Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, spoke at NUS Scotland Conference on 29th March 2023. She urged students to stand in solidarity with striking staff, whilst also assuring students that the STUC were in solidarity with them and would continue to help in students' fight to secure better student support, lower rents, and higher quality education. Find her full speech below.
I am delighted to be here today, to represent the STUC & to bring solidarity to your conference from our General Council, and from across Scotland’s trade union movement.
I’d like to start right from the top of my contribution, by thanking NUS Scotland, and every student who has stood side by side with striking workers’ across Scotland, and to those of you who have stood with your own lecturers and staff at your universities and colleges during industrial disputes, during their continued fight for fair pay, decent conditions, and to protect the future of further and higher education in Scotland.
In particular, I’d like to take this opportunity to say a personal thank you to your NUS Scotland president, Ellie Gomersall, who has been a great ally of trade unions and the STUC.
From contributing to our Scotland Demands Better rally, to being on various virtual and physical picket lines and union events, your support as NUS Scotland’s president has been greatly appreciated.
I also want to place on record my own acknowledgment to Ellie who has been a champion of trans equality in Scotland, and who has been at the forefront over recent months of defending the rights of trans people and condemning the shameful decision of the UK Government to try to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
So, thank you Ellie for your support, and to the broader student movement.
As your Conference theme reflects, our fight as trade unionists is your fight; and your fight as students is our fight.
So today, my key message is that we need to build our collective strength and solidarity in Scotland.
No worker takes strike action lightly. It is always a last resort. But it has become increasingly necessary for workers’ the length and breadth of this country – including across education and at the institutions you’ve come from.
Many of you will have been impacted by strike action. You may have had classes cancelled, work unmarked, an exam or assignment interrupted, or perhaps unable to engage with your educational experiences and student journeys the way in which you’d hoped to.
But the reality is that staff working conditions are your learning conditions – the strikes across education are about so much more than staff own pay, pensions or terms and conditions. They are also about the future protection and investment in our education system and the conditions in which students learn.
The workers in our colleges and universities are part of a broken economic system and model that undervalues education. This is reflected in the treatment of staff who are under-resourced, undervalued, undermined, and underpaid – their fight as staff, is your fight as students.
So, that solidarity of students and staff is a powerful symbol to show how to collectively build an education system that works and delivers for everyone.
Staff want to be in classrooms and lecture halls, not pickets. They want to be able to do their job and to be there to teach and support students, not forced into industrial action as they try to make ends meet and get a decent pay rise.
Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, people across Scotland are struggling to buy food and heat their homes.
Our public services are on their knees, with every last drop of resilience squeezed out, due to the funding cuts made over decades by both the UK and Scottish governments.
We are facing a brutal attack on workers' right to strike and reducing some of our fundamental human rights and civil liberties.
So, to any student that is frustrated at the impact of the strikes on your learning, I want to say this to you - utilise that anger towards your university and college principles, towards the bosses, and the government, and into organising for collective change.
Our trade union movement and your student movement have so much in common. We face similar struggles as students are forced into debt to cover basic living costs, often when they are already working in addition to studying.
Far too many students are caught in a toxic combination of low wages, precarious contracts and exorbitant rents whilst trying to balance studying and staying afloat.
Though our Better Than Zero campaign, we bring young workers together – often in hospitality and retail – to organise against precarious work.
But shamefully, far too many students and young people face daily worries about how they will eat, pay bills, and afford to travel to class. Having to finally weigh up whether staying in education is financially sustainable.
Research shows that poor mental health has increased amongst students, with many struggling to access the support and services that they require.
Widening access to higher education is not only about recruiting working class students, care-experienced students or students from other underrepresented groups. It is making sure they are supported to stay, thrive and succeed in education.
The needs of students and younger people are often considered as part of a plan for the future.
But there are things that the Scottish Government can be doing NOW to improve the lives of students, and workers.
Just as you’ve been pressing demands upon the Scottish Government to enhance the lives of students and reduce inequities, we’ve been demanding real action from the Scottish Government through our ‘Scotland Demands Better’ campaign.
We’ve been demanding:
- Real action on long-term rent capping, not just a temporary rent freeze
- Real action on bringing our buses, as well as our trains, back into public control.
- Real action on expanding universal free school meals, to all pupils in primary and secondary schools and ensuring that the right to food is made real.
- Real action on closing the gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps that persist in Scotland.
- Real action on tackling sexual harassment at work and building safe streets.
- And real action on investing in our education system, one that embeds equity, inclusivity and accessibility.
I am proud that both the STUC and NUS Scotland are pioneering organisations in our equality campaigning, with strong traditions of autonomous equality and liberation structures.
From affordable housing to embedding anti-racist approaches in education and tackling Scotland's drug-related death crisis - many of the policy discussions at your conference are shared concerns across the STUC.
We have lots in common - just as NUS UK celebrated its 100th anniversary, and NUS Scotland turned 50, we celebrated 125 years of the STUC.
Both of our movements have helped to deliver change in Scotland, we have been at the forefront of winning for workers and students – but we know there is much to protect and much to progress.
We must organise – alongside our lecturers and support staff - to protect education and ensure it is fully resourced and valued.
NUS Scotland represents over 500,000 students, the STUC represents over 540,000 workers. That’s more than a million people across Scotland. When workers and students unite we are more powerful than we can dare to imagine.
As we go forward, I want to urge every single one of you to join a trade union, get active and get organised.
Unity, collectivism, and solidarity is our greatest strength.