Rida Vaquas, OULC Campaigns Officer, encourages her fellow students to support the upcoming UCU strike and details what OULC is doing to aid the protesting lecturers.
Solidarity is the fundamental principle which governs the labour movement. ‘Solidarity forever, the union makes us strong’ aren’t just words to a song for us, they demonstrate how we organise and the actions we take. It is on this basis that it’s imperative we do everything in our power to make the UCU strike successful.
From Thursday 22nd February onwards, our university staff are going on strike over proposed changes to their pension scheme, which could result in them losing up to 40% of their pension and might scrap a guaranteed level of income in retirement entirely. If these changes go ahead, the pensions of university staff will be entirely dependent on the whims of investments in the stock market. We are in danger of moving from a socialised welfare system in retirement into compelling university staff to take on enormous amounts of private risk. This is a shameless attack on the dignity and security in old age that we, as a labour movement, have fought for throughout our history.
So why is it important for students to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our lecturers and tutors? The answer is simple: they are fighting for a future. The UCU is the largest union in the higher education sector; a defeat for the union now signifies our inability to fight back as a collective when faced with attacks from the government or our employers. Moreover, our fellow students will be taking strike action, and graduate students employed by the university will be participating in the dispute.
It is a fatal error to counterpose the interests of students and the interests of university staff, and to treat students as passive consumers that merely buy the services provided by workers. Instead, our interests are aligned: the marketisation of our education system affects us all. The long-term damage done to an education system where workers are underpaid, overworked, and lack any form of collective security will far surpass the impact of having to miss a few lectures (for those who wake up to go to them). The UCU recognise this, hence time and time again, they have fought for us in the student movement, combatting further privatisation and deregulation of higher education and making the argument against the Prevent programme. Students and university staff are fighting the same battle here: to make our education a social good that can be accessed by anyone, and where we collaborate collectively.
Furthermore, we as students have an obligation to hold our university to account. As highlighted in this blog by Michael Otsuka, Oxford and Cambridge Universities have played a key role in the demise of the current guaranteed pension scheme by hugely exaggerating the risks of a multi-employer scheme to themselves, largely in order to protect their own assets. We attend an obscenely wealthy and privileged institution. We should be demanding that it takes, for its part, a very minimal level of risk in order to participate in a collective welfare scheme, rather than transferring this risk onto its employees, thereby jeopardising their security in later life.
So what can we do? The Labour Club is co-hosting a banner making session on Tuesday 20th February at Wadham College, so do come along! We want to be a big and vibrant presence at the rally organised by UCU on Thursday and show that students are on the workers’ side. We will be joining picket lines throughout the industrial action, as well as leafleting students.
If you want to get involved with anything, keep an eye out on Facebook and drop me a message if you have any questions!
It is only by acting collectively in powerful and practical solidarity that we have a chance at winning a future for any of us. So get involved and let’s make the strike successful!