Thursday, 14 November 2013

Day of Action! Strathclyde University and beyond...

‘Anyone who thinks the change in 2010 was merely a rise in fees, and that things have settled down and will now carry on much as usual, simply hasn’t been paying attention. This government’s whole strategy for higher education is, in the cliché it so loves to use, to create a level playing field that will enable private providers to compete on equal terms with public universities...the overriding aim is to bring the universities to heel: to change their character, to make them conform to market ideology. Universities must be made into businesses, selling a product to customers: if they reduce costs and increase sales, they make a profit; if they don’t, they go bust. Profit is the only indefeasible goal, competition the only effective mechanism.’  

(Stefan Collini, ‘Sold Out’, 24 October 2013, London Review Of Books,

A one day walkout by staff and workers across 149 UK universities took place on 31 October. Deteriorating pay levels and working conditions were among the issues highlighted. According to the joint strike leaflet produced by the trade unions participating; the Universities and Colleges Union, Unison and Unite; ‘In the last four years, pay in real terms has fallen by almost 15% for most support staff in higher education. This has eroded living standards and we believe this year’s 1% offer is inadequate and that it is time to take action for fair pay’. Indeed; protest is long overdue and serious sustained action is yet to be taken by the unions to defend those working and studying at universities.

The university strikers were joined by 1,000 pupil support assistants in Glasgow fighting against the Labour Council’s demand that they must now ‘undertake specialist health care tasks and administration of medicines’ to those in their care, with little training and no pay increase, ‘in addition to their core duties of supporting the delivery of education.’ (see

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! spoke to staff picketing the main library at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. To avoid victimisation they wished to remain anonymous. One staff picketer warned that “a precedent has been set with the introduction of £9,000 fees down South...we need to do everything to fight the marketisation of education here in Scotland”. Another staff picketer commented that “people feel powerless to change things...we have been badly let down by the unions and the Scottish Government” for their lack of action “caterers and cleaners at the university have been put on zero hour contracts since last summer” and “education has become like a badge, a service...we need more education to look after each other”. The increasing use of zero hour contracts is a central part of this dispute. According to the university newspaper, the Strathclyde Telegraph (Edition 2 – November 2013), 36% of Strathclyde staff are not on full time wages and young university technicians and academics are increasingly signed onto zero hour contracts. The article adds that ‘some of Strathclyde’s catering staff are on zero hours contracts or receive low wages but were too afraid to strike’ and that these same workers were only getting 7 of the 17 hours employment they had been promised per week during the 2012 summer recess.

It is important not to forget the blows that have already been struck against staff, workers and students at the University of Strathclyde.  In June 2011, amid student protests supported by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (see, senior university management, including £250,000 principal Jim McDonald (see, voted to scrap Community Education, Geography, Music and Sociology from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. If you go on to the university website now you will politely be told that these courses are no longer available and swiftly directed to the so called alternatives like ‘the University’s internationally renowned Business school’ and ‘our year abroad option which provides an invaluable opportunity to experience study and life in another culture’ (see These ‘alternatives’ in no way replace the courses that were cut and are exclusively geared towards privileged students, financially secure and independent, looking for a career in the profit driven internationally based finance/business sector. For working class students, many holding down jobs to support their education and caring for or supporting families, understanding the collective community and world around their daily lives, is the main concern. In cutting the courses of Community Education, Geography, Music and Sociology the university management made working class students bear the brunt of their cuts. Across the road the public and privately financed £89 million Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre is rapidly built with no talk of cuts.

These cutbacks are compounded by the outrageous restriction of free speech and democracy on campus with the rapid commercialisation of university space. In the week running up to a Glasgow city centre screening of a new film on the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters had their posters publicising the filmshowing repeatedly ripped down from the public announcement boards in the Strathclyde university  library entrance. On seeing security staff rip down one of the posters an FRFI supporter confronted them only to be told ‘your not allowed to put anything up which isn’t taking place in Strathclyde University or the student union’. This was not the case in the 2012- 2013 academic term with many free events, of educational value, taking place outwith the University, being publicised on campus. Like the university courses that were cut this censorship of freedom of speech and ideas has been passed with no real student consultation or vote taking place and has the effect of restricting rather than enhancing the ever important ‘student experience’.

United resistance by workers and students is urgent!

Free education from the chains of profit!
Freedom of speech and ideas now!
Victory to those fighting back!

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