Cops Off Campus! Why Labour should beware ‘workers in uniform’

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By Dan Davison, NCAFC Postgrads and Education Workers Co-Rep

It’s been a dramatic few days in Cambridge. On Friday 25 May 2018, bailiffs forcefully evicted students occupying the Greenwich House administrative building of the University, mere hours after the University won a court order against the protestors. The week-long occupation, co-ordinated by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, demanded that the University commit to full divestment from fossil fuels by 2022. For their repressive deed, the University employed Constant & Co, an enforcement agency previously used to carry out the horrific Dale Farm traveller site eviction in 2011.

The eviction of the occupiers has met widespread outcry. In addition to statements from such Cambridge student bodies as the CUSU BME Campaign and the Graduate Union, three open letters are being circulated. One is a condemnation of the eviction and of the University’s failure to divest, signed by Cambridge students, staff and alumni; one is for Cambridge alumni pledging to boycott donations to the University; one is for Cambridge academics to reject the unsatisfactory report of the University’s Divestment Working Group. Importantly, a rally has been called for 30 May at 5PM under the joint slogans of ‘Divest Now!’ and ‘Cops Off Campus!’.

The events of Friday have uncomfortable echoes with previous uses of police, courts, bailiffs, and other elements of the state’s legal machinery to repress campus activism. On 11 December 2013, NCAFC called a national day of action for ‘Cops Off Campus’, with 3,000 people demonstrating at the now-abolished University of London Union (ULU) in Malet Street and many others participating in direct actions across the country. This was in response to 41 arrests the week before, including those made when police stormed a 100-strong student occupation of Senate House, where the University of London is headquartered. The same week saw five Sussex University students suspended for participating in an occupation, and managers at Sheffield and Birmingham going to court to suppress campus activism.

In 2014, a demonstration at Birmingham ended in kettling and mass arrests. That year also saw the brutal eviction of a sit-in at Warwick, with CS spray used and tasers aimed at students after management called the police on them. The courts granted injunctions to both institutions in order to restrain the students from future protesting, as occurred the following year at the University of Arts London (UAL). More recently, government surveillance under the Prevent Strategy – especially of students from Muslim backgrounds – has entered the spotlight for its suppression of students’ rights to organise and express their opinions freely on campus, and for its contribution to the hostile environment that foreign nationals experience.

All this places the Labour Party’s recent positioning on policing and security in a disconcerting light. Since the General Election and the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, Labour have been keen to present themselves as the party of ‘law and order’. They regularly attack the Tories for their substantial police cuts, and pledge to increase the numbers of police officers, border guards, and prison officers. The youth and student demographics base much of the Corbyn surge, yet such vows as that to put 10,000 more ‘bobbies on the beat’ are very much at odds with these demographics’ acute experience of police brutality and other state repression.

The juxtaposition becomes especially striking in light of the ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’ movement’s role in generating support for Labour amongst young people, particularly those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Although it was eventually scrapped in November 2017, for years the Metropolitan Police’s infamous ‘Form 696’ risk assessment required nightclub owners to describe the style of music they played and the ethnicity of its target audience, leading to discriminatory measures against events featuring predominantly black genres.

It is understandable why calling for ‘more cops’ is the knee-jerk reaction to rising violent crime and terrorist incidents. Nevertheless, it is strongly doubtful whether even the best intentioned increase in police numbers and prison sentences actually makes vulnerable communities safer, especially given the high rates of reconviction observable across the country and the lack of discernible effect that mass ‘stop and search’ has on reducing crime.

More to the point, we as socialists should not lose sight of the police’s repressive purpose as an enforcer of bourgeois state authority. The mass arrests and serious injuries inflicted upon striking miners at Orgreave in 1984, and the subsequent police cover-up, are no aberration: they are the logical culmination of an institution designed to defend the capitalist status quo. As Farrell Dobbs acutely put it in Teamster Rebellion (1972), his iconic account of the 1934 Minneapolis general strike:

‘Under capitalism the main police function is to break strikes and to repress other forms of protest against the policies of the ruling class. Any civic usefulness other forms of police activity may have, like controlling traffic and summoning ambulances, is strictly incidental to the primary repressive function. Personal inclinations of individual cops do not alter this basic role of the police. All must comply with ruling-class dictates. As a result, police repression becomes one of the most naked forms through which capitalism subordinates human rights to the demands of private property. If the cops sometimes falter in their antisocial tasks, it is simply because they—like the guns they use—are subject to rust when not engaged in the deadly function for which they are primarily trained.’

I therefore urge students’ unions and local trade union branches to pass motions in solidarity with victimised activists. Like this one passed by Leeds UCU in 2014, such motions should affirm freedom of speech and freedom of assembly on campus, and explicitly connect the institutional curtailing of these freedoms to the marketisation of education. Moreover, both kinds of union should demand that police not be allowed on campus without their permission. If we are fighting for ‘free, democratic education’, then students and workers must be able to organise on campus without fear of violent state repression.

Likewise, if Labour truly is committed to upholding education as a public good, and providing a political voice for the student and labour movements, then it should seriously reconsider its uncritical characterisation of the police as simply another line of work in the public sector. No to ‘workers in uniform’! Cops off campus!

Students Stand in Solidarity with No Vote

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This letter was written and circulated by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), a coalition of students and workers dedicated to fighting fees, cuts, and privatisation in education.

Dear UCU members,

We are students who over the past month have witnessed the most extraordinary strike action the Higher Education sector has seen in years. We have stood with you on the picket lines because we understand that an attack on our staff is an attack on us: we see the struggle for fair pensions as part of the struggle against the marketisation of our universities, which is increasingly driving universities to behave like corporations, rather than the centres of knowledge and learning that they should be.

From the beginning of this dispute you consistently argued that ‘this is about more than pensions’; if this strike is won, students and staff will be in a much better position to roll back the marketisation of education, from an end to tuition fees, casualisation, the gender pay gap, and outsourcing, to the democratisation of our institutions. Together we have shown that #WeAreTheUniversity, that together workers and students run the show, and together if necessary we can shut it down: we have shaken higher education to the bone.

The recent four weeks of strike action have demonstrated the strength of student-staff solidarity, and the power of industrial action. Thousands have joined picket lines and demonstrations, many have organised teach-outs putting up talks and events challenging the boundaries of our current curriculums, and we have witnessed the biggest wave of student occupations (with a total of 24 across the country) since the 2010 student movement. On the 13th of March, the rank and file stood up to the UCU leadership and declared “#NoCapitulation” when UUK attempted to end the strike through a compromising, bogus proposal which simply pledged to delay the removal of defined benefits.

Today, you have received a ballot to vote on UUK’s most recent proposal. As it stands, this proposal is vague, offering few concrete guarantees. The USS pension scheme is in surplus, the deficit is fabricated, but this proposal could see UUK continuing to use the November valuation. We are disappointed that despite the majority of branches voting #ReviseAndResubmit, UCU leadership balloted this proposal. As #NoCapitulation demonstrated, a union is its grassroots members. While the proposal is a significant step forward from January, it is not the outcome you spent morning after morning shivering in the snow for.

We understand you have already lost 14 days of pay due to strike action, and we thank you for your sacrifice. Nevertheless we want to let you know that we continue to stand in full solidarity with you, and will continue lending our support if you reject this deal and go back to the picket lines after the holidays. We recognise that striking close to the exam period will put you under additional pressure, but students are conscious that UUK and university management is to blame for disruption. This strike action has already made significant gains, and we fear accepting UUK’s proposal would undermine the reason why the strikes started in the first place.

It’s not just students on your side. Your strength has given inspiration to the entire labour movement. You were the first to defeat the Tories’ ballot threshold with resounding, national action. Together you have clocked almost half a million total strike days, more than the rest of the UK combined over the last two years. You’ve received international solidarity from West Virginia, Germany, Delhi, and beyond. Furthermore, sister unions UNISON and EIS have announced a national ballot on the USS issue, while at the University of London, the IWGB is coordinating the biggest ever strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education history to coincide with USS strikes.

With the momentum growing and growing, now is not the time to accept an ambiguous proposal. This strike has changed everything. A different university is within our reach.  Now is the time to stretch our collective raised fist further and demand more. We express our full solidarity with the rank-and-file agitating for a ‘No’ vote and pledge to stand firmly beside you should industrial action continue.

Helena Navarrete Plana, Warwick For Free Education

Arthur Taylor, King’s College London

Ava Matheis, SOAS

Ky Andrea, Warwick For Free Education/ University of Warwick

Monty Shield, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty

Charlea Murphy, The University of Sheffield

Stan Laight, Sheffield Marxist Society

Jake Roberts, University of Surrey

Elliott O’Rourke, University of Sheffield

Jacob D Allen, University of Surrey

Alison Worden, Surrey University

Chris Townsend, The Free University of Sheffield

Jack Kershaw, UCL

Dominique Hua, UCL

Josh Chown, University of Surrey/Surrey Labour Students

Malcolm Lowe, University of Warwick

Dora Dimitrova, UCL Marxist Society

Alicia Shearsby, The University of Warwick/Warwick for Free Education

Stuart McMillan, Sheffield SU Education Officer, NCAFC NC

Rowan Davis, Oxford

Charlie Porter, Free University of Sheffield

Richard Somervail, UCL

Anika Heckwolf, University of Warwick

Thalia Cox, Warwick For Free Education

Malgosia Haman, The Free University of Sheffield

Jerome Cox-Strong, University of Reading

Ceri Bailey, Cardiff University

Cate Schofield, Cardiff University

Tassaneeya Robinson, Cardiff University

Siobhan Owen, University of Exeter

Alexander Lloyd, University of Sheffield

Felicity Adams, Keele University

Amin Lmoh, University of Warwick student staff solidarity

Hemal Gangani, University of Bath

Ana Oppenheim, NUS NEC

Patricia McManus, University of Brighton

Sam Burgum, University of Sheffield

David B, Warwick

Lauren Kennedy, De Montfort University

Andrea Aakre, #OccupyTheOctagon (QMUL)

Lughaidh Scully, Aberdeen Students Support the Strike / Aberdeen Student Left

Martin Leonard, University of York

Edward Williamson, Free University of Sheffield

Julie Saumagne, University of Warwick

Vijay Jackson, USS Occupation Edinburgh

Harry Vinall-Smeeth, Oxford

Aristidis Shukuroglou, University of Reading Marxist Society

George Briley, University of London, Goldsmiths

Emil-Dorian McHale, University of Reading Marxist Society

Jacob Elliman, University of Reading Marxist Society

Catherine Joanne McClane, University of Reading Marxist Society

Matthew Lee, UCL / UCL Cut The Rent / UCL Fund Our Mental Health Services / UoL Justice for Workers / UCL Free Education

Georgina Ryan, The Free University of Sheffield

Nick McAlpin, Exeter Students 4 UCU Strikes

Tyrone Falls, University of Bristol

Cam Galloway, The Free University of Sheffield

Hanin Abou Salem, Cardiff University

Mohammed Bux, University of Sheffield

Samar, Bristol University

Sam Walker, Manchester Plan C

Richard Somervail, UCL

Alice Wright, KCL

Dina Rider, Queen Mary University of London

Martin Young, QMUL

Robin Boardman, University of Bristol

Nathan Wiliams, University of Manchester/Save our Staff Manchester campaign

Ramona Kuh, Queen Mary University

Jasmin Bath, QMUL

Laura Barroso, SOAS

Prarthana Krishnan, Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity Group

Lily Baker, Queen Mary University London

Clementine, Bath Uni / Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts

Anna Klieber, University of Bristol/ Bristol Student Staff Solidarity Group

Marlowe MacDonald, University of Sheffield

Abby King, Royal Holloway

Luke Tyers, University of Bristol/Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity Group

Kerry Lambeth, QMUL

Filippo Iorillo, Queen Mary University of London

Molly Wilson, University of Warwick

Conor Shail, University of Bristol

Jack Shaw, Warwick Marxists

Lewis Williams, QMUL/Occupy the Octagon

Diego Millán Berdasco, Queen Mary University of London

Ursula Shaw, Cambridge

Pascal Salzbrenner, Marxist Society, King’s College London

Ian Cameron, The Open University

Alexander Simpson, Occupy Surrey 2018

Alexander Wilkinson, QMUL

Kendra Howard, Queen Mary University of London

Lois Davies, Bristol University/ BSSSG

Aiysha N Soddie, Queen Mary, University of London

Juvan Gowreeswaran, Marxist Student Federation (Warwick branch)

Paulina, Cardiff University

James Roberts, Free University of Sheffield

Tom Keene, Goldsmiths University of London

Ted Lavis Coward, Durham University

David Bullock, Durham University/NCAFC

Ellen Adamson, Queen Mary University of London

Eva Marcela Ponce de León Marquina, Institute of Education (UCL)

Josh Berlyne, Free University of Sheffield

Jessica, Bath students Against Fees and Cuts

Archie Mellor, BSAFC

Bonnie Carter, Bristol university

Piers Eaton, Durham Student-Staff Solidarity

Ada Wordsworth, UCL

Bradley Allsop, University of Lincoln student/UCU member

Jazmine Bourke, Durham University

Jonathan Murden, Durham University/Durham Left Activists

Zeid Truscott, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts

Beth Douglas, NUS LGBT+

Lewis Jarrad, UCL

Rafaelle Benichou, Warwick University

Lewis Macleod, Aberdeen Students Support the Strike / Aberdeen SA

Aysha Khatun, University of Warwick

Chris Knutsen, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts

Beckie Rutherford, University of Warwick

Jemima Hindmarch, QMUL

Kierin Offlands, Lewisham Young Labour

Niamh Ashton, University of Leicester

Rebecca Harrington, Oxford Brookes Student Union

Hansika Jethnani, Arts SU

Del Pickup, University of Sheffield

Nadia Sayed, Queen Mary Student + QM Socialist Worker Student Society

Mie Astrup Jensen, Aberdeen Students Support the Strike

Dan Davison, University of Cambridge

XingJian Li, SOAS

Ash Edwards, Queen Mary University of London

Siôn Davies, QMUL / #OccupyTheOctagon

Lisa Taylor, King’s College London

Simona Alexandra, King’s College London

Cecy Marden, University of Sheffield

Mark Crawford, Students’ Union UCL

Rebecca Larney, KCL

Harper Stephens, The Free University of Sheffield

Nicolás Navarro Padrón, SOAS // SOAS Marxist Society

Thomas Evans, King’s College London

Konstantina Melina Lourou Terzaki, King’s College London

Savannah Whaley, KCL

Sam Walton, University of Reading

Joe Attard, King’s College London

Sainab Nuh, King’s College London

Harvi Chera, University College London

Yasmin Huleileh, Warwick University

Ramona Sharples, King’s College London Occupation

Jacob Shackleton, Warwick University

Thushan Rajendram, King’s College London

Adam S. Jarvis, Warwick University

Tom Bolitho, King’s College London

Sean Benstead, Leeds Independent Socialists

Amy Norris, King’s College London

Megan Beech, University of Cambridge

George Craddock, Queen Mary Labour Society

Declan Burns, University of Nottingham

Nick Oung, UCL/Socialist Appeal

Sarah Combes, King’s College London

Khaled Eissa, Kings College

Jennifer Jackson, King’s College London

Elizabeth Collins, University of Southampton

Aaron Kwadwo Kyereh-Mireku, University of Warwick/Warwick Marxists

Polly Creed, University College London/ Power Play Activists

Mike Shaw, Edinburgh

Sofia Doyle, Bristol Staff Student Solidarity

Eve Bent, Salford University

Thea Smith, University of Bath

Eleanor Webb, University of Warwick

Harriet Carroll, University of Bath

Jordan Smith, QM Young Greens

Sam Bough, University of Kent – Canterbury

Thahmina Begum, Queen Mary University

Chelsea Thompson, University of Aberdeen

Jill L Crawford, UEA

Kelli Conley, University of Edinburgh

Ellinore Folkesson, Glasgow University Student Solidarity

Matthias Bryson, University of Edinburgh

Joanna Smith, University of Edinburgh

Grace, University of Edinburgh

Katherine Butterfield, Queen Mary university

Lorenzo Feltrin, University of Warwick

Amethyst Di Tieri, University of Edinburgh

Viktor Kardell, Glasgow University

Savannah Wood, University of Edinburgh

Alice Galatola, Newcastle University

Rory Kent, Cambridge Defend Education

Sean Currie, University of Strathclyde

Carlus Hudson, University of Portsmouth

Euan Ferguson, University of Edinburgh

Emily Donnelly, University of Edinburgh

Molly, University of Keele

Oresta Muckute, University of Reading

Matthew Gibson, Durham University

Neve Ovenden, Durham Student-Staff Solidarity

Elaena Elizabeth Shipp, Bangor University and Gwyrddion Ifanc Bangor Young Greens

James Crosse, Queen Mary University of London

Bohdan Starosta, Strathclyde Students Support the Strike

Chelsea Lowdon, Durham University/ Durham Student-Staff Solidarity

Carolin Zieringer, Goldsmiths

Artur Wilk, Leicester Student Action

Perry MEsney, Cardiff University

Anne Løddesøl, University of Edinburgh

Jamie, Newcastle Student-Staff Solidarity

Dylan Woodward, Bristol Uni

Niamh Sherlock, Leicester Student Action

Jess Taylor Weisser, Newcastle University

Ben Margolis, Cambridge/CDE

José Figueira, Newcastle University

Kayleigh Colbourn, Royal Holloway University of London

Anthony Sanderson, UEA

Matthew Sears, Durham University

Alexander Pool, Durham

Gwilym Evans, University of Sheffield

Eleanor Cawte, Cambridge University

Eleri Fowler, University of Edinburgh

Jennie Layden, Newcastle University

Holly Carter-Rich, University of Manchester

Isabel del Pilar Arce Zelada, Students Support the Strike Aberdeen

Emily Moore, University of Sussex

Doha Abdelgawad, Department of Political Science and International Relations.

Jack Mansell, Sydney University Education Action Group

Rory McKinley, Durham University

Amelia Talbot, Uni of Leicester

Abi Cooper, Durham University

Annie Jones, University of Manchester/UCU/PhD Student

Woody Phillips-Smith, University of Warwick

Howard Chae, University of Cambridge

Niamh MacPhail, University of Glasgow

William Campbell, University of aberdeen

Joseph Jorgensen, University of Manchester

Talia Reed, Bangor University

Pablo Charro de la Fuente, Business School

Herbie Hyndley, University of Birmingham

Mark Lawrence, Durham

Nomar Syking, Falmouth University

Tihana Vlaisavljevic, Queens University Belfast

Matthew Vaughan, University of Liverpool

Declan McLean, University of Strathclyde/Strathclyde University Labour Club

Lucy, University of Hull

Sara Pernille Jensen, University of Bristol

Scott Seton, University of Essex

Alex Kumar, Oxford SU

Scott lumsden, University of Glasgow

Conor Muller, University of York / University of York Labour

Aleph Ross, University of Cambridge

Ayse, Cardiff University

Declan Downey, The Free University of Sheffield

Nickolas Tang, King’s College London

Finn Weldin, University of Kent

Joseph Evans, University of Cambridge

Sophie Neibig, SOS Manchester / Uni of Manchester

Priyanka Moorjani, KCL

Warren Gratton, University of Surrey

Alexandra Briggs, University of Edinburgh

Rachel, Save Our Staff MCR

Eleonora Colli, King’s College London

Adam Jones, UCL

Heather McKnight, University of Sussex

Guy Forsyth, Durham Student-Staff Solidarity Group

Mr J H Lees, Leicester university

Amelia, Newcastle

Susie Gray, Cardiff University

Yvonni Gkergkes, University of Edinburgh

Kathryn Blagg, University of Sheffield

Charmaine Mandivenga, Queen Mary

Danielle Wright, University of Sheffield

Zack Murrell-Dowson, Bristol University/ Bristol Student Staff Solidarity Group

Max Riley, University of Reading Students Union

George Bunn, University of Sheffield

“The roving picket” and Sheffield’s strike solidarity campaign

By Małgosia Haman, Free University of Sheffield

Everyone already knows that in Sheffield we have the best activists. Our banner game is particularly strong.

Just last year The Free University of Sheffield made this gigantic banner. The biggest banner in the history of the whole world*.

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Here’s a short summary of what we’ve been up to during the UCU strike.

We made some really good banners again.

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We take them with us every morning on our now-famous Roving Picket™. Tens of students meet outside the SU on strike days and visit the picket lines bringing music, joy, and solidarity like the Strike Santas that we are.

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(This Strike Santa btw is Charlea, the most important person in creating the huge Free Education banner)

Sometimes we also bring hot drinks.

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Here’s our Education Officer, Stu for a Grassroots SU himself, distributing hot coffee to strikers.

Picketers love us and we get requests to join specific ones every day!

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Here are lecturers striking outside the Jessop West building. We had a fun dance party at the picket, they are amazing dancers!

Our dearest Vice Chancellor Keith Burnett was conveniently away for the first 2 weeks of the strike. When he finally came back to Sheffield (and joined the picket line for literally 2 minutes before crossing the picket line and going to his office) we felt so happy, we organised a welcome back party for him!

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But there’s more!

Just in the first 2 weeks of the strike, we had two massive demonstrations. Hundreds of students joined staff in solidarity and marched through the streets of Sheffield. We’re currently preparing another one on the International Women’s Day and we’re sure it will be even bigger and even louder!

We’ve also organised fundraisers for the strike hardship fund. And when the university threatened to deduct pay from staff working to contract on non-strike days, our alumni organised on twitter within minutes threatening to stop donating to the alumni fund and instead pledging donations to the UCU fund.

We won’t stop until the strike ends, we’ll keep supporting staff, we’ll keep dancing, and we will win!

Xoxo

PS If you want to keep up to date with our shenanigans, follow us on:

https://www.facebook.com/savestaffpensions/

https://www.facebook.com/thefreeuniversityofsheffield

and most importantly: https://www.facebook.com/TheRovingPicket/


*Or student activism in Europe or something like that.

Boycott the NSS: Winning the Arguments

boycott the nss to stop the HE reforms

This is a toolkit for SU officers and student activists who are currently running or thinking about running NSS boycott campaigns. Hopefully, it will help you win the arguments on your campus. Please share it widely and get in touch in NCAFC if you have any other questions!

Some links

Why boycott?

The NSS is one of the key metrics used in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a scheme of ranking universities Gold, Silver or Bronze according to extremely flawed criteria. The TEF is central to a set of recent reforms designed to turn universities into businesses and students into consumers, putting profit before education. It is also linked to fee increases: the idea behind the framework was that the top scoring universities would be allowed to become more expensive than those with lower scores. In 2016, NUS passed policy to boycott the survey until the recent higher education reforms are withdrawn.

But hasn’t the government promised to freeze tuition fees?

In short, the Tories’ policy on higher education is currently a complete mess. Last October, Theresa May’s announcement that tuition fees would be frozen at £9,250 and not go up with inflation took many people by surprise. This included the education secretary and the universities minister, who were not consulted over the idea. May’s speech was followed by speculation across the sector. Is the freeze for one year or more? What does this mean for the TEF? None of this was ever clarified. May also vaguely mentioned that the Tories were working on a review of HE funding, whatever that means. In the summer, the idea was also floated that low-scoring universities could be forced to cut fees (without replacing the income with public funding), which would mean even more campus cuts and even more underperforming institutions losing resources. There has been no guarantee that fees will stay frozen or be delinked from the TEF. There’s clearly an appetite amongst government figures to introduce differential fees and the TEF is a tool which will allow them to do so. Let’s not trust them.

It’s also important to remember that the NSS boycott is about much more than just fees. It is about resisting marketisation in higher education. Even if fees don’t go up, the TEF and marketisation will have a harmful effect on students, staff, and education.

What’s wrong with marketisation?

Marketisation isn’t just an abstract concept and a buzzword thrown around by student lefties. It has real-life consequences. When universities are forced to compete with one another for income and places in nonsensical league tables, they save money on staff and student services, and cut courses that don’t bring in enough cash. They invest in marketing and spend millions on shiny buildings that look good in a prospectus, but don’t actually improve education.

The TEF is already leading to job cuts and course closures, as universities jump through hoops to score highly in the metrics without regard for students or workers. To give just one example, the University of Manchester cited changes in HE policy when they announced cuts to hundreds of staff.

We need to fight back or your tutors could be next.

Hasn’t the NSS been removed as a TEF metric?

No. Some changes to the TEF have indeed been introduced as a result of the boycott: the weighting of NSS has been halved and institutions affected by the campaign are allowed to participate in the TEF without NSS data, if they can prove that students took part in the boycott. However, the NSS is still a TEF metric and an important tool in the Tory marketisation agenda. The rhetoric of “student feedback” and “student choice” was used to legitimise the implementation of these reforms in the first place. The more students withdraw their feedback, the stronger our voice against them.

The recent changes to the TEF were only introduced to put students off boycotting. They show that the government is scared and that the boycott is working.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively affect my SU?

Universities use all kinds of dodgy tactics to stop unions from boycotting the NSS, from intimidating officers to threatening to cut funding. However, as far as we know, none of the unions that took part in last year’s boycott were actually penalised. If management threatens your SU with cuts, the best thing to do is go public about it. The university has no interest in cutting funding that is spent on your baking society or rugby club – can you imagine how many people that would piss off if they found out?

Sometimes every SU will have to make decisions the university doesn’t like – this is the whole point of unions being independent, rather than just another department of the university. Universities trying to regulate what SUs can and cannot campaign on is a free speech issue, and NUS NEC passed policy to defend by any means necessary SUs’ right to boycott.

Some officers are worried that taking part in the boycott will damage their relationship with the university. However, it is naive to think that university management will do anything that benefits students just because they are personally friendly with a 20-year-old who won a sabb election. Moreover, if a sabbatical officer drops a campaign that is in the interest of students just to preserve their “good relationship” with the university, then they are not doing their job well and need to be held to account.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively impact my course/institution?

No. Both NUS and the academic staff union UCU have policy to support the boycott. (Your lecturers are most likely asking you to fill in the NSS not because they care about the survey, but because the university is making them promote it.) The boycott is a national campaign of which both the university and the government are aware. Low response rates will not be used against individual institutions.

Some courses, like this one, have released public statements and contacted the university to tell them they are boycotting the NSS, and that low response rates should not be used against staff. Do the same.

However, what almost certainly will negatively affect your institution is the TEF. If it scores Gold, then it will become more elitist and possibly more expensive. If it scores Bronze, then it will risk losing its reputation and funding, and having to make cuts. It’s a lose-lose situation, so maybe it’s better just not to fill out that bloody survey.

But i want to give feedback!

There are many ways to give feedback on your course. You can use the course rep system and unit evaluations, email your tutor or department directly, and get involved in your students’ union to launch campaigns that are more likely to achieve meaningful change. Most students get constantly bombarded by surveys from their university – do you really want to fill out yet another one?

The NSS reduces your “feedback” to a simplistic 1-5 scale, which provides no meaningful information to universities. Many in the sector acknowledge that NSS scores are basically junk data: even the Royal Statistical Society has spoken out against the survey’s fundamental flaws. What’s more, studies have shown that, due to unconscious bias, courses with women and BME academics tend to get lower scores. This is especially worrying because NSS results are often used to victimise staff.

Do boycotts work?

This is not an individualistic consumer boycott. It is a collective action endorsed by the National Union of Students and a number of students’ unions across the country. In many ways, it is more like a strike. Universities rely on the NSS as part of the machinery driving their profit-making agenda and we as students power the NSS. If we stop filling in the NSS, then the machinery grinds to a halt and their plans are disrupted.

The boycott itself is not enough to stop and overturn the government’s reforms. This is why NCAFC and activists who work with us have been organising local and national demonstrations. Likewise, we have held discussions and rallies on campuses, written articles in the press, and influenced the debate on higher education policy in a number of other ways. However, the NSS is the only metric in the TEF over which we have direct control and disrupting it gives us leverage.

Last year, the boycott engaged tens of thousands of students. It was probably the most widely reported NUS campaign in the media and was mentioned during Parliamentary debates. It led to the government having to announce a fee freeze, hoping it would put us off boycotting and campaigning. It hasn’t.

Time and time again, history has shown that collective action works. However, if you think your actions won’t change anything, why would filling in the NSS do anything for you? You are only asked *not* to do something. Spend those 20-odd minutes of your life doing anything else: make yourself a cup of tea, paint your nails, call your mum. Don’t spend them providing free labour to the Tories to drive their marketisation agenda.

 

NUS and UCU: Unite and Fight Better than This!

By Dan Davison, Cambridge Universities Labour Club Graduate Officer & NCAFC Postgrads & Education Workers Co-Rep

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As covered in a previous article, members of the University and College Union (UCU) overwhelmingly voted for strike action over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the primary pensions scheme for ‘pre-92’ universities. These changes would make final pensions depend on investment performance rather than workers’ contributions, effectively ending guaranteed pension benefits, with the typical lecturer set to lose as much as £200,000 in retirement. Following the end of talks between UCU and the employers’ consortium Universities UK (UUK) without agreement, UCU has announced 14 strike dates at 61 universities, beginning 22 February.

On 30 January, Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU, and Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students (NUS) released a joint statement on the USS action. In this statement, NUS expresses its concerns that ‘the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and consequent recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere’. Accordingly, in ‘full solidarity’ with UCU, NUS has asked its members to:

  • continue to call for the university employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation and agree to meaningful negotiations either directly with the union or via ACAS
  • write to their institution head to complain about the impact the strike will have on their learning
  • participate in local demonstrative solidarity action during the strikes in support of UCU members.

Whilst we in NCAFC welcome staff-student solidarity action around the strike, the overall response from NUS has been thoroughly unimpressive. First, although the UCU industrial action ballot results came out on 22 January, we did not hear any official statement of support from NUS until 30 January. For the union tasked with fighting for the collective interests of students in this country to take over a week to give public backing to a vital and visible struggle of workers organised in the national union for academic staff is nothing short of disgraceful.

Second, the actions that NUS has finally requested from its members range from tepid at best to misguided at worst. Especially objectionable is the call for students to ‘write to their institution head to complain about the impact the strike will have on their learning’. This risks shifting blame onto the education workers standing up for their rights. Make no mistake: complaining to management about the disruptions caused by a strike is tantamount to complaining about the strikers themselves, and management will capitalise on this. Moreover, even if one were to frame such complaints in a manner that more squarely blames the employers’ consortium for imposing the pensions cuts, focussing on the strike’s impact on students obscures how the most hazardous financial costs are those borne by the workers themselves because they are not receiving wages on their strike days. This is especially true of staff on hourly-paid or similarly insecure contracts of employment.

Whilst all this would be cause for disapproval in isolation, it becomes utterly damning in light of the policy passed on 6 December by NUS’ own National Executive Council (NEC) when the UCU industrial action ballot was ongoing. Amongst other things, NUS NEC resolved to ‘produce materials including posters and leaflets that SUs can use to help explain to students what is happening and why our staff need support’. No such concrete support from NUS is anywhere in sight. Furthermore, in the space of time between the passing of that policy and the release of the ballot result, Shakira Martin never publicly wrote to UCU pledging support for their campaign or to the employers’ consortium urging them to reverse the attacks on staff pensions, despite these being clear NUS NEC commitments.

This brings me to the overarching problem with NUS’ lacklustre showing. The pensions cuts at the heart of UCU’s dispute are only one aspect of the bigger picture: marketization. In other words, the hardships facing academic staff, such as the casualisation of employment and the attacks on pensions, and the hardships facing students, such as tuition fees and extortionate rents, all stem from the systematic effort to transform education into a commodity and the education sector into a free market. What should be at the forefront of staff-student solidarity actions around the strike is the message that this fight is every bit as much the students’ as it is the staff’s.

This is why, in addition to avoiding classes on strike days, I urge all those students who rightly refuse to see education as something to be bought and sold to do as follows.

  • Join UCU strikers on picket lines.
  • Find ways to provide financial support for strikers. This could be through UCU’s general ‘fighting fund’ or, better yet, a student-supported strike fund for your local branch.
  • Explain to your fellow students why, no matter the short-term pains of the strike disruptions, the long-term devastation to our conditions of learning, teaching, and research is too great for us to focus on how the strike might inconvenience us as individuals now.
  • Link the defence of staff pensions to other collective actions against the marketization of education at both the national and the local level, such as the NSS Boycott and campaigns against course closures.
  • Pass motions in your Students’ Unions (like our model motion here) in support of UCU’s action.
  • Lobby your Vice-Chancellor to come out against the pensions cuts and to use their voice in the employers’ consortium to press for conceding to UCU’s demands.
  • Use your student and local media to keep solidarity with staff visible.
  • Organise sit-ins, rallies, and other highly noticeable demonstrations of support for the strike.

Students and workers have begun to unite and fight against the pensions cuts, but we can and should go much further than NUS has gone so far. We are not only battling for education workers to enjoy some security in their retirement: we are battling for the future of education itself.

Solidarity with striking staff: Acting like consumers is not what’s needed!

Tyrone Falls, NCAFC South-West Rep, offers a response to proposals that students should demand fee refunds for days and lectures disrupted by strikes. For a contrasting view, see this article by NCAFC International Students’ Rep Bobby Sun. Want to write an opinion article for our blog? Email [email protected]!

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At KCL a campaign has recently been launched by students to demand a refund for days and lectures lost due to strike action by UCU. The slogan for the campaign reads: “Our conscience should be free, refund our fees”. Whilst it’s understandable that students are annoyed that their lectures and seminars will be cancelled, presenting it as an either-or situation – either we have to strike-break because we are not getting a refund or we stand on the picket line because we are going to get a refund – creates a false dichotomy. Ultimately, staff are on strike because their pensions are under threat. Moreover, if these reforms go through they pave the way for further cuts and restructuring of universities. Therefore, the strike is to stop conditions worsening in education. This ought to be cause enough to support it.

However, there are further reasons why this campaign is the wrong approach. Firstly, it accepts the logic that students are consumers; secondly, the way it’s formulated now, it doesn’t strengthen solidarity, but instead says we might show solidarity if we get a refund; and thirdly, it misses the point that the people most immediately affected by the strike are lecturers, particularly those on more precarious and lower-paid contracts.

Solidarity with workers based on defending education not consumerism

A major issue with this campaign is that it embraces the logic that students are consumers and that education is a commodity. Rather than calling out this view of education – that you can attach a price-tag to the education you receive – as a myth, the campaign accepts it. Of course, you might reply, ‘Yeah, I’m against this logic too but the fact is that’s the system we have and we have to work with it’. You can still reject this logic and look to how we can best support the strike. How can we best make links with other workers that will set up structures to fight for a free and democratic education? Unfortunately, behaving like consumers who are paying for a service does nothing to question this model’s underlying logic, and so does nothing for people to become conscious and persuaded that education based on fees and consumerism can never be fair.

Lecturers are fighting cuts to education – this is why we should show solidarity

Again, I can see why students are annoyed that they are missing lectures. However, it is unfortunately normal that strikes negatively affect people other than management. However, if you understand why it is that lecturers are going on strike and agree with them, then you should be supporting the strike anyway. For any support of the strike to be real and genuine, it has to come from people appreciating why it is that workers have been forced to take this action. This is how we should be talking to students and others about the strike. If an en-masse refund campaign were done together with strikers purely for the tactical purpose of causing administrative disruption, then it would be different. However, as currently formulated, the campaign basically says that you can be unsupportive of workers who are taking action, losing pay, and trying to stop further cuts to education, if you don’t get a refund.

Those most affected by the strike are the lecturers

The third issue with the Refund Our Fees campaign is its focus. Yes, people are missing lectures and (based on a marketised view of education) they are losing money. However, those who are most affected by the strike are the lecturers, particularly lecturers on precarious and low-pay contracts. These workers will be losing out on big chunks of pay to defend their pensions. As people who are sympathetic to the lecturers’ actions, our focus should be first and foremost on how can we support striking staff to get over this difficult period and win. We should be asking: “How can we best build the morale of strikers, or help with strike funds, or get other students to understand what is at stake and genuinely support the strike?”

Victory to the UCU strike!

Open Letter from Sussex Labour Club – Support the UCU strike!

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University of Sussex Labour Society have released this open letter calling for students to support the UCU strike!

Sign up to it here: goo.gl/M4dnba [Read more…]

Our Behaviour Policy and Complaints Procedure

ncafc logo square neat bigFollowing discussion of sexual violence on the left, NCAFC is re-highlighting our Behaviour Policy and Complaints Procedure, which is available on the website here: anticuts.com/behaviour-complaints. We have regularly spoken about and re-evaluated our policy to best prevent and deal with harassment and abuse, and welcome any feedback on it.

The student left needs to unite to fight the right!

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The student left needs to unite to fight the right!

That is especially true at NUS Conference. Over the last fortnight, NCAFC activists have issued a call to the rest of the student left for left unity to beat the right and stand up for education and socialist values in the student movement.

We made a proposal to leading figures on the student left, including the left wing members of the NUS NEC, for a shared left wing platform as the basis for a united left slate in the elections at NUS conference – a platform that isn’t just for elections, but one that we can take into colleges and campuses, to inspire and mobilise students. You can read that proposal here.

This weekend we met with prominent left wing student activists from the NUS NEC to discuss the way forward. NCAFC thought that this meeting was very productive and all participants agreed with the politics of the platform – and that left unity is needed. We look forward to another meeting this coming weekend when we will be able to announce a united left slate.

Some voices on the left have been saying that they agree with the proposed politics of the united slate… but they want any collaboration with the NCAFC to be “strictly private”. That is, they want a united left, but they don’t want to tell anyone about it!

We think that if we are going to unite the left to beat the right, the left needs to be open and transparent about its values – otherwise, how will we persuade anyone? If we don’t tell left-wing students what we are doing (and not just those ‘in the know’), we will not be able to build a healthy movement that can win.

So we will be pushing for left unity – not a secret agreement where we don’t tell people what we stand for, but a united left that wears its heart on its sleeve and persuades, mobilises and inspires students to beat back the right.

Stand Up for Staff Pensions! UCU Votes to Strike for USS

By Dan Davison, Cambridge Universities Labour Club Graduate Officer & NCAFC Postgrads & Education Workers Co-Rep. See here for a model motion supporting the UCU campaign to propose to your SU!

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On 22 January 2018, the University and College Union (UCU) voted to back industrial action over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the main pensions scheme for ‘pre-92’ universities. The balloting took place between 27 November 2017 and 19 January 2018. Based on a turnout of over 58% of UCU members eligible to vote, 88% backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. Consequently, as many as 61 universities could see industrial action this Spring.

The dispute itself has arisen because UUK, the employers’ consortium, wants to switch the USS from a ‘defined benefits scheme’ to a ‘defined contributions scheme’. Put simply, this means that final pensions will depend on investment performance rather than workers’ contributions. This in turn means the effective end of guaranteed pension benefits. According to independent modelling of the proposals, a typical lecturer is set to lose as much as £200,000 in retirement.

The significance of the ballot results should not be understated. They boldly show that tens of thousands of workers in one of the largest national unions are willing to go on strike, more than meeting the Draconian threshold of 50% voter turnout for a valid ballot result under the current legislative regime. Already, universities might face escalating strikes over 14 days, beginning with a two-day walkout starting on 22 February, if the USS dispute is not resolved. In the words of Sally Hunt, the UCU General Secretary, ‘Universities will be hit with levels of strike action not seen before on UK campuses if a deal cannot be done over the future of USS pensions. Members have made it quite clear they are prepared to take action to defend their pensions and the universities need to work with us to avoid widespread disruption.’

We in NCAFC support UCU in their dispute. However much industrial action affects students in the short-term, students are the primary beneficiaries of education and should stand with the workers responsible for keeping our academic institutions running. Moreover, PhD students and early career academics stand to lose the most from the proposed USS changes because they have built up the least on the current pensions scheme.

We also cannot ignore how these threats to the material conditions of workers on campus form part of the wider, harrowing picture of an increasingly marketized and commodified education sector. Therefore, we encourage activists to submit tailored versions of our model motion to their Students Unions. We call on students not to attend lectures and seminars, or use services still in operation, during any strike days. We urge as many as possible to stand with staff on picket lines. Let that rallying cry of the student and labour movements ring out across our campuses: ‘Students and workers unite and fight!’