CUSU and CDE called out by open letter.
The Facebook post received over 100 reacts…
An 'open letter' Facebook post by Corpus PhysNatSci, Emma Lubel, has criticised Cambridge University Students' Union and Cambridge Defend Education for their "increasingly problematic" advice "during the sudden drop in temperature". Lubel points to the struggles of the homeless in winter weather, arguing that CUSU's and CDE's prioritisation of providing warm clothing, drinks, and food to the strikers ahead of the homeless is "an unfair distribution of essential items".
Lubel claims that she does not intend to "undermine the value of the strikes", but wants to draw attention to the apparent overlooked homelessness crisis, especially in the snow. The open letter makes two clear distinctions between the strikers and the homeless: the strikers are there by choice, and they "will go home". The same cannot be said for those sleeping on the streets.
According to Lubel, "the situation is dire" – Cambridge's emergency protocol is in effect, but shelter is not guaranteed for all of the homeless. The letter encourages students to keep an eye out for rough sleepers, call (01223) 576085, inform them of the emergency protocol, and distribute the hand and foot warmers "urgently" requested by CDE to the homeless rather than strikers.
CUSU President, Daisy Eyre, replied to the social media post, saying that the Students' Union donated "leftover" supplies to a homeless charity. Yet, Lubel maintains that this is insufficient: "Encouraging people to give to one cause will inevitably detract from donations to the other". Furthermore, she criticises CUSU for its limited promotion of homeless care during such cold weather, in stark contrast to "the huge solidarity and Facebook presence they have given to the strikes".
When The Tab asked Lubel to comment, she drew attention to the broader issue that students voicing "concerns surrounding the strikes" are being condemned as wholly against the strike action. Her two concerns are the "skewed prioritisation of urgent resources at a time of temperatures below freezing" and the "irresponsible" language being used by CUSU and CDE. Lubel speaks of the "inadequate" response of CUSU via Daisy Eyre, though she is "yet to receive any response from CDE". With reference to the "overwhelmingly positive response" to her open letter, Lubel feels that she has thrown light onto "a student mindset that CUSU seemed to be entirely unaware of, or disinterested in – which is concerning".
Cambridge Defend Education told the Tab:
“CDE values calls to accountability and has had extensive discussions about how we prioritise our efforts in the last few days. We organise around the strike because it is linked to our aims – it is a moment of resistance to the marketisation of HE that our campaigns fight against. We have a limited amount of funding allocated by CUSU Council for supporting strikers. Last Wednesday, we asked students for their time to help distribute those resources, and for short-term loans of hot water bottles and hand-warmers. We did not ask for food or clothing donations, and donated all that we could of the food to Jimmy's.
Our broader vision involves fighting the university's complicity in violence and inequality through strategic political action. Fighting against low wages, precarious jobs, and sky-high rents cannot be separated from the housing crisis which sees so many sleeping rough. We are committed to fighting the university's responsibility for this situation, which includes demanding housing justice for all. We will be sharing information about supporting rough sleepers from our social media, and there will be a teach-out on housing justice (co-hosted with UCU) next week. We hope that will be an opportunity for anyone to join us in discussing how our activism can more directly address these issues, and in making that happen.”
With 15 shares, and over 100 'likes' and 'heart reacts' on Facebook, this open letter has caught the attention of the University of Cambridge student body, and CUSU itself. It is too early to tell whether it will have any impact on CUSU's approach to provisions for the homeless versus for strikers.
EDIT: Comment by Cambridge Defend Education has been added