Students occupy university buildings in solidarity with the UCU while protesting their own dire conditions

Students with a banner that says solidarity - they've been occupying universities in support of the UCU strike
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Students are occupying buildings at several universities. They’ve been holed up supporting the University and College Union (UCU) strike action – defying the student-versus-striker narrative some of the media is pushing. However, students have also had it with university bosses more broadly – and aren’t messing around with their actions.

Students occupying campus

The group University of Manchester (UoM) Rent Strike has been occupying three campus buildings since 8 February:

Read on...

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One of the highlights was students occupying the bosses’ offices – including one of a dame on £260,000 a year, no less – and then locking security out:

It’s little wonder Manchester’s students are furious. University bosses increased rent in halls by up to £450 for the 2022 academic year. Meanwhile, the university itself is making over £119m a year – while doubling its financial surplus since 2020.

The UoM Rent Strike group told the Canary:

We have erected barricades with furniture and blocked every entrance to the building to ensure security cannot gain access without physical force:

A barricaded door at the UoM rent strike occupation

Security are currently [as of 11pm on Thursday 9 February] trying to smash down barricades to gain entrance to the building.

However, the occupation is currently going very well and the barricades of John Owens have been holding up. However security have been actively physically intimidating supporters of the occupation outside of the building. We plan on holding the building for as long as physically possible, but various actions will continue indefinitely until the university negotiates with us

Over in Sheffield, it was a similar story on 9 February – with Sheffield Action Group (SHAG) occupying the main event hall at the city’s university:

Students occupying universities like this one in Sheffield in support of the UCU strike - a photo of protesters setting of smoke flares and holding banners while people look on

The group told the Canary:

The occupation was a method to support the ongoing UCU strikes and reinforce the picket lines against an event that was scheduled to take place. The conference, run by HESPA [Higher Education Strategic Planners Association], would have crossed a picket line to discuss future strategy for higher education while excluding the very people who represent the best of HE: the committed lecturers and staff currently on strike to protect their livelihoods and ensure their ability to deliver the best education possible.

The university must support their students and staff – especially during the cost of living crisis – but instead they’re hosting events behind picket lines that serve to promote their image and maintain their hierarchy within the sector. Students stand in solidarity with striking staff because our fight is the same: a demarketised, liberated, and exploitation free university that harms nothing but profit.

So, while both groups are protesting their own issues – they’re also supporting the staff who have been striking.

The media versus the UCU

Of course, the corporate media – like the BBC and C4 News – has tried its best to push the narrative that the UCU strikes are pissing students off:

The media trying divide and conquer tactics is nothing new. Just as they have with rail strikes and previous UCU strikes, the media keeps trying to focus on people who don’t support strikes. Yet, research from the 2019 election and from 2020 shows the majority of students tend to be left wing. Therefore, it’s likely a large proportion of students do support the UCU actions.

End the marketisation of universities

The overall point with both the UCU strikes and the student occupations is that university education in the UK is a privatised, marketised shambles. Bosses have cut workers’ pay by around 25% since 2009. They also want to slash workers‘ pensions by 35% too – all while making staff work in dire conditions. Meanwhile, student accommodation is in crisis – again, thanks to privatisation, as well as rogue landlords and the government getting UK students into £20bn of debt every single year. Plus, you have the ongoing legal action by over 80,000 students against universities charging them full fees at the height of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

To counter the crony-capitalist horror show that’s engulfing the UK’s university system, it’s vital that students and staff stick together. Both groups are at the sharp end of this race to the bottom. Moreover, there are generations of young people waiting in the wings, hoping to get an education fit for the 21st century.

Currently, the UK university system is barely providing anything it claims to. Ludicrously-paid university management are leaving staff underpaid and precarious, and students underserved and overcharged. Therefore, the collapse of universities is yet another manufactured crisis – like the cost of living one. The system sees bosses and companies hoarding wealth at the top, forcing unions and students to fight for scraps at the bottom. So, the fightback must continue.

Featured image via Sheffield Action Group and additional images by the University of Manchester Rent Strike and Sheffield Action Group 

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