Shanice McBean reports from Kings College picket lines:
Today UCU members at KCL were out on strike following the threat of 120 redundancies in the Health Schools. Fifty seven of these staff have now lost their jobs. Staff under threat are being targeted using arbitrary criteria, such as research grant income, to determine who gets axed. Meanwhile KCL management plan on using the money saved to prioritise capital investment plans; which includes building renovations they claim will make King’s more competitive.
These cuts will likely have a disproportionate effect on more vulnerable people like younger, less experienced researchers and women academics.
Today hundreds of staff and students picketed various campus’ in defiance of management. The action reached its liveliest, angriest and biggest at Guy’s campus rally which attracted a large number of staff and students who came out to listen to speeches and protest the redundancies.
The absurdity of the cuts was well illustrated by UCU member Jim Wolfreys who told the crowd “We can save more money [than we would from the redundancies] if management agreed to take the wage of a cabinet minister… KCL principal Rick Trainor gets paid more than Obama”.
Yet despite this, management tells us that it can’t afford to keep it’s Health Schools well staffed. KCLSU President, Sebastiaan Debrouwere, urged students and staff to “fight over and over again” until we won and neuroscience student Rachel Williams demanded the same: arguing that struggle will continue “until we say so”.
King’s management claim they’re not prioritising buildings over people because “60 roles represents less than 3.2% of our academic workforce at King’s”. But the fact they think 3.2% of their staff are disposable and less important than building aesthetics is a far cry from their supposed commitment to our education.
It was clear from the day that the students and staff at King’s are fighting for much more than 120 jobs. They’re fighting for a vision of education that prioritises research, learning and community over capital investment plans and profit.
The neo-liberal shift from universities being hubs of learning to being for-profit businesses is being seen and felt very starkly by much more of KCL’s campus community. Many of the students who attended were at their first picket or demonstration and speaking to staff it was clear that they were impressed by and very much valued the solidarity from students who we’re being told are part of an ‘apathetic’ generation.
More action is planned over the coming days and weeks, including leafleting at King’s Open Days over the weekend. To keep up to date with the campaign join the facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/674716822563666/