Federation expresses its full support for the UCU strike action, and encourages students to do the following:
- Move the resolution below in your local Marxist society and student union.
- Write an article for the local student press on the importance of student-staff solidarity during this strike action.
- Invite a local member of UCU to speak at the Marxist society about the strike action and the need for student support.
- Build support for the strike through leafleting of student halls and SU bars, cafes, etc., and through shoutouts in lectures, encouraging students to join picket lines, not cross them.
- Raise money with which to buy coffee, sandwiches, etc. to take to the picket lines during the strike action.
- Organise as large a delegation as possible from your local Marxist society to attend the picket line and offer solidarity.
- The Marxist Student Federation (MSF) gives its full solidarity to UCU members across the country, who have voted in favour of industrial action over pensions and the Four Fights.
- For ordinary lecturers, work in higher education is increasingly characterised by stagnant pay, unbearable workloads, job insecurity, and casualisation. This is the third successful ballot in four years, showing how dire the situation is for lecturers.
- While pay is stagnant and conditions are attacked for ordinary staff, however, senior management continue to take home bumper pay packages. Many higher education workers will find themselves struggling at the end of the month, or will be let go by an institution at the end of the summer term, with no guarantees about whether a job awaits them in the autumn.
- This is all while students are forced to pay through the nose for tuition and rent. This situation is the logical result of the marketisation of higher education, which the MSF fundamentally opposes.
- Given that staff working conditions are also student learning conditions, we stand firmly on the side of our lecturers, and will support any industrial action in whatever way we can. This is because the only way to end the marketisation of higher education is through a united fightback of staff and students for democratic control of universities by staff and students.
- We further call on student unions to openly support our lecturers. They should not repeat the mistake of sitting on the fence, as often occurred during the last round of strikes in 2019-20. A failure to take a stand against attacks on staff can only mean, in practice, support for the status quo.
- Such attacks can only be fought with a united movement, on a clear class basis, and with a bold socialist programme. This is the kind of fighting strategy our UCU leadership should be adopting. Ultimately, all disputes are winnable. It is just a matter of being prepared to do whatever it takes.