SOAS walkout and protest, Thursday 23 January. Photo: Shabbir Lakha SOAS walkout and protest, Thursday 23 January. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

The fightback at SOAS has begun with a student and staff walkout and protest against management’s attack on fractionals, reports Shabbir Lakha

Following the announcement by SOAS management that there would be massive cuts to fractional budgets and unilateral cancellation of research leave, staff at the university together with students staged a walkout and protest on Thursday afternoon.

Gathering at the steps of the main building, hundreds rallied and chanted “Management get out, we know what you’re about: cuts, job losses. No money for the bosses!” and “Students and workers, unite and fight”.

Fractional staff, union reps and students spoke about the disgraceful attack that SOAS management has launched on fractional staff and how this will affect the most vulnerable workers at the university. As Feyzi Ismail said, “this is a fight for the soul of SOAS, for the soul of higher education nationally”.

The fact is that executives at the university receive grotesque pay packages, while claiming there isn’t any money for wages or research. This is a logical development in the ongoing marketisation of universities, that has transformed higher education from a public good to a commodity, pitted universities against each other and stripped away government funding for public education.

A speaker from the student union spoke passionately about why students must support the fractional workers. “They’re living conditions are our teaching conditions”, “they’re saying ‘we’re not going to fire the fractionals’ but they’re going to end their contracts, is that not firing?”

It’s already evident that the troubles facing SOAS are surfacing at other universities too, and the managements at these universities will attempt to cut their way out of financial distress the same way that SOAS is. The University of Sunderland has now announced it will be closing modern languages, history, politics and public health courses.

There needs to be a concerted fightback at SOAS with solidarity from all universities, and the walkout and protest on Thursday was an important first step. The effectiveness of the campaign to overturn the management’s decision at SOAS will have national ramifications that will impact on the struggle against casualisation and cutbacks at all higher education institutions. All unions should support serious strike action at SOAS which can become a rallying point for the fightback in the whole sector nationally.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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