By Sadie Robinson
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Workers’ safety fights at colleges and universities

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Issue 2736
In March last year universirty workers struck. Now they are fighting for safety
In March last year, university workers struck. Now they are fighting for safety (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Union activists fought to resist the unsafe reopening of universities and colleges this week.

On Monday the government was forced to announce that nearly all university and college students should be taught online until mid-February.

But previously the Tories had expected colleges to begin reopening from next Monday and for universities to fully reopen from 25 January.

The UCU union had said the plans were “doomed to fail”. And it said all non-essential face to face teaching must move online until Easter.

This is still an important demand 

“It was a serious mistake for government and the leadership of the sector not to move to online learning in November,” said Sean Vernell, vice-chair of the UCU’s further education committee. 

He said college leaderships and the government would “have blood on their hands” if unsafe reopenings go ahead. 

“Lives are at risk,” he said. “FE has a much older workforce compared to other education sectors. Many are in their mid-50s and mid‑sixties and many from BAME backgrounds.”


There was dismay that even after the new lockdown announcement that vocational exams scheduled for January were going ahead.

The UCU said, “The government have made it clear that attendance in colleges is not safe for students or staff.

“This is a terrible decision and contradictory to the message we should ‘stay at home’.”

The mood of resistance was shown by a strike ballot result announced this week.

UCU members at Birmingham City University voted for action over coronavirus safety.

Rhiannon Lockley, the union branch secretary, said, “We have successfully returned our ballot to take action to defend members, colleagues, students, families and communities against a second wave allowed to run riot across the UK.

“There has never been a better time to join and get active in your union—lives depend on it.”

Meanwhile, student rent strikes are spreading to even more university campuses. Students from universities including Warwick and Queen Mary in east London have in the last few weeks pledged to take part.

Now hundreds of students at over 20 universities are pledging to withhold their rents this month.

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