We are blockading five entrances of the university because we believe that there urgently needs to be forces with the power to challenge the government and university administrations. Higher Education is increasingly being turned into a machine for the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. If we are to stop this machine and to transform it into something that serves the interests of society as a whole, it will take serious action and solidarity between students and staff. We do not believe that symbolic action, or protest is sufficient. Changing the policies of higher education is not about convincing those in senior positions but about the power of students and staff to stand up for our interests.
We demand that:
1. The University make a statement in support of the unions in their negotiations with the UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association)
2. The University give a real terms pay increase to support staff this year.
3. Students and staff are given more power in every level of university decision making. Universities should work democratically not to the interests of a small management elite.
The strike is taking place because staff in higher education are facing “one of the largest sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World War”. At the same time that universities are making record surpluses and senior management pay is exponentially rising. David Eastwood is the second highest paid vice chancellor in the country, getting paid £409,000, while the number of highly paid senior managers increases every year.
Over the last few years, higher education has undergone some of the most radical structural changes seen in recent memory. The universities are being transformed into investment vehicles for financial interests, and administrations are increasingly engaged in the aggressive marketing of degrees as a private good to attract undergraduates. Research grants and contracts are highly prized, and are made necessary by university managers; while those departments which do not conform to such commercial pressures are placed under the omnipresent threat of restructuring or outright closure. As access to university and academic diversity are being constricted, higher education is becoming less of a public good and more of an individual investment. Attacks on academic staff are increasing in intensity as the logic of the commercial sector becomes dominant.
The interests of students and academic staff are deeply intertwined. Increased working hours, the pressure to win research funding against a backdrop of falling real pay and workplace instability have had a devastating impact on the quality of life for staff. As stress levels rise and the proportion of time that needs to be devoted to administrative responsibilities increases, the quality of teaching and amount of time that can be spent with students on average will fall. With students directly paying for a larger proportion of our education through some of the highest tuition fees in the world, this attack on staff can’t be seen as anything less than an attack on ourselves.
But to simply look at these wage cuts in terms of their impact on the provision of higher education is not enough. Attacks on academic staff mirror the broader attack on workers across the entire economy. Casualisation of labour and depression of wages are becoming dominant strategies in a global race to the bottom, in order to stimulate economic growth and profitability for shareholders. A bleak future of precarious employment, debt and perpetual insecurity await the vast majority of us unless action is taken now to defend rights and conditions for workers today. Only from the foundations of a broad opposition to financial violence today, can we develop a platform to fight back for a better future tomorrow.