Cambridge Defend Education under scrutiny for call for help

Image credit: Will Tilbrook

Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) came under scrutiny today from one student for the group's plea for "help" to make sure striking staff stay warm and supported through the cold weather.

Emma Lubel, a Natural Sciences undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, condemned the language used by the organisation in an open letter addressed to CDE and Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU). CDE earlier this week encouraged students to distribute "hand/foot warmers" and "hot water bottles", in addition to "people (willing to help out and wrapping up warm) [sic]" to those participating in the UCU strikes as a show of support.

However, Lubel describes CDE's language as "increasingly problematic" since the sudden drop in temperature, and questioned the validity of such a request when homeless people in Cambridge are struggling with the effects of weather reaching a temperature low of -6 degrees Celsuis.

Speaking after meeting with individuals who face homelessness earlier today, Lubel highlighted how despite emergency protocol being in place, there was still no assurance for rough sleepers that shelter could be found. "Shelters in Cambridge are full and being stretched further as struggling councils such as Sussex and Suffolk utilise Cambridge's hostels to accommodate their own rough sleepers," the letter reads.

The open letter also offers suggestions to students looking to help those sleeping on the streets during this cold weather. They are encouraged to call (01223) 576085 and mention Cambridge's emergency accommodation protocol. Though numerous shelters will at this time be full or nearly full, homeless shelters such as Jimmy's at 1 East Road are expected to be able to offer temporary shelter. 

Lubel also encourages students to give such items as hot water bottles and food and drink to those on the streets rather than at the picket lines. "When you leave that picket line, you will return to your college, flat or home. These people do not have anywhere to go," Lubel pleads.

CUSU and CDE are encouraged to "think more carefully" about language used in promoting their cause. Though Lubel doubts that many students will not have sympathy for their cause, her letter concludes: "If you are demanding responsibilities upon studnets, place a responsibility upon yourselves to support the human beings in Cambridge that are struggling to survive."

Angus Satow, on behalf of Cambridge Defend Education, commented:

"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.

Satow went on to note that CDE's "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."

This article was amended on 4th March to make clear that CDE did not ask for donations of food and drink, as previously stated.

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