Student Occupations Are About More Than Just Pension Dispute
After the beginning of the University and College Union’s strike action, occupations in solidarity with the lecturers and staff by student activists began at Universities across the United Kingdom, as well as in Scotland, with the largest in Scotland going on at the University of Glasgow, Edinburgh University, and Strathclyde University.
The Glasgow University Strike Solidarity Group was formed after criticism that existing student bodies were not doing enough to support strike action, and has been building links with other campus’ occupation groups, as well as NCAFCA, the student group formed in 2010 that played a key role in the 2010 student protests over University free rises.
In Edinburgh, students occupied the George Square Lecture Theatre, demanding that the University administration resolve issues surrounding conditions for University workers and policies surrounding the increasing marketisation of higher education. The students and lecturers have organised a series of ‘teach-ins’, as well as the collection of clothing for refugees.
The UCU called the strikes after Universities UK sought to impose changes to staff pension Superannuation Schemes, which the union says will leave the typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
The dispute seemed to be resolved when the UCU and and UUK reached an agreement for a ‘three year interim’ deal, but when the details of the deal were revealed, it was rejected and denounced by the union rank and file as a way for UUK to kick the problem into the long grass.
In a statement to The Red Robin, an activist involved in the continuing occupation at Edinburgh University said:
“We occupied this space initially in solidarity with the UCU strikes, and while that still remains one of our largest motivations for occupying, we've begun to realise we have the opportunity to ask and answer lots of serious questions about the way education works in the western world, and how we can liberate it, democratise it, and make it more accessible.
“We've been incredibly lucky to have an outpouring off support from our staff, especially in the form of teach-ins in our occupied lecture theatre where we get to grapple with questions we otherwise wouldn't have the space to in a traditional educational setting.”
“With luck, the discussions we're having here with crop up throughout the nation over the next weeks and months.”
In a sign of how much things have changed since the Labour Party’s hands off approach to the student moment in 2011, Scottish Labour General Secretary Brian Roy organised free pizza for all the occupations in Scotland.