By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2794

Students back university strikers with battle at crucial point

This phase of university strikes has ended, but more action is needed
Issue 2794
Dozens of students listen to speeches

Students in central London (Pic: @BirkbeckUnion on Twitter)

Students organised walkouts and protests to support striking lecturers and fight for better education on Wednesday.  The protests came on the fifth day of strikes by UCU union members at 63 different universities over workload, pay, casualised contracts and equalities—the four fights. 

Hundreds of students travelled to attend protests in central London. Molly from Strathclyde university got on a coach at 11pm the previous evening to protest. She told Socialist Worker that it was important for students to, “get their voices heard”. 

“It’s been vital for us, as students, to talk to our lecturers about why they are striking and what kind of conditions they are currently having to deal with. 

“During the pandemic lecturers had to adjust to a completely different way of teaching, and we had to get used to a new way of learning. It has meant that workers are doing double the work with almost no recognition. That’s a big reason as to why I’m here today.” 

Jordyn, also from Strathclyde, added that one of the most important things students had done at her university was to get hundreds of signatures on a petition in support of lecturers. 

“Molly and I are both studying primary education, so we see this fight as one for the sector as a whole.”

Students at University College London (UCL) gathered outside the gates of their university before the main demonstration began. They then marched into the Student Central building to persuade others to join the strike. At one point, the students were mocked and told to leave by someone studying. 

Anoushka, a sociology student at the university, hit back and said, “What you need to understand is that conditions are becoming unliveable for some staff. We are here to fight against wage inequality and fair pensions. You need to know it is university management that is responsible for this.” Chants of “education is a right” rang through the building. 

Students then gathered in Torrington Square in central London to hear speeches. NUS president Larissa Kennedy told the crowd, “We are reclaiming our education today and saying now more than ever that a free democratised education is within our reach. There is power in workers and students coming together.”

Around 300 rallied outside the Universities and College Association in central London, with strikers making it clear that strikes need to escalate. 

There were large rallies in several other cities, including in Manchester, where up to 350 strikers and supports joined a protest and a march. In Leeds up to 1,000 joined a strike rally in the city centre and picket lines were hundreds-strong. 

Activists from the Unison union, who are also striking at Leeds university, joined protesters on pickets and protests. Together activists marched across the city chanting, “Strike, strike, strike.” 

There were also lively pickets in Newcastle with music and songs. Activists chanted, “What do we want, fair pay, when do we want it, now.” 

A hundreds strikers many in pink hats

Strikers and students rallying in Leeds (Pic: Lesley McGorrigan)

Up to 250 gathered at the central campus at Edinburgh university, and there were also big pickets outside St. Andrews university in east Scotland. In Liverpool picket lines were 50 people strong. 

A number of the students that attended the protest in central London were from FE colleges. 

Molly is the student union president at Dudley college. She told Socialist Worker that she attended the protest to fight for the future of education. “We just aren’t getting the best education we possibly could have. The only way we are going to make it better is by organising,” she said. 

Lauren, also a student at Dudley college, added that poorer students are hardest hit by the increased marketisation of education. “I’ve had to think very carefully about whether I can afford to go to university, and it’s not just about tuition. It’s about accommodation and just being able to survive while you’re there. 

“I also think we really have to fight to protect arts and humanities subjects that the Tories think are just unimportant,” she said.

Willow, a college student from south Wales on the protest, added that she is worried that university is out of reach because she is from a low-income family. 

Alisa, an international student from Dundee university, said that the price of living crisis would significantly impact students and lecturers.  “Inflation has gone up, but salaries haven’t. It’s a desperate situation that could mean that only rich people can afford university. 

“I’ve come all the way from Dundee because I believe the only way we can fight this is by collective struggle.”

Student support and big, vibrant protests are vital for the health of both UCU disputes over pensions and the four fights. They also show those at the top of the union that its members and students are ready to keep fighting. 

This series of UCU strikes has how ended. This must not be the end of hard-hitting action.

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