Summary of all the crazy shit that’s been happening with university workers and students lately in Britain
- Two key points of focus for what’s happening at the moment: the privatisation of the student loan and a 13% pay cut in real wages to university staff.
- The privatisation of the loan is pretty similar to how mortgage debt is sold off: private companies buy the student debt for a fraction of its value and charge the student for the full amount. This impending sell-off represents a retrospective change in contract between students and the SLC (student loan company, a public organisation). It will basically mean bailiffs, retrospective addition of interest to the student loan, retrospective increases in fee repayments, and a lowering of the earnings at which you start repayments (£21,000 currently to something like £17k).
- The way the pay cuts have worked: the government basically offered a 1% increase in pay to university staff unions (lecturers, but also cleaners, maintenance, service staff, etc) which translates to a 13% cut in wages for various economic reasons. Meanwhile, the vice-chancellors of many universities have given themselves salary increases as well as bonuses. At my own university, Exeter, our vice-chancellor earns around £1million pounds a year with salary and bonuses together. He’s given himself a 13% increase in salary every single year since he became VC. As well as this, he has a chauffeur drive him everywhere, takes a huge entourage around the world all on first-class plane tickets, and owns two houses in Exeter (one is in the city which he rents out, and the other is this huge monstrosity on campus which the staff were telling me is paid for entirely by the university expenses, including all bills and tax). All of this is on university expenses and it’s the same story elsewhere. Students are paying for the bonuses of university management, not for the front-line service they receive from the staff.
- So the protests are basically part of student-worker campaign against privatisation, with staff running strikes and picket lines on the edges of campus initially and students taking mass direct action on the inside. One thing that separates this from previous student actions (such as tuition fees) is that there’s an overwhelming rejection of the NUS (the national union of students, which functions very much like a careerist trade union you find in most big workplaces). All actions have taken part outside of the NUS, with syndicalist student groups organising departmental assemblies covering staff and students in the same department. Perhaps more importantly, there’s an increased focus on the interests of staff and students being one and the same, and they are uniting against university management against corporatisation of the university.
What’s happened so far
- Tuesday was the date of the second university staff strike in 6 weeks. Spontaneously, student groups from around 9-10 universities (including London, Sheffield, Sussex, Birmingham, SOAS, Ulster, Edinburgh, Exeter, and others) carried occupations with various degrees of success in solidarity.
- Birmingham students had been occupying for about 3 weeks, so they just sort of carried on. Two or three of the occupiers had already been served charges of £10,000 each, with the university holding them personally responsible for all actions taken. Their occupation began with 150 students.
- Sheffield Autonomous Students (a new nationwide anarcho-syndicalist student initiative) occupied the tallest university building in the country overnight. Sheffield uni gained the legal powers to pull out an injunction within an hour on any student protest, and students must ask permission before taking part in any protest.
- Sussex autonomous students and other groups had been occupying for quite a long time as well. There, 5 students were suspended for taking part in the peaceful occupations, where no criminal damage was carried out. They have also been banned from campus. This news came yesterday, and resulted in a 500-person spontaneous demonstration made up of staff and students outside the occupied building.
- The one that’s currently making the headlines is the University of London. Initially, they had occupied the huge building at Goldsmiths college, which used to be a town hall and now houses the financial offices. They got dispersed on Tuesday, and then moved to Senate House, an even bigger eyesore at UCL. Ironically this was the day of the national ‘cops off campus’ demonstrations, and saw huge police brutality at the occupation. Outside the occupation, staff and students battled against police, who arrested journalists, confiscated and smashed student laptops and phones, and beat students. They even brought in the territorial support group, yknow, the ones that killed Ian Tomlinson.
- There has now been a national call for a day of action next Wednesday on all university campuses against the universities basically using police to prevent any sort of outcry against the agenda of management and investors. Things are escalating incredibly quickly, and, with time to step back and organise over the Christmas break, the students and staff are only going to return in bigger numbers and more well-organised in time for the national week of action against fees and cuts in universities in February.
- shit’s kicking off we might see another May 1968 stay tuned