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University students suspended for taking part in solidarity actions with striking staff

UNIVERSITY students have been suspended and some rendered homeless after taking part in an occupation in solidarity with striking staff.

Members of the University of Stirling Solidarity Network (USSN) have been banned from campus for eight weeks after taking over the Cottrell Building late last year.

The group of 13 occupied the site for two weeks in support of the University and College Union (UCU) members taking action in a dispute over pay, working conditions and pensions.

Management issued a disciplinary notice at the time, but USSN's show of solidarity has now had profound consequences for those involved, with members claiming they could be made homeless.

Speaking to the Morning Star, a spokesperson for the group said: “This disciplinary action proceeded by the university is a chilling insight into the way management treats students and staff.

“The effect of this action on the mental health of these students is no small detail.

“Most of these students have been made homeless as a result, their finances have been damaged and they shall have to potentially repeat a year of university or drop out as a result.”

Pressure is growing on university bosses, with a petition backing the student strikers signed by about 1,500 people.

UCU Scotland has criticised the university’s decision, while NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe backed the students’ right to peaceful protest.

Politicians also condemned the actions of the university, with Scottish Labour chairwoman Cara Hilton telling management to “think again” on the action.

She added: “Full support for the Stirling student strikers, shocked to hear they are being penalised for showing their solidarity with UCU Scotland lecturers.”

Green MSP and former Stirling councillor Mark Ruskell described the move as “outrageous,” adding: “Stirling University must urgently clarify their policy and reasons for penalising students showing solidarity with staff.”

The news comes as strike action at 74 institutions across Britain, including Stirling, restarted yesterday.

UCU members were joined outside university gates by supporters and students as they continued protests against poor working conditions, pay and pensions.

Yesterday’s action was the first day of a second round of walk-outs, following eight days of strikes in November and December last year.

Pickets will continue today at universities across the country, with 14 days planned before March 22.

Union representatives said support for the strike was solid, with the campaign given a boost following the backing of the National Union of Students yesterday.

The UCU said the support from staff and students came despite efforts by universities to disrupt the action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across [Britain].

“That support sends a clear message to universities: instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run-up the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out.

“We have been clear that we are always ready to seriously discuss all the issues at the heart of the disputes.

“Students are understandably unimpressed at the intransigence of their university leaders and have made clear demands today that vice-chancellors and principals work harder to try and resolve the disputes.”

A spokesperson for the University of Stirling told the Star that it respects the rights of students, but claimed the occupation had not been carried out in line with regulations, creating a prolonged breach of health and safety.

The statement added: “The safety and wellbeing of our university community is of paramount importance, and the fire risk posed has been a central consideration during the disciplinary process.  

“While that process and any appeals continue, no students involved are required to vacate university accommodation.”

The stoppages by members of UCU are the largest wave of strikes ever to hit British campuses.

A picket at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire brandished a placard saying: “Women lecturers at Huddersfield are paid 16.18 per cent less than male lecturers.”

Huddersfield UCU’s branch chairman Steve Lui said: “There are people who do not get paid during term breaks. And for 10 years our pay has been falling.”

Picket Anna Strowe at the University of Manchester said: “It has been great today. We had an impressive turn-out despite the unpleasant weather.

“There will be even more of us tomorrow. In the last strike we got the employers back to the negotiating table. There is a hope that this will happen again.”

In Sheffield strikers at the city’s two universities were backed by other unions.

Martin Mayer, secretary of Sheffield Trade Union Council, said: “UCU members should be congratulated for standing up together and saying we won’t accept this anymore.”

The action also received support from Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner.

She said: “Labour stands in solidarity with striking university workers today. They are on strike due to the failed marketised system created under the Tories.

“They don’t do so lightly. Reasonable terms and conditions and fair pensions are the minimum they should expect, and their treatment is a stark contrast to the eye-watering pay packets of a few vice-chancellors.

“It‘s about time for the employers to put staff and students first, get back to the table and talk.”

 

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