Hundreds of students and workers rallied at Soas University of London on Thursday lunchtime in protest at management attacks on staff.
Bosses announced last week that they would be suspending research leave for permanent staff at Soas, effectively increasing their teaching time. This will mean fewer teaching hours available for fractional workers—those employed on a fraction of full time contracts.
Strikers told the rally the real aim was to cut the fractional budget, and that the most vulnerable workers would be hardest hit.
Soas UCU president Tom said, “The implications for fractional staff are severe. Fractional staff cuts will occur.”
Student Yasmeen said, “There’s a lot of misinformation going around. People are saying, they’re not going to fire the fractionals. Well you’re going to end their contracts – is that not firing? Does that not mean they’ll be out of a job?
“The people affected by this are women, people of colour, the most marginalised and the most vulnerable.”
One UCU striker told Socialist Worker, “I’m a permanent member of staff but I’m walking out in solidarity with fractional staff. This is also about the general current situation and conditions at Soas.
“I’ve worked here for about 20 years and I’ve seen how management decisions have accumulated to create financial problems. I think we can absolutely stop this attack.”
Workers and students chanted, “Management – get out! We know what you’re all about – cuts, job losses, money for the bosses.”
UCU branch secretary Johnny told Socialist Worker, “Mismanagement has led to financial difficulties at Soas. They’re prepared to spend thousands and thousands of pounds on buildings. But when it comes to supporting staff, management has completely failed.”
Johnny said the latest moves wouldn’t just hit fractional staff but would also put the university at risk too. “Soas is a research university,” he said. “So cancelling research leave is damaging.
“But we’ve had great support for today’s action from admin staff, academic staff and students.”
Soas Unison branch secretary Sandy Nicoll said he was “glad to be part of such a magnificent walkout”.
“Staff and students have united against this catastrophic management decision,” he told Socialist Worker. “It targets vulnerable workers on casual contracts, and these are more likely to be female and from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
“The scale of the response shows that we can beat them. And we have to beat them, because this is about what kind of education we want to have.”
Angry students led the lunchtime rally on the steps of Soas before holding a general assembly to discuss their demands and tactics in the struggle. Striking workers, students and union members from other workplaces spoke in solidarity.
Mia from the Fractionals for Fair Pay group told the crowd workers on casual contracts “are often working at several universities at once with no security”.
“They work many more hours than they are paid for,” she explained. “Many have been kept on these contracts for several years, doing the work of permanent staff but on much worse terms and conditions.
“They are eking out a precarious existence at the heart of our universities.”
Permanent staff member Tim said the rally and walkout was “the perfect response to a decision that attacks the most vulnerable”.
“This is the perfect way to get that decision reversed,” he added.
Like many at Soas, he called for management to be held accountable. “Who got us here, into this mess?” he asked. “Who made those decisions?”
Sean Vernell, a UCU rep from City and Islington College, told the rally, “You can win this one.” He described how union members at his college group had won a 5 percent pay rise plus improvements for people on casualised contracts following eight days of strikes.
He also stressed that, while workers should demand the government properly fund education, they should also lay claim to the money that’s already in universities.
“Inside these institutions don’t fall for the lie there’s no money, because there is,” he said. “You have got millions in reserves. They say it’s rainy day money. But it’s pissing down out here.”
As Yasmeen said, “Soas is in the process of hiring a new director which will cost around £400,000. Where’s that money when we need to pay the teachers that teach us?”
Students said they would not be intimidated by Soas bosses and security filming them as they took part in the rally.
Margot Hill, secretary for UCU in London, told the crowd, “If anybody’s filming and looking for culprits and criminals, you should be inside filming the boardroom because that’s where they’re sitting.”
The rally and walkout was a great start to the fight and shows the mood to resist the bosses at Soas. Sandy said, “We should demand that they lift the suspension of research leave. We want full protection for fractional staff.
“If cuts have to be made, they should be made in the pay of senior management. The next steps will be decided by fractionals and students. But there’s clearly a mood to escalate.”