Second day of strike action over pensions and education cuts hits Goldsmiths and Queen Mary

Photo: Maggie Loutzenhiser

A second day of strike action by lecturers at Goldsmiths and Queen Mary led to disruption of classes and other teaching activities at both institutions today.

Lecturers, who are protesting over changes in their pension arrangements, were joined by many students on the picket lines outside both establishments, which are part of the University of London.

Both groups said they also wanted to draw attention to the cuts in education. At Goldsmiths, in New Cross, militant students continued their occupation of the university’s Deptford Town Hall administrative building; they say they will remain there until Saturday, when there will also be a major demonstration and march against public sector cuts in central London.

Yesterday’s action by lecturers was the second day of strikes this week against pension scheme changes being sought by the Government. The University and College Union (UCU) are campaigning to increase pension contributions and end the final salary pension scheme, along with opposing a planned rise in the retirement age for all lecturers and staff.

The management of both Goldsmiths and Queen Mary, in Mile End, declined to give details of the extent of the disruption although a large number of classes are believed to have been cancelled or disrupted. The union has claimed that it has widespread support for its actions.

Earlier this week, Des Freedman, a lecturer at Goldsmiths and secretary of Goldsmiths branch of the UCU said: “This is an ongoing campaign and it will carry on until this government is defeated.” He went on to say: “It’s all about defending our pensions, it’s about defending our public services.”

For previous coverage see here.

ELL spoke to some of those along the picket line at Goldsmiths.

Ben Levitas, a 44 year-old lecturer in the drama department said: “‘Members of the UCU are on strike today for the protection of our pensions and our pay, at the moment our pensions are under attack and the irony is there is no economic reason for this.”

Maggie Pitfield was clear about why she had joined the demonstration at Goldsmiths today: “Education is a right for all.”

It was a sentiment echoed by her fellow protestors, especially MA student Katherine Urrows, who sees “the pension cuts as part and parcel of the most offensive assault on the public realm since Thatcher.” The post colonial culture and global policy student said: “The pension cuts are just a way of ushering in more privatisation.”

Paul Clements, a lecturer at the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship also voiced concern that the education system would be “privatised and turned into an elite system.”

“We need a proper education system and we need it to be publicly financed.” he said.

Jaz Blackwell-Pal is a 2nd year English and drama student who had joined the protest to support her lecturers. “This isn’t just about paying pensions it’s about the whole future of education. We should all stand united and not let us be divided,” she said.

Drama department lecturer Mojisola Adebayo, 39, said she felt “really strongly that it doesn’t just effect us, but has a real detrimental effect on student life. And we are here to support that.”

Kevin Jones, a 53-year-old lecturer in art psychology agreed. “I think the real important thing about today is that although we are striking about our pay we are also here to defend the principle of higher education,” he said. “We think these kind of government proposals for higher education will erode critical thinking in the university.”

The protest received a lot of student support, one of whom was Becky Ayre, who is undertaking an MA in Cultural Studies. “It’s not going to end today,” she said. “We are going to keep going.”

Interviews and photos: Maggie Loutzenhiser and Javid Rezai-Jorabi.

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