Reports from different campuses


March 3, 2020

Warwick

Sunny skies at the University of Warwick bolstered the mood on the picket line as we entered the third week today. We had a strong showing of numbers at the front of the campus near the bus depot, but the real action was near the road. There’s nothing like an approving honk to make you feel instant satisfaction that your effort of holding a mildly cumbersome “Honk your support” sign has all been worth it. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

Warwick pickets and students were treated to two teach outs today: a talk on Democratising Political Education” by Naomi Waltham-Smith, and panel discussion on “Decolonisation/Decarbonisation” hosted by the Warwick SU Environment and Ethics Officer and the Warwick Decolonise Project. Local MP Zarah Sultana joined the panel to share insights from Parliament and thoughts on the government’s “response” thus far. The panel stressed that small-scale solutions are not enough; the climate crisis has its roots in capitalism and colonial extraction, and poor people in the Global South are feeling the hardest effects. As Naomi emphasized in the final teach out today, political education can play a vital role in mobilising people to tackle these issues with ground-up solutions. But we have a long fight ahead. La lucha continua.

Newcastle, student-staff solidarity

At first, there were concerns that the strike at Newcastle might be weaker than the last one, with rumours of less support in some departments and of some staff only striking on particular days.

Nonetheless, when the first day came the picket lines were as solid as ever, with excellent attendance and high spirits which have continued throughout the strike, even in the pelting rain and snow. The local UCU Running Club’s running picket line, the presence of @SolidarityShark, and the outreach done by members holding public stalls on weekends have all helped maintain the effectiveness and momentum of the strike.

This time, unlike in November’s strike, a network of students have come together to organise in solidarity, taking teas and coffees to pickets, holding open meetings and planning direct actions. This experience of organising has been an intense but rewarding political education for all involved, helping revitalise student activism in Newcastle after a period of steady decline since the early 2010s student movement.

One significant obstacle has been the prevalence of market logic amongst some students who see degrees as transactional, viewing the strike as disrupting the ‘service’ that tuition fees pay for, and directing their subsequent anger at striking staff more than at management. A groupuscule of Conservative students tried to capitalise on this sentiment by bringing a ‘Students against Strikes’ banner to the pickets, but utterly failed to have any impact beyond making themselves look ridiculous. The group has not returned to the picket lines since one of their members was exposed as having previously made racist comments.

An excellent response to this sentiment has been to point out how little of students’ fees actually go towards teaching compared to being spent on marketing and new buildings. This helps shift students’ focus to the deeper causes of the strike, whilst the student-staff solidarity group and daily teach-outs help encourage alternative sentiments of solidarity and of emancipatory education, against the ideology of marketisation.

Birkbeck Workers vs the Monarchy

Strikers @BirkbeckUCU arrived bright and early this morning in anticipation of Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University of London, making a visit to Birkbeck’s 200th anniversary breakfast. Royal security tried to move us away from the back entrance, where the princess would be discretely escorted in, but we held our ground, with our fearless law lecturers reminding security of our rights.

As the entourage arrived, we held high banners that quoted George Birkbeck’s advocacy for working class education (‘Now is the time for the universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge!’), and implored Princess Anne not to cross the picket line. She shot us back a glare of unadulterated aristocratic contempt and replied, ‘You’re joking.’

Undeterred, we re-assembled at the front of the building to prepare for her exit.

But before we got to chanting, an ally was spotted in the distance: Birkbeck alumnus and fellow John McDonnell MP.

‘Where are you going John?’
‘I’m just headed to the SOAS picket line!’
’That’s great! Before you go, could you say a few words to us here?’

McDonnell took the microphone and gave a rousing speech, reminding us of PCS cleaners’s successful dispute during the Royal Wedding, and pledging his absolute solidarity: ‘We’ll be on every picket line, every demo, and every form of activity that we democratically decide, and by whatever means necessary we’ve got to win this dispute, and we will!’ He promised to send the princess a UCU membership pack.

By this point our crowd had doubled. Princess Anne made her exit as we furiously exclaimed our new chant: ‘Equal pay: No joke! Precarity: No joke! Pensions: No joke! Workload: No joke!’

A well wisher added in: ‘Off with her head!’

SOAS

The strike remains strong at SOAS in week 3 and we have been blessed with some sun too. The teach-out programme continues to be excellent, with an entire day dedicated to talks and discussions on migration and borders on Monday and other interesting sessions with the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) and on challenging the economic growth paradigm. The participation of students, activists and teachers in the teach-out demonstrates that the strike is an important space for learning and exchange – in fact, as mentioned by a lecturer who spoke at the midday rally today (Wednesday), the strike helps us create, build and experience unity, which is essential across UK universities and at SOAS in particular. The presence and support of the SOAS students on the picket lines has been invaluable. Special tribute to the SOAS samba band that today managed to get some students and teachers (mostly ‘fractionals’, it must be said) to dance, which was a highlight of this week’s picket line. With casualization being at the core of this dispute – and let us make sure it stays so – we need to highlight the solidarity expressed by the fractional teaching staff who have been a constant presence on the SOAS picket lines. At today’s visit, John McDonnell spoke about casualization as one of the most visible plagues of the neoliberal university and a fractional teacher who spoke at the rally called for a national framework, as opposed to individual universities action, to tackle the problem of casualization.


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The University and College Worker

Bulletin written for, and by, University and College Workers