Sean Rillo Raczka, vice president of the University of London Union, shares his thoughts on N30, the student movement and the need for more mass action against the government.
Millions of workers across the UK went on strike on Wednesday 30th November, including lecturers and support staff across the University of London (and a huge range of other public sector and local government employees, from paramedics in Glasgow to teachers in Plymouth). The dispute was officially about changes to pensions (making workers pay more and work longer), and the strike of course was very important in defending decent pensions for all, but they were also a clear warning to the government over its chilling plans for the public sector and beyond.
Many students have also shown a rejection of the ideologically driven ‘austerity agenda’ of deep cuts across the public sector and the privatisation of our NHS, and indeed universities, over the last year, and were enthusiastic supporters of the N30 strikes (including ULU, where we had a fully supportive policy).
Thousands of students up and down the country joined staff on the picket lines, showing tangible solidarity, as well as encouraging others students to stand up for a better future. After all, our lecturers were not striking on a whim; they had to go through a lengthy process even to be legally allowed to withdraw their labour under draconian anti-union legislation, not to mention losing pay.
The pickets lines across the university of London (I visited 8 UoL Colleges some with multiple pickets, and several other picket lines on the day) were very solid, were hugely supported by students, and persuaded many staff and students to not break the strike, some even joined us!
After the morning picket lines, over two thousand students, staff and union branches marched from ULU to the huge trade union-organised march from Lincolns Inn Field. Coalition of Resistance, with their uncompromising 'No Cuts' slogan was everywhere. As thousands of us streamed down Kingsway, we were meet by other feeder marches; teachers, council workers and nurses.
Joining the main march, many tens of thousands of people strong, I was struck by the number of young people marching, students and young workers, plus families with their children. Those nearing retirement told me they were striking and marching for the next generation, those who will be saddled by huge university debts, who may receive no pension at all, who deserve and NHS free for all.
It was a great show of collective strength and diversity, but the day wasn’t over and it was back to Bloomsbury to join the Birkbeck picket line into the evening (Birkbeck lectures start from 6pm), where we had a huge number of students and staff putting the case and talking to students.
The relatively small number of students entering the building was a measure of the success of the strike, certainly fewer students came to class than the last two strikes I attended at Birkbeck. Across the university this was repeated, from persuading cars not to enter Queen Mary, to singing ‘I’d rather get a third than be a scab’ outside SOAS, it was a successful and action packed day.
At Senate House, the University’s Chancellor Princess Ann presided over Foundation Day, a swanky annual do, whilst cleaners and students protested outside, demanding immediate implementation of the London Living Wage for our lowest paid cleaning staff. Inside the Vice Chancellor and heads of the Colleges enjoyed wine and canapés, I’m sure also enjoyed their six figure salaries too, whilst staff who don’t even have a pension demand a small wage increase to help them simply survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Across the university too there were student occupations, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths and SOAS all have buildings occupied, which welcome other students to go and visit and bring their ideas. The background to all this must be remembered, the Higher Education White Paper, which will privatises our universities, creates a full market, will allow universities to go bust, and will lead to slashing of courses and less opportunity for working class people to attend university, not to mention impending 9K fees and massive loans that cost far more for those who go on to earn lower wages.
But more generally this was a strike about the very future of our country (which education is of course a key part), do we want business running the health service, or our universities privatised? Do we want to see the poorest in society suffer from swingeing cuts to benefits and public services, whilst the rich get richer and the grotesque inequality of our society continues to grow? Make no mistake, these cuts are a death sentence for many losing their jobs, homes and benefits, to those on understaffed NHS wards or unable to get the drugs they need.
That’s why the resistance has only just begun, and only by mobilising tens of millions against this repugnant government of out of touch millionaires can we bring about its end. How, when we are likely entering another recession, can the government seriously tell us that their cuts are working? It’s plain to see that ‘the deficit’ is simply an excuse to create the state which Thatcherite Tories have always dreamed of, where the poor are in their place and the private wealth of the City reigns supreme, making money from every aspect of Government (or what’s left of it).
These people are the extremists, not the public servants Jeremy Clarkson would execute for striking for our children’s future. As more jobs are lost and services closed, we are spending billions on nuclear weapons and wars. Where is the fair taxation on the rich? Why are the vulnerable being targeted not protected? Why is the City and international finance immune from making any contribution to society? Because the government is not for public services, protecting the vulnerable or making sure everyone contributes, it’s about protecting and enriching the ruling elite which much of the Cabinet is part of.
The response to all this must be more and protracted strikes, student occupations, civil disobedience throughout society in response to cuts, mass marches across the country and linking up disparate protests movements, as only united can we win. The Occupy movement, the pensioners protecting their libraries and disabled activists, to name but a few, need to seize common cause, uniting against the government and the exploitative interests that it works for.
Let's name the date for the next strikes now, let’s get planning our next massive march, and locally we can all start protesting more, occupying more, raising up our voices more and never giving in.
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