Glasgow University students Sophie Johnson and Doncho Atanassov argue that it’s more important than ever for students to show university managements that they are united with striking staff
As university staff begin three weeks of strike action, it is more important than ever that we, as students, show whose side we are on.
University management have and will try to turn us against our striking lecturers. But if these last two years have shown students anything about university priorities, then we should all be standing side by side with our teachers on the picket lines.
Back in 2020, whilst teaching staff were working round the clock to adapt the curriculum for online learning, those of us not in first year watched on in disbelief as universities around the UK called on new students to make their way to expensive university accommodation. When this, predictably, caused a virus outbreak in student halls, students were swiftly locked up. It is, therefore, easy to see that when it comes to choosing welfare over profit, University Managements choose the latter, and do so on every occasion.
Universities claim to care about the student experience when strikes are threatened but where was the care when the University of Glasgow Accommodation Services threatened to illegally evict 12 tenants in the middle of the lockdown in January 2021, or when Manchester University Campus Security harassed and stalked students around campus?
The UCU struggle is one with the student struggle, and is a broader reflection of the class struggle. As students we’re treated as cash cows, universities continued to squeeze as much labour-power out of their employees as possible, and as a thank you for their hard work, pushed through cuts to pensions and proposed more cuts in real terms to staff pay.
University staff have faced a wage decrease by 20% in real terms since 2009, while the UK is set to experience a 50% increase in energy prices and 7% inflation. At the heart of all of this is the marketisation of higher education which has forced universities to squeeze as much money out of domestic and international students, and staff, leading to an increased use of casualised work contracts and low pay.
On top of this, staff are still fighting against huge gender and pay inequalities and a culture of casualisation that enables universities to give out unstable and underpaid contracts which reduce any rights and protections of their teaching staff. These are reflective of the pay inequalities that can be found throughout the capitalist economy.
Student numbers have also greatly grown, despite the pandemic, while staff numbers have not, which leaves lecturers overworked and underpaid. This is the real disruption to our collective education, not the strikes. Therefore, to stand side by side with the UCU strikers is the best thing that students can do for their own education, and for the rights of workers in general.
If there is any part of the universities that have supported students, and student initiatives, it’s lecturers and teaching assistants. The UCU branch at the University of Glasgow, for example, supported the student-led demands for a Green New Deal.
Universities are rich institutions. They make millions of pounds each year from extortionate tuition fees alone and so have no excuse not to pay their employees fairly. So please get down to the picket lines, pass motions of support at your student union, and let’s show university managements that students and staff are united.
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