‘The right to strike is the right to autonomy, to dignity, and to power’ – a message from Cambridge SU

On 1 February UCU members joined hundreds of other strikers for a rally in the Guildhall supported by the NEU, PCS, Unison, ASLEF, Cambridge and District TUC, ARU UCU and Cambridge University SU. Daisy Thomas, the SU’s Welfare and Community officer gave this powerful speech to the crowd.

I’m Daisy, from the Cambridge Student Union. Me and my colleagues are here because our solidarity is the single most powerful thing students can share in your fight.  In each round of UCU strikes, we preach that ‘staff working conditions are our learning conditions’, but today I want to extend that even more broadly: to the teachers, train drivers, public service workers, and others who are striking. Your working conditions are our living conditions, without you our community falls apart. None of you can be blamed for causing disruption when years of austerity and a pandemic have long since disrupted your working conditions.

To the teachers, who are here on your first national strike in six years. I need you to know that the student body is behind you, no matter what your schools or the government may say. Young people will always, unequivocally stand behind you in your fight. Standing here and ringing the alarm bells on the state of education today is the best possible thing you could be doing for your students. The same goes for every train driver and public service worker here: your community stands behind you.

The right to strike, for everyone here, is essential. I’ve sat in meetings with members of University management who have dismissed mention of UCU but, in the same sentence, asked me if I know of any food banks they can direct university staff to, to cope with the cost of living. They will never, ever make the changes we want to see of their own accord. To take industrial action, loudly and angrily, is the only possible way to change the system at its root. The right to strike is the right to autonomy, to dignity, and to power. It gives us the right to fair education, to public services that work for the masses. It gives young people like me, the right to hope for a future where we win.

All of you striking will have experienced your bosses, the media or the government trying to drive a wedge between you and your community. They paint the picture of angry students or communters as if our fights aren’t one and the same. But here we are, the closest the UK’s got to a general strike in a long, long time – different unions all striking, united, refusing to accept division any longer. This is the 6th round of UCU strikes I’ve experienced in my time at Cambridge, but the biggest rally I’ve ever seen. I’ve grown up through the gloom of austerity, the pandemic and climate breakdown, but this moment in time is so full of hope, and this room is so full of potential.

I want to remind people of my favourite line from the poet Diane Di Prima. ‘NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down’. Whether you’re out on strike for the tenth time or the first time, or just here to support, this, today, is what it looks like when we all shove at the thing – the thing that is the university, the city, the country broken by austerity – from all sides to bring it down.