The University and College Union (UCU) unites and represents university (and other places of further education) employees from across the UK and fights for their interests. This includes not just academics like lecturers or postgraduate employees, but all university staff – librarians, administrators, managers and IT technicians to list only a few. On the 25th and 26th of May UCU members at Southampton University will be engaging in strike action to combat falling wages, casualised contracts (it has become the norm for academics to spend many years in short term contracts before finding permanent employment), gender inequality and vast pay disparity. Students should support these strikes and show solidarity with the wider movement, because to do so is to recognise the interconnected nature of the student’s and worker’s struggle.
The fact that the quality of the service we receive from the university is dependant on the well-being of the staff it employs provides our first connection. It is clear an overworked and underpaid lecturer or postgraduate employee cannot be expected to be as informative and engaging as they might otherwise be. Falling wages then directly impact our education! A shared struggle against structural societal inequalities provides another link. The UCU strikes are partly in demand for equal pay for female employees (currently paid on average 12.6% less than male counterparts) and a smaller gap between the lowest and highest paid employees (vice-chancellors take home a pay package 6.4 times larger than the average university employee). The majority of students are also opposed to these inequalities of gender and class.
US students and workers protest together for a $15 minimum wage
There is however a more fundamental negative unifying force at play here – the enshrinement of the pursuit of profit. This is the force behind the key issues facing students today like the possibility of even higher tuition fees or the sky-rocketing cost of living. Education is now viewed as a monetary investment – it’s benefits only understood through the lens of profit. Making students pay more, an increase in gross income, is one way of raising profit. The problems facing university employees are a manifestation of the complementary method – a lowering of expenses. This is clear when we look at recent history. The amount of people applying to university goes up and and up alongside the money they pay to for the privilege. Meanwhile university staff are paid less and less (real wages have fallen 14.5% since 2009) – our extra burden has not benefited them at all. Both trends serve only profit. The forces of profit that would drive up tuition fees and student rents also threaten staff’s wages and job security.
Our struggles are united because they flow from the same source. This is why students and workers must stand together in solidarity and fight for change. There will be pickets from 8 am to midday, at Highfield campus on Wednesday and at Avenue on Thursday. The silence of US needn’t be reflected in the student body – we would urge anyone not busy with exams to visit the pickets and show your support. Strike action will only become more common in the years ahead of us and the support of the student movement will be vital to any successes. If we are to survive our uncertain future it will because the oppressed organised against their oppressors. It is then imperative you not allow yourself to be turned against your fellow man. Rather we should unite, students and workers standing side by side as a force for historical progress.