The “biggest strike our Higher Education Sector has ever seen”

‘UCU strike rally : USS action the strikes’ event on Thursday 22 February. Image: Saffron Kershaw-Mee

Strike action is taking place in universities across the country. Beginning with a walk-out from 22 to 23 February, the 14 days of strikes will see members of the University and College Union (UCU)  – some 40,000 lecturers – walking out. The strikes are expected to run until March 16.

In Newcastle, staff, students, and members of the public gathered at Monument on Thursday, 22 February.

A large crowd attended to hear speakers from the UCU and support unions by standing up to attack what they considered to be unjustified and harsh cuts, taking place within a broader scheme of austerity and wealth transfer to the rich.

Over a million students are likely to be affected by the strikes while 575,000 teaching hours are expected to be lost

Protesters shifted through the crowd handing out information on the strikes. Behind the speakers, students stood holding up banners and singing songs of protest.

At Sussex University, students stormed a lecture hall on the strike’s first day. This descended into alleged assault.

In a Facebook post Sussex Supports the Strike reported that “[o]ne of our marchers was assaulted by a student when we disrupted the lecture.

“The marcher was violent tackled into a wooden table by another student. University officials stood by and watched this assault that was only ended by the quick intervention of other marchers”.

Close to 100,000 students have also put their names to petitions demanding compensation for missed hours.

Over a million students are likely to be affected by the strikes while 575,000 teaching hours are expected to be lost as a result of the strike, according to the UCU.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, urged those participating in the strike to “get back to work” as students “need to get their degree”.

Calling it the “biggest strike our Higher Education sector has ever seen”, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted “I join staff, students and @UCU in calling for the employers to commit to meaningful negotiations to resolve this dispute.”

Jamie Cameron, a second-year politics student working with the campaign group Newcastle Student-Staff Solidarity said: “Of course it is frustrating to lose teaching time, but let’s direct our anger at the wealthy and distant university executives pushing through these savage cuts of 40-70% of staff pensions.

“As is well established, there is no believable deficit in the USS pension scheme. University executives are using this fake deficit projection as a smokescreen to shift pension liability to staff, forcing them to gamble their pension funds on the stock market instead of having a fixed pension they have always been promised.

“Both staff and students are collateral in the clumsy, conceited, and obvious positioning of University Vice-Chancellors and USS fund managers.”

Hanna Tamminen, a second-year geography student and Feminist Society International students representative said: “The biggest reason for striking and fighting the pension cuts is clear: the absurdity of the situation wherein members of staff are being pressured like this.

“Pensions are something to rely on. Moreover, in academia it takes a long time to get the qualifications to gain that pension.

“Of course, it is frustrating to lose teaching time, but let’s direct our anger at the wealthy and distant university executives”

Jamie Cameron, a second year politics student at Newcastle University

“Pension cuts seem absurd when so much money is already invested in University education, and members of staff can’t be disregarded when there are such big sums of money at stake.”

Thursday 22nd was the first day of the strikes at Newcastle University. Crowds gathered from 8am to form picket lines, hand out pro-strike literature, and protest against the cuts.

At times, music from a travelling sound system could be heard. Students stood in solidarity with staff and could be seen parading through the University campus with banners and singing songs.

The bulk of the student protestors appeared to be affiliated with the new campaign group Newcastle Student-Staff Solidarity.

Jamie Cameron has also been organising in this group and had the following to say:

“A win for us won’t be the end. We will be campaining to end student poverty on campus, and we will fight for a living wage for all workers at the university.”

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