ON Wednesday, as almost half a million workers across the UK took the difficult decision to take strike action and fight back against poverty pay and poor conditions, students from across Scotland took to rally outside the Scottish Parliament in demand of urgent action from the Scottish Government on the cost of living crisis.

The rally, although organised by NUS Scotland long before ­Wednesday had been announced by the TUC and STUC as a national day of action, quickly turned into an inspiring show of ­bi-directional solidarity between ­students and ­striking workers, with a clear ­acknowledgement that the plights of students and workers are very much two sides of the same coin.

Speakers from student ­associations made clear that the student movement stands with striking workers, while speakers from the UCU and EIS trade unions stood proudly in support of NUS Scotland’s campaign for urgent cost of living support.

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Students in Scotland have seen rent in student accommodation increase by 34% since 2018, and in that time have ­received only a 4.5% increase in the ­maximum ­student support payment from the ­Scottish Government.

Meanwhile, the UCU reports that their members have received a 25% real-terms pay cut since 2009. Despite the increasingly ­difficult financial situation for both students and staff, university principals continue to take home ever-increasing six-figure ­salaries.

The struggles facing students and the struggles facing the staff in colleges and universities are not only intertwined – they’re entirely the same struggles.

As a student movement, we’re clear that the working conditions of staff in ­universities and colleges are the learning conditions of us as students. It’s obvious that if lecturers are being overworked and underpaid, they will struggle to deliver the same high quality of education they would deliver if they had the proper support.

And with many lecturers on precarious contracts and poverty wages, the stress of whether or not they’ll be able to afford to pay the bills will have a direct impact on their ­ability to teach and support their students.

This doesn’t take away from the anger that is rightly felt by students – especially those of us who are fee-paying – whose studies are being disrupted by ­ industrial action.

The crux is where that ­anger is directed. Principals, through the ­Universities and Colleges ­Employers ­Association (UCEA) and Universities UK, could put a stop to the strikes at any ­moment they like by listening to the trade unions and taking meaningful ­action to reach a deal.

This would prevent ­significant ­further disruption to our studies and ­ensuring staff are well-equipped and well-paid to deliver the first-class ­education we deserve. The lecturers who teach us, the librarians who resource us, the cleaners who keep the classrooms safe and clean – these are the people who ­deliver Scotland’s world-leading education – not wealthy vice-chancellors.

Many postgraduate research (PGR) students also play an important role in delivering teaching at universities, but as a result, they are fighting the battle on two fronts. PGR students face the same ­poverty pay and increasing casualisation as their fellow staff members, but often without any recognition of their dual ­status as both students and staff.

The National: Protesters gather at the STUC rallyProtesters gather at the STUC rally (Image: NQ)

Perhaps the most important reason why students – and young people more ­generally – are so likely to support­ striking workers is because we know that we are the workers of tomorrow as well as, in many cases, the workers of today.

Opinion polls are showing that ­support for the strikes is only increasing, but ­support among young people has been consistently higher than that of the ­general population. It’s no wonder when young people are disproportionately ­likely to be facing precarious contracts, sky-high rents and low salaries, we are more likely to stand with those fighting for better.

Campaigning and industrial action by trade unions benefit all working people, including those of future generations. Without historical action, many of the ­basic workers’ rights we often take for granted simply wouldn’t exist – the ­minimum wage, weekends and paid ­annual leave to name but a few.

Fair work is a hugely important issue for students and young people, as we can clearly see that the current broken ­system of capitalism is designed to stack the odds against us. The minimum wage for first-year apprentices is currently set at just £4.81 an hour – a clearly unliveable wage which serves only to further exploit our labour.

With student support payments from the Scottish Government nowhere near meeting the cost of living, it has become increasingly normalised that students will work part-time jobs alongside their full-time studies.

NUS Scotland’s Broke report found that of the 70% of students who do take on paid work, 48% are working precariously through zero-hours contracts and gig work.

It’s no surprise that students facing these poor working conditions themselves will not only empathise with those who are taking action to demand better, but will take action ­themselves – students in trade ­unions such as Unite Hospitality are having a huge impact organising in their ­workplaces and winning for workers across the hospitality sector.

Much like previous laws which curbed the rights of trade unions, the anti-strikes legislation currently being pushed through Westminster by the flailing Tory government only goes to prove that industrial action works.

Thatcher knew this, Cameron knew this, and Sunak knows this. The Tories want to prevent workers from being able to use our basic right to withdraw our labour because they know it’s the single most effective tool working people have to defend ourselves against dodgy bosses, corrupt millionaires and the wealthy ruling class (in other words, the Conservative Party).

The unworkable, undemocratic anti-strikes bill will almost certainly be passed, but I still hold hope and optimism for the future.

Recent research has shown that, unlike previous generations, millennials aren’t becoming more conservative with age, and although it’s important we don’t slip into complacency, it’s important that young people know our power.

So stand on the pickets, attend the rallies and organise in your workplaces. And, if you haven’t already, join a trade union.