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Common Dreams - December 9, 2019

"The next step, however, is to find new ways of creating intersectional ties and demonstrating solidarity across national borders. We have witnessed how social media can facilitate this, as when Miriam Barghouti, a Palestinian-American writer and student at Birzeit University in the West Bank, sent off a supportivetweetto the African American protesters in Ferguson, Missouri who were being teargassed by police in riot gear: "Always make sure to run against the wind/to keep calm when you're teargassed, the pain will pass, don't rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity."

On Friday, December 1, two protest marches met in central London in what felt like a magical moment. A few thousand striking university lecturers had just reached the British Parliament at Westminster after marching from the Bloomsbury neighbourhood, when close to a thousand Extinction Rebellion teenagers came pouring down a parallel street and the two protests united.

The university strikers came to a halt and, as a sign of solidarity, they stood and clapped as the two protests merged. University professors alongside teenagers then began walking together for the last 100 yards to Parliament Square.

To those in attendance, the merger of the two protests made perfect sense. After all, the forces that undermine higher education in the United Kingdom by pushing through the marketisation of British universities are the same ones driving the ongoing climate crisis.

They are also responsible for the socioeconomic and political upheaval that over the past few months has pushed people across the globe to the streets: from France and the UK to LebanonIraq, and Iran, through India and Hong Kong to Colombia and Chile.

Clearly, each protest is unique and carries its own set of demands. Grievances may diverge, but there are also some very powerful forces that link many of these demonstrations together. And it is vital that we begin to see these common patterns.

Connecting the dots

As protesters in Europe, the Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia are pushing back against austerity, the abuse of power by corrupt regimes, and rising authoritarianism, it is important to remember that these forces are very often connected to the brutal imposition of neoliberal principles of privatisation and deregulation.

In the UK, 40,000 staff members in 60 universities were on strike from November 25 to December 4 to protest against detrimental pension reforms and persistent gender and race pay gaps, whereby white male colleagues are, on average, getting paid 15 percent more than their female counterparts and 9 percent more than colleagues of colour. More than 50 percent of the workforce does not have permanent contracts, while salaries across the sector have decreased by a staggering 17 percent in real terms since 2009.

While inequality and casualisation among university staff are part of much wider trends in the workforce that ultimately aim to increase profits for the few at the expense of undermining job security and reducing pay to many, the marketisation of the universities in the UK began in earnest with the introduction of tuition fees in 2009, followed by the adoption of "managerial models of private and especially public sector corporations".

Institutions that are supposed to cultivate thinking and encourage the search for truth (veritas), now treat students as consumers, professors as service providers, while the university managerial class pockets hefty salaries, at times reaching half a million pounds.

Such changes are part of global processes. Today, the six richest people in the UK control as much wealth as the poorest 13 million. Over the past 10 years, billionaire profits have skyrocketed everywhere as whole populations are rendered disposable and as the earth heats up. ...
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