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David Hanson and Agnes Helena Berner, on behalf of Glasgow University Student-Staff Solidarity @GU_Solidarity
s we witness the neoliberal agenda permeate our society, the United Kingdom has seen rising university fees while staff are eviscerated by cuts and deteriorating working conditions. Principals and vice-chancellors are buying into the neoliberal logic, acting increasingly as corporate CEOs than members of the academic community, while international students are merely revenue flows for funding billion-pound building projects. Those prestigious and historic institutions are turning into corporations which value a narrow definition of profit, competition, and development, rather than acting as the spaces of learning, caring, and community that they are meant to be.
When the University and College Union announced that there would be 14 days of strike action, these issues were not as clear to us. We came together from a wide range of backgrounds: Marxists, anarchists, feminists, faith organisations, activists involved with tenants’ rights, human rights, environmental and LGBT+ issues; some had been politically involved for years, and some had zero experience. One word tied us together: Solidarity. We recognized that although this was not about our pensions, the strike was a part of our struggle. As the strike progressed, the picket lines became not only a physical space, but an intellectual space rarely seen at the university. The strike was not only a nodal point for students to coalesce around, but an opportunity to develop relationships with our lecturers outside the confines of the classroom. At heart, students and staff want the same thing: an open, democratic, and fair university that puts people ahead of profits.
Within our university the strike forged new connections between staff and students. But it also made us look outward to our fellow students across the UK. We inspired, taught and encouraged each other. Social media made our actions visible and connected us despite being hundreds of miles apart. As more universities were occupied, the more it strengthened our resolve. The last week of the strike had seen an unacceptable proposal by UUK and no substantial progress. As students, we knew our presence and outreach had been appreciated by the strikers, but senior management continued to avoid their responsibilities to students and staff. We had to make a show of force to demonstrate that the end of the strike was not the end of our fight, and unlike our striking staff, we were not constrained by strike rules - so we decided to occupy.
Compared with the vastness of the UK student body, and even with the numbers present on the picket lines, the occupations themselves were orchestrated by very few people at some 20 universities. But by acting simultaneously and in unity, we had strong visible impact on fellow students, staff, and management, ultimately creating enough disruption to reach the media. As politicians started to reach out and respond, we realized the efficacy of our actions and how we could push for changes beyond the scope of the pensions dispute. The fight against the marketisation of higher education and the neoliberal agenda that is eroding our universities begins now.