Teaching staff are the people we see every day, and are our first port of call within the university when we need support; whether the issue is academic or personal. Now, they face drastic cuts to their pensions, having what little remaining gambled on stock market outcomes. These past few weeks I have been organising with a group of students in support of the UCU strike fighting these cuts, organising in a solidarity movement of teachers and students.
I think it is a disgrace that so many students are apathetic towards the strike or, worse, outright hostile towards lecturers. I can’t believe that at a university where some of the most intelligent young people in the country study there has been such a docile and uncritical acceptance of the management’s position in this dispute. Many students are expending all their energy complaining they want tuition fees back for lost time; an endeavour that will most likely be fruitless.
If students take a divisive stance in response to the strike it only serves to weaken the striking lecturers position and prolong the strike.
I am annoyed and ashamed. I am trying to make sense of why the student response has been so weak. A key complaint on campus is the amount of teaching time that will be lost, this is a valid reaction and is something which I can sympathise with; in the lead up to deadlines, dissertation hand-ins, and exams the possibility of losing 14 days’ worth of teaching time is anxiety-inducing for many.
In theory, lost time is lost money. However, the willingness to capitulate to the narrative that we are consumers is concerning. Tuition fees have essentially made our university experience a monetized commodity, and an extortionate one at that. There is a petition floating about which has been set up by a Newcastle University student demanding a refund over lost fees, a petition which has over 4000 signatures – certainly this confirms this is a position many students agree with. I personally think this an individualistic demand that undermines the strike action. We should have nothing but contempt for the fees we pay and resist the administrative changes which aim to model our university structure around the free market.
If students take a divisive stance in response to the strike it only serves to weaken the striking lecturers position and prolong the strike. Yet, if we stand in solidarity with staff we can stop the intended changes taking place, bring the dispute back into negotiation, and reduce the amount of days lost to strike action.
Solidarity, a concept that stands ideologically opposed to the individualist philosophy of free market capitalism
These sort of demands from students are the result of a wider, more pervasive ideological shift in the political climate over these past 30 years or so. The rise of neoliberalism, the ideology of individual responsibility for the many and socialism for the rich, has seen the erosion of trade unionism and eaten away at our understanding of solidarity, a concept that stands ideologically opposed to the individualist philosophy of free market capitalism.
We now live in a society which has broken everyone down into individual atoms. We are all singular units who look out for ourselves and ourselves only, leaving little time or space to consider the needs of others and the importance of engaging with their struggles.
Working people only have their labour as a bargaining asset and lecturers are not striking vindictively to interrupt our education
As industrial action has become more of a rarity and is diametrically opposed to the class interests of the most powerful in society; it struggles to garner popular support amongst ordinary people. We are seeing the broader trends of our society replicated in our own university community. A good example is the stagnation of student support for this industrial action which is a far cry from the militant student movement of the 1960s and 70s. A lot of discourse on campus has centred around the idea students are being “used as pawns in a game”. I think this shows very well the sheer lack of understanding of the fact that working people only have their labour as a bargaining asset and that the lecturers are not striking vindictively to interrupt our education.
I don’t agree with the pension changes and neither should you, students can be a powerful base of support in this struggle to defend the livelihoods of staff at this university – realise that, and we can win.