Three full-day strikes, erratic blitzes of two-hour ones, multiple lecture cancellations, and a marking boycott potentially on the cards for April. In total, it’s been difficult to fully ignore the extent of UCU strikes over the past academic year, even if you’ve managed to sleep through nearly all of it. For most students, it’s worth a grumble and maybe an extra two-hour kip – lecturers striking is just ‘an inconvenience’ to most (although I hesitate to add: that’s the point). It’s not something that intersects with politics on a national level – nothing to do with a Liberal Democrat conference coming to York, certainly.
Except, well, it does. Lecturers given meagre, under-inflation pay rises have seen their pay effectively cut between 13 to 15% over the past five years – meanwhile, Vice Chancellors across the country are receiving on average a hefty £5,000 pay rise this year. In London, 48-hour strike action has been held, in reaction to underground ticket office closures led to the loss of 750 jobs, with the London Underground’s budget being squeezed by £33 million despite fare rises of 4.2% for tubes, buses, and trams across London. Strikes involving thousands of Unison Yorkshire NHS workers were averted, as pay freezes, slashes, and job losses were considered to make up a £25m budget cut.
What can we draw from this? Asides from a number of ticked-off workers over undeserved pay cuts – something, by-the-by, the upcoming TUC demo is protesting against – lecturer strikes are not an isolated event. They’re a reaction to pay cuts, budget squeezes, and cramping down on public money that is being carried out by the coalition government on a national level. They’re an angry reaction to austerity politics, the same politics which decided to hike up student tuition fees to nine grand a year, which cut millions from national scholarship scheme, and which currently threatens to sell-off future student loans to private loan companies. It’s conservative in the purest sense: it seeks to conserve funds for only the richest in society.
These measures have barely any democratic mandate in society. The coalition government was assembled on the grounds of sorting out the economy, yet they have failed to do so. Sluggish economic growth is being propelled almost entirely by the financial sector in London: working people outside of it are will continue to struggle with the cost of living. An entire generation of young people – including grad students stuck in dead-end retail jobs – has been laid waste to in the long-term by unemployment and underemployment. Austerity is just pure ideology. It’s far more daring than Thatcher, dismantling services which would have not been within a shadow of a touch during the 80s.
So, we’re stuck in neoliberal hell (well, when were we not?), under a supposed ‘coalition’ government. Recall that during the 2010 general election, the Tories were attempting to shed their ‘nasty party’ reputation, and the Lib Dems – who pledged, if elected, to refuse tuition fee rises – were seen by a number of people as actually to the left of Labour. In all honesty, I’m not that surprised softer Conservative rhetoric was just a ploy all along: The Liberal Democrats, however, are a different matter. The extent of the coalition government’s destruction of public services speaks volumes about the consistency, quality, and integrity of Lib Dem policy. ‘Complete betrayal’ may not be too strong a phrase to describe it. ‘Heartless careerism’ isn’t too far off either.
The three main parties have proved themselves not only disconnected, but utterly apathetic in the interests of the working people. Disillusionment doesn’t seem so bizarre when nobody represents you on a national level. The only thing left to do is kick back hard as we can by ourselves – strike, take action, organise movements. So when the Liberal Democrats come to York this spring, dragging the national media behind them, what would make a warmer welcome party than thousands of marching students?
There’s a perfect opportunity to do just that coming up: the TUC is organising a region-wide demo when the Liberal Democrats arrive on March 8th, against austerity politics and the damage they’ve done to local communities. The ‘Better Way’ demo is split into five, with an entire section devoted to students and young people (who may, or may not, be kitted out in ironic yellow statement clothing). I’d urge any student who’s pissed off at continual attacks against their education to attend and make their voices heard, and let the government know their current course of action is completely unacceptable.