'Students support UCU strike'
Academic staff at over 60 universities across the UK are set to take strike action over the next two weeks. Next Thursday 17 March will see the first day of action, with members of the UCU union at seven Scottish universities walking out. This will be followed by consecutive days of action in Wales, Northern Ireland and England, before a national strike on Thursday 24 March. The action is being taken over proposed changes to pensions, and comes after universities refused to engage in negotiations with the union.
The ballot comes at a key time for the wider trade union movement, coinciding with both the latest round of cuts in the budget on 23 March, and the national anti-cuts demonstration on Saturday 26 March, which will see hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in London, in the largest display of opposition to the government’s austerity programme so far. Just this week, it was revealed that public sector unions are looking at the possibility of co-ordinated strike action over the summer, again over pensions.
Pensions are in reality one of the few issues that co-ordinated industrial action can be taken around; political strikes are banned under the anti-trade union laws, meaning that strikes against government policy in general are effectively illegal. However, by taking co-ordinated action around specific workplace issues – in this public sector pensions – it’s basically the closest thing we can have to a general strike, without getting into the realm of illegality.
At Glasgow University, the strike has taken on added significance, with the university emerging over the past month at the forefront of the struggle over the future of education itself, pitting a dictatorial, business-minded senior management against both academics and the student body. At the beginning of February, management revealed £3 million of cuts, including proposals to scrap a number of courses entirely, including nursing, social work, several modern languages and the whole Department of Adult and Continuing Education. Under the cover of ‘budget restraint’ and an ‘unsustainable deficit’, it represents a wholesale neo-liberal restructuring of the university, spearheaded by free market zealot Principal Muscatelli and his henchmen: head of finance Bob ‘the eraser’ Fraser and master of intrigue David Newall (collectively known as the Three Muscatellis. Hohoho). All receive six figure salaries; Muscatelli earns £280k per annum.
The war against unaccountable managerialism is being waged on several fronts: The Herald runs near-daily stories detailing the ‘despair and demoralisation’ at the university, huge protest marches have been held, and staff have called an emergency meeting of the university senate – the first in over a century – in order to present their concerns to management. The occupation of the Free Hetherington is also going strong after over five weeks, and continues to be at the heart of the anti-cuts struggle on campus. Next week, the battle will enter a new phase with UCU strike action.
Onwards to the spring of discontent.