Pinning strikers and homeless against each other makes no sense
Let’s not forget who the true dickhead here is
The strikes are bloody annoying for us students. As the days go by I increasingly realise that knowledge of 19th century enlightenment thought wont just pop into my brain on a USB stick… the Cambridge curricula is not made for this type of extended stagnation. In this moment of drifting it is easy to get annoyed at lecturers, whose act of resistance seems self-indulgent. “Just getter over yourselves and teach a darn class” you might sigh.
But before you get too annoyed, let me put it to you that we should be grateful that they aren’t getting over these pension cuts. We should sit firmly upon this strike, not just until a “compromise” is reached, but until the plans to cut pensions are fully absolved. This isn’t just a question of your pompous Latin lecturer wanting a nice summer home to retire to – it’s part of a full on battle for the education system in general. In the last decade tuition fees have gone up, contracts for lecturers have gotten sketchier (many are on zero hour ones at Cambridge) and huge cuts to further education mean that sixth form state schools are more and more strained.
Our millennial minds don't remember the days when education’s value was based on the belief in the pursuit of knowledge and NOT its corporate revenue. It’s no wonder that students have been demanding money back for their lost lectures. It's also pretty absurd that we live in an era where knowledge is weighed and measured in this way.
If the proposed pension cuts are anything to go by, this commodification of higher education will only get worse. For a while now, the government hasn’t had an issue with sticking its slimy fingers into previously sacred pies. Lots of the adjustments to education have been low-key, gradual affairs and have gone relatively unnoticed by the public. This protest is important because if it's successful a turning point will have been reached: students and staff will have shouted a decisive “fuck off” to the government in unison.
Apart from this big bureaucratic battle a much more immediate issue is pressing upon Cambridge – an elephant that has been in the room for an embarrassingly long time and is usually met with sympathetic but resolved nods. Homelessness is possibly the most difficult position for anyone to be in and I simply can’t conceive of the resilience of the rough sleepers I see every day around town. It’s hard to comprehend that in a place such as Cambridge, marked by privilege, some are forced to live without a home.
Luckily, Jimmy's and other charities do a great job to contain the problem by offering shelter to those in need. Their role is somewhat bittersweet – the homeless could not do without these independent charities – but should it really be up to the initiative of such charities to lift the 59.000 people strong homelessness burden? I think the government should take full responsibility for this dire situation, although I can’t say I’m surprised: shying away from even subsidising such charities is totally consistent with their other austerity measures, measures that we and our lecturers have experienced first hand.
RAG has made an amazing effort to help out by raising over 5,000 pounds from students for Wintercomfort in an emergency fundraiser. CUSU endorsed RAG’s emergency appeal, but in an open letter Emma Lubel pointed out the hypocrisy that CUSU had been so vocal about supporting strikers in the cold, instead of using their platform and resources to help with the much more immediate difficulties faced by rough sleepers.
CUSU should have done more to support RAG and to spread public service announcements about how to help the homeless population. BUT! their invaluable support at the picket line is equally important and these two are not contradictory at all. Ultimately, I wish CUSU had better laid forth the reason that this protest is so important. In the context of a government who doesn’t hesitate to bring cuts to education and provides absolutely NO subsidies for homeless shelters even during these cold winter days – this government is the real hazard to both students, lecturers, and most profoundly, the homeless.
Martha Krish wrote a great article for Varsity on how our own and our lecturers fates tie together, yet CUSU should have done even more to inform every single student about this strike’s place in the context of an increasingly ransacked education system. In general, CUSU shouldn’t be so constantly worried about appearing partisan (GOD FORBID!). After all, it is CUSU’s job to represent the students of Cambridge and this means showing full and unwavering support for both protecting our education system and ending homelessness in the city. By extension, CUSU should be vocal and harsh on the austerity attacking both. When voting in the upcoming CUSU election, this is what I will have in mind.