“This Strike is Only the Beginning” – UCL Poster.
Yesterday’s UCU strike action saw the students shifting the goalposts of the anti-austerity movement once again.
The london-wide University strike organised by UCU, the militant teachers union who have been fighting the cuts since 2009 with their bold strike action in defence of ESOL in Tower Hamlets, was only really a warm-up in preparation for Thursday’s national strike of both University and Further Education College staff. If Tuesday’s action is anything to go by, the effectiveness of Thursday’s strike relies entirely on how we organise as supporters of not only the strike, but of the struggle for a free education and as opponents of government austerity measures.
Tuesday’s strike was strongest on campuses where the students had organised in support of the strike as a political issue itself, acting in solidarity with what they saw as another weapon in the fight against the cuts and the next logical step towards building a broader base of power for the movement – that is, of course, an explicit unity between students and education workers.
Goldsmiths Fight Back has been organising heavily in support of the UCU strike and occupied Deptford Town Hall, one of the Universities main adminsitrative buildings, the night before. Banners were hung outside the building and UCU pickets were there handing out flyers to the public. The Main Building entrance was blocked off with a banner and a heavy picket line, made up mainly of supporters and sported a soundsystem and numerous placards. Many drivers, particularly those in local government jobs like refuse collection, were constantly honking in support. All in all, the University was extremely quiet with little scabbing by staff or students at all. Senior management had sent round emails telling students not to get involved with the UCU strike and to “retour a la normale” and go to class. They were pretty much told to fuck off.
As well as the strike, there were anti-cuts stickers and anarchist posters plastered all over New Cross and the occupied Job Centre on Deptford High Street was another visible outpost of community resisitance. It felt like, out of nowhere, Lewisham had become this super-politicised space. The guy at the checkout in Sainsburys, who had some kind of learning disability, was talking about how its “all going to go off” with the cuts. All this at 9 in the morning! It felt more like being in Thessaloniki than it did in London. Amazing.
Students at UCL had also occupied the registry, another key administrative building, in solidarity with the UCU strike. They had also recieved threats from management saying anyone who entered the occupied space would face disciplinery action. People were simply spurred on by the threats, recognising them for what they were – desperate attempts by management to blackmail students and workers out of seriously effective solidarity action. Again, banners, posters and stickers were everywhere creating a visibly political campus environment that would not be alien to our Greek comrades.
Students at SOAS and Birkbeck were out en masse to support pickets at their schools as well as having food, tea, coffee and soundsystems outside and benches that people were using to study on the right side of the picket lines. Great forward thinking.
The award for poshest picket goes to the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where one was told by lecturers that the term “scab” was too evocative of the miners strike. We are not amused!
The quietest picket had to go to Queen Mary’s – although i think this may have something to do with the time of day that I visited. However, points for effort – there was a picket at every entrance to the University, which blog readers who are more familiar with the east end will know, stretches all the way down Mile End Road and into Whitechapel with the medical school. Feedback suggested alot of scabbing from staff and students. It should also be noted that this campus appeared to be lacking hugely in any organised student/community support for the strike – there were a few Socialists selling papers on the picket lines, but this cannot be considered to be of any real supporting value to the workers and the strike itself. On reflection, it is definitely something WAG should have been involved in.
All in all, an inspiring and effective day compounded by the pleasantly surprising feeling of seeing the student movement – which, this time last year had been reduced to just a talking shop for aspiring politicians and a cheap way of getting students pissed – pushing the boundaries of revolutionary consciousness, evading the crippling anti-union laws by organising solidarity action outside of the union and, most importantly, creating a power-base for the strike that focuses on the actions of an alliance of workers and supporters and not a small clique of union bureaucrats.
All those who can make it should go out in support of their local FE College/University on Thursday. All those who can’t should visit Deptford Town Hall (and bring their friends) to support the occupation tonight. All this anti-cuts direct action is really helping to build momentum for Saturday’s demo. It’s gonna be fucking mental.
Picket lines start at 7:30am Thursday, so get a good nights sleep!