By Maisie Sanders.
Last year’s student-worker solidarity movement was a huge boost to the UCU strike, and student support on the picket lines, teach-outs, demos and occupations added to the pressure on uni management and won some big concessions.
This year we can make it even bigger: students on every campus should start solidarity campaigns to help maximise the impact of the strike. Student-worker solidarity is the best weapon we’ve got in winning broader demands to about our marketised, profit-driven universities and the fights for free education and climate justice.
Here is a little guide on some things you can do on your campus, even if you’re starting out as just one or two people.
Contact your local UCU branch
• Find out if your UCU branch is striking. Here’s a list – if not, then head down to the nearest uni to you and join their picket lines!
• There are two disputes running at the same time. Is your UCU branch striking over pay and equality, or pensions, or both? Find out here.
• If you search the name of your uni plus UCU, you should find contact details. Tell them you want to support the strike and ask what you can do.
• Talk to your lecturers and other academic staff that you support the strike, ask them if they will be striking, and encourage them to do so if they haven’t decided yet.
Talk to students
• If you aren’t already part of an activist group or Labour Club supporting the strike, set up a ‘students support the strike’ Facebook page or Twitter account. Post in halls groups, course groups, get in touch with other political groups and societies on campus e.g. Labour Club, FemSoc, LGBT soc, Young Greens, People and Planet, XR…
• Run stalls on campus with flyers directed at students. Explain to them why UCU members are striking, why they should support it, and why crossing the picket line undermines the strike.
• Share the open letter in support of the strike. You can print physical copies too to pass around in lectures, in cafes or at stalls.
• Put a motion to mandate your SU to actively support the strike. Look on your SU website to find out how to do this – it may mean an online vote or going to a physical meeting. Make sure you mobilise big numbers to vote in favour – if the motion passes, then SU support will really help the strike and the student solidarity campaign to reach much amuch bigger audience. (Watch this space for a model motion).
Join the Students Support the Strikes Facebook group: it’s a great place for advice and discussion and you can download templates of posters and flyers others have made.
Call an organising meeting
• Book a room (a society, or UCU, might be able to help you out)
• Don’t just rely on social media to promote it – get it out there in the days leading up to it by talking to people, flyering, sticking posters everywhere, you can even do shout outs at the start of big lectures. Making a big banner to take with you when you leaflet will make you more noticeable.
• Find out what the UCU branch have planned – when and where are the picket lines, is there going to be a demo, do they have any ideas about what you can do to support them?
• How can you convince students to support the strike and get as many as possible to join the picket lines?
• Besides trips to picket lines, what do you want to do? – teach-outs? banner drops? a demo?
When planning bigger actions like occupations, it’s probably best not to discuss that in a big first meeting – start with a small group of people you trust in the initial planning stages, then start reaching out to more.
Picket lines, teach-outs, roving pickets…
Big, vibrant picket lines make strikes more likely to win- mobilising as many students as you can to join them is the most important thing you can do.
Help to make the picket lines a fun, political space to be. Striking staff and students at Goldsmiths last year organised teach outs on the picket lines, where activists, left-wing academics and students gave talks on different topics, and student bands performed too.
Students at Sheffield uni set up the Roving Picket, a troupe of students who visited the picket lines with hot drinks and a sound system, dancing, inflatable guitars and disco wigs.
At Birkbeck, library workers refused to cross the UCU picket lines and forced the library to close for the day! Don’t go around shouting ‘scab’ at students who do cross the picket lines, it’s not useful and it’s not going to educate anyone –see if you can get them to get involved or join the picket lines another day.
Banner drops, stencils, flyposting, chalking
Plaster your campus with messages in support of the strike. Definitely make a big ‘students support the strikes’ banner.
You’ll need this to bring to picket lines and demos too, plus you can use it to make your stall/leafletting more visible. Here’s a how-to zine on banner drops, stencils and flyposting.
These are a great way of boosting support for and visibility of the strike demands. (Obviously don’t do this at the same time as the picket).
• Don’t just use social media to promote this – leaflet and plaster the uni and SU with posters to make sure everyone knows it is happening.
• Agree your demands – discuss and democratically agree these in a meeting, don’t just sort this in a group chat.
• Are you holding a static demo, or marching somewhere?
• Hold a banner and placard making social beforehand – this is a good chance for informal discussions too.
• Make sure it’s energetic – have some chants and songs prepared, you can get a megaphone on Amazon for about a tenner (or see if the campus unions will lend you one).
• Prepare some speeches for the start – invite others to speak. You could hold an open mic.
Different types of occupations are effective for different reasons. They can be about leverage and pressure on uni management, where you stay put andcause real disruption until they surrender. Or they can be more about getting attention and claiming space on campus to talk about your demands, acting as an organising hubfrom where you can go out and mobilise the movement.
Last year students at Queen Mary occupied a university building for a month, demanding their Vice Chancellor came out in support of the strike’s demands, took no salary deductions off striking staff, and released data on the gender pay gap and diversity, and reversed the cuts to student bursaries. This led to them winning half a million pounds in concessions!
Bristol students occupied the Senate House building where their VC’s office is for three days. As a consequence, their VC pledged to come out in support of thestrike demands and not todeduct staff pay for action short of a strike. Southampton students stormed their VC’s office and demanded he answer for his obscenely high salary and participation in the board of Universities UK.
At Surrey, an occupation of only ten students won non-deduction of pay and an open meeting with their Provost for staff and students in less than 24 hours!
Sussex students occupied a construction site after a campus demo, protesting the high rents for the new accommodation block being built, and linking this sign of marketisation with the strikers’ demands. Their wins included forcing the construction company Balfour Beatty to meet with Unite.
There were 26 student strike solidarity occupations – there are loads more examples. The most effective make it feel like the whole university is occupied- make sure everyone knows what’s going on.
See here for a guide on how to do them – and contact the Student Left Network if you want any advice or support. Students from all over the country travelled to help with occupations last year – let us and the Students Support the Strikes group know if you need extra people!
Get in touch if you want any advice and let us know what you’re doing!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or 07891495541