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Globalisation Anticapitalism :: Occupations
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UCU's industrial action to defend the pensions of university staff, including lecturers, researchers and administrative staff, enters its fourth day. Thousands of workers at universities across the UK have gone on strike, many for the first time. Membership of the UCU has rocketed since the start of strike action.
The response of university bosses, whose huge pay packets have made headlines recently, and UUK, the body responsible for administering the 'USS' pension scheme, has been appalling and dismissive, driving many new workers into the union and onto the picket lines.
A massive victory was gained at the University of St Andrews where bosses threatened their staff with docking 100% pay for action short of a strike. A letter from the vice-chancellor to staff threatened the cancellation of initiatives aimed at improving the representation of women and minorities in the university should the pension scheme remain intact. The outrage among staff was palpable.
The letter drove more staff onto the picket lines and a large-scale campaign among university students and alumni, along with a refusal of the staff to be bullied, pushed management back. They now state that they will not dock pay in response to action short of a strike and have backpedalled on their threats to diversity initiatives.
Around 200 striking UCU members, students and other strike supporters assembled at the University of Liverpool Guild of Students building on 8 March before marching through the city in a tremendous display of strength, solidarity and determination in their struggle against vicious cuts to university staff pensions.
The marchers were greeted by a chorus of car horns as they made their way through the town centre from taxi drivers, bus drivers and even one man driving a Bentley!
Socialist Students and Socialist Party members attended the march, dishing out leaflets and selling copies of the Socialist.
The strike is enjoying massive support from students, the Liverpool community and the wider trade union movement, as shown by how Communication Workers' Union postal workers have refused to cross picket lines by delivering mail to the university, forcing staff to collect the mail themselves from the post office depot!
From 5 to 7 March, students occupied part of the administrative floor of the Fielding Johnson building at the University of Leicester. It was one of many student occupations across the country in solidarity with striking lecturers and academic staff united in the UCU, fighting cuts to their pensions.
Alongside this, students at the University of Leicester were fighting back against the appointment of David Willetts as the new chancellor of the university. Willetts is the Tory ex-minister for universities, who oversaw the tripling of tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year.
Despite initial difficulties with security and administrative staff, students managed to secure the occupation and clear the offices, with great support outside from striking UCU staff and other students. After several hours of protest the management was forced to meet with students.
The meeting was held, attended by democratically chosen delegates from the occupiers. However the concessions offered were unsatisfactory to the students and UCU alike. The vice-chancellor refused to change his position on the appointment of Willetts, and attempted to defend his despicable voting record on LGBT+ rights and his atrocious actions over tuition fees. Students wouldn't take no for an answer and voted to extend the occupation.
Under pressure a meeting was agreed with David Willetts present where all staff and students were welcome to question him and openly discuss his appointment as chancellor. Alongside this, management agreed that the process by which the next chancellor is chosen needs to be changed to a democratic one, and to take steps towards this goal.
But management failed to address the concerns that students raised regarding David Willetts, maintaining support for his appointment. They also completely failed to come out in support of striking UCU lecturers.
Therefore we are continuing the fight against Willetts, against cuts and against the marketisation of education.
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Article dated 14 March 2018
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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