By Paul Inglis, Glasgow University Solidarity Collective
Friday 21 February marked the second day of the UCU’s fightback against poor working conditions, gender inequalities and falling pay. In Scotland, the day’s events were particularly dominated by the bumbling attempt of vice chancellors from universities all across Scotland to dodge the strike pickets and hold a secret discussion meeting at the Glasgow School of Art. As can be expected, this gathering didn’t stay concealed for long, and soon word had gotten out to the workers and students of Glasgow.
It was no surprise then, when from 8am a crowd of around fifty students from Glasgow School of Art, Strathclyde University, Glasgow Caledonian University and Glasgow University gathered outside the doors of the room where the meeting was taking place. Bearing signs reading “Equal Pay Now!”, “Treat Staff and Students with Respect!”, “Creators not Consumers!” and “We Love our Staff!”, they shouted slogans, heckled the VCs and made a general racket, disrupting their discussion.
When Deputy First Minister of Scotland John Swinney arrived at the meeting, the students additionally attempted to speak about their demands with him, but security intervened. One student activist, Jay, reports that he tried to voice his concerns for striking staff with Swinney, only to be grabbed by the neck and called a “fucking stupid boy” by a member of GSA security.
Not content with only making demands relating to their own staff’s struggles, the protesters also made sure to call for an end to the punishment of thirteen Stirling University students recently suspended for an occupation in support of staff during last year’s UCU strike. This cross-university show of solidarity was later made concrete when students from Stirling University travelled to the School of Art to join the protest, adding their voices to the gathering.
Cian, a student from Stirling, explained that he and his classmates had come to Glasgow “firstly to stand in solidarity with striking workers as well as the students taking this action,” and secondly to show “the managements of universities across the country the need to accept the demands of striking workers across the country”.
On the other side of the door, the university directors were joined not only by John Swinney, but also by a representative from Amazon, who gave a talk about how Amazon warehouses could serve as a model for efficiency in the university sector. This particularly concerned the student protesters, who fear that the infamously poor working conditions and lack of workers rights seen in Amazon warehouses could soon be imported into the universities if the marketisation of higher education continues. “This at the end of the day is what our struggle is about,” said Jay.
It is a struggle that is set to continue as the strike extends into March, but activists at GSA and beyond are ready for it. Ruby, a student from the School of Art, summed up the combative mood of the student militants, reflecting on “a great day that will hopefully be the start of a growing campaign at GSA over the 14 days of strike action, of students supporting the staff strikes and turning up the heat on senior management.” Ruby made clear that GSA students are preparing plenty of action in the coming weeks, pledging “to step up the fight to defend higher education, resist the marketisation of higher education, and stand with our teachers and staff members against the greed and mistreatment from management.” It seems that Scotland’s VCs haven’t heard the last from their students.