By Sophie Squire
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Thousands march in London on third day of university strikes

This article is over 1 years, 4 months old
Many UCU union members argued for a massive escalation of their strikes
Issue 2834
UCU union members and Unison union members standing in front of a black gate with a purple unison banner and UCU banner hung on it. They are on strike and staging a picket line in front of SOAS university of London

Unison and UCU union members on the picket line at Soas, University of London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of university workers, students and trade unionists took to the streets of central London on Wednesday. It marked the third day of strikes by 70,000 UCU union members at universities across Britain in their fights over pensions, pay, casualisation, workloads and equalities. 

Workers struck alongside 115,000 CWU union members at Royal Mail and 4,000 NEU union members at sixth form colleges. Many UCU members linked up with other groups of strikers on the picket lines, including in Cambridge, York and Islington in north London. And, after picketing, hundreds travelled from across Britain to be part of the demonstration in central London that gathered outside King’s Cross station.

Mara, a lecturer at Birkbeck University in London, told Socialist Worker that the Tories’ education cuts are having devastating consequences. “The bosses are planning a restructuring and are now threatening to cut 140 posts,” she said. “They are targeting the social sciences and the humanities. 

“In English and geography, staff could be halved. In geography we could be down to just eight staff. But the university won’t cut down on the number of students it recruits, so it will be the quality of teaching that suffers if these cuts go ahead.” 

Mara added, “We are seeing this kind of restructuring becoming common in universities. First it was Goldsmiths, now it is Birkbeck.”

Banners on the demonstration read, “Education not casualisation,” and, “Another education is possible.” Lara is on a precarious contract at the University of Liverpool. She told Socialist Worker that, despite doing vital work, workers like her aren’t considered employees by universities. “Not having proper contracts brings up so many issues,” she explained. “And we don’t have the same rights as everyone else. 

“The university isn’t good at informing us when we need to be in to teach. It just feels like there isn’t an end in sight. I don’t know if I’ll have to do a decade of this before I get a permanent contract.”

The rally saw a lot of solidarity from trade unionists in the CWU, Unite, NEU, RMT, and Unison unions.

Jill, a striker from London Metropolitan University, argued that a united fightback is needed to stop the cost of living crisis from worsening. “If we don’t stand united, things will get worse,” she told Socialist Worker. “We’re all feeling the pinch. The best way to hit back is to strike together.”

Striker Maurizio, from the University of Hertfordshire, told Socialist Worker that management is trying to recruit as many students as possible without increasing staff. “On some courses we have a thousand students, which is a considerable amount,” he said. “They especially want the money of students from overseas. 

“Students from overseas—especially if they don’t speak English—need extra care and attention, but we aren’t able to give it because we’re so overworked.”

Hundreds of students joined workers on the march to make clear they won’t be turned against their lecturers. Isabel is a student at King’s College London. “They sent us an email basically saying that security would be on hand to help us cross a picket line if we’re intimidated by strikers,” she told Socialist Worker. “It was just so condescending.”

Isabel added she was on the march to fight against the marketisation of university education. “We’ll be in debt by over £40,000 by the time we leave university, but that money isn’t going into anything good,” she said.

“We see that our lecturers are overworked and are being robbed of their pensions, and this is happening because universities are run for profit.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the crowd that she believed university bosses didn’t think a strike like this was possible. But she didn’t outline where the strikes needed to go next. 

Mark Abel from the University of Brighton told Socialist Worker, “This is the third day of a three day strike, so what happens next is the crucial question. These days of strikes need to be a precursor to the next round of action.”

The three days of strikes on Thursday and Friday of last week and on Wednesday have shown that university workers are determined to fight. Grady has previously said they’ll “shut down the campuses” in semester two. And the best way to do that is to walk out and stay out.

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