Socialist Worker

As bosses try to undermine solidarity with UCU - students say back the strikes

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2693

Student solidarity in Strathclyde during a UCU strike last year

Student solidarity in Strathclyde during a UCU strike last year (Pic: Raymie Kiernan)


University bosses are trying to undermine solidarity with striking workers ahead of a major wave of walkouts due to start on Thursday.

UCU union members are set to start 14 days of strikes in disputes over pensions, pay, contracts, equality and workload.

At Leicester university, students have been told that they will be marked down as “absent” if they refuse to cross picket lines.

Hope Ryan is a fourth year student at Leicester. She told Socialist Worker that the university is “keeping us in the dark” about what this will mean.

“We don’t really know where we stand,” she said. “You don’t know if supporting the strikes is going to damage your degree.”

At some universities, students can be “withdrawn” from their courses if they reach a certain number of absences. And being marked as absent could have an even bigger impact on international students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady rightly condemned the threat at Leicester.

“It is a disreputable attempt to coerce students to cross pickets,” she said. “Not only is this designed to fragment staff/student solidarity but it is harmful to international students and others subjected to attendance monitoring regimes.”

The fact that bosses are trying to intimidate students into crossing picket lines reflects the widespread support for strikes among students. The NUS student union backs the UCU, and students across Britain are organising solidarity with the strikers.

A group of Philosophy students at Nottingham university made a video about the strikes. They described the impact of the action – cancelled lectures and seminars, and missed teaching time – but said they backed the workers.

Jess said she was “disheartened” at missing lectures. “However I understand why the lecturers are striking,” she said. “It’s absolutely necessary. A lot of us will go into teaching and so it’s something we should care about.”

Fiona added, “I’m fully in support of them. I know from my own experience that people don’t go on strike easily.”

Power

And Oliver said, “All power to the strikes and the striking staff. My attitude towards the strikes is very much on board. They have no choice but to do this and they are doing this for us and for future generations of academics and students.”

Many students have also refused to blame workers for the dispute.

Some 22 students in Food Policy at City, University of London wrote to university president Paul Curran about the strike. They said the university had a “choice” about whether it met the “reasonable demands laid out by UCU to avert the strike.

“We stand in solidarity with the union’s positions and with our teachers,” they wrote. “When casualisation of academic labour becomes the norm, students suffer the consequences.”

Hope said, “Students are definitely supportive of the teachers. I’ve spoken to my housemates about not crossing the picket lines, and we are thinking about having an outside lecture.

“At this time of year everyone has deadlines coming up, and I’m doing my dissertation. But ultimately happy teachers improves the quality of your education.

“The way lecturers are treated nowadays is terrible. We’ve got a lovely set of teachers, they’re really helpful and always at the end of the phone if you need them.

“You want them to be treated properly.”

The strikes will kick off with a two-day walkout at 57 universities from Thursday. Some 74 universities in total will see 14 days of strikes throughout February and March.

Workers are fighting casual contracts, the race and gender pay gaps, below-inflation pay deals and rising workloads. They are also fighting to defend the USS pension scheme.

Workers are right to fight back – and it’s right to show solidarity with them.

Where’s my nearest picket line? Go to bit.ly/UCUstrikes

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