East London university students and staff gearing up for November 30 strike action over pensions

Posters at Goldsmiths College pic: Will Coldwell

As the occupation of the Whitehead building at Goldsmiths College continues, staff and students at Goldmiths and Queen Mary University are preparing for next week’s strike action over pension reforms.

Following an assembly held at the Ian Gulland lecture theatre last Thursday, Goldsmiths College saw further meetings between students and staff and leafleting across the campus in order to generate momentum for next week’s public sector strike.

Since Wednesday evening, a group of students is occupying the Whitehead building, where a party with live bands is planned this evening.

Members of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers and academic support staff, and non-academic workers represented by Unison will be on strike over the government’s proposed pension reforms for public sector workers.

At Queen Mary University, union density is spread uneven across the university and Unison members will not be on strike, as they are part of a different pension scheme. In some schools most staff will be on strike and classes will have to be cancelled, while in others classes may go ahead as usual. UCU and Queen Mary’s Student Union have encouraged students to show solidarity with their lecturers by boycotting their classes.

Hundreds of Goldsmiths staff and students are expected at a picket in front of the College’s Richard Hoggart Building next Wednesday.

Lecturers are planning a ‘teach out’ on the day for students and residents to learn more about the background to the pensions and welfare march, the Eurozone crisis, the government’s Higher Education White Paper and the Occupy movement. The event will be held in front of Goldsmiths library between 9 and 11am.

A march in Central London will take demonstrators from Kingsway, around the Aldwych, along Strand, down Northumberland Avenue and onto Victoria Embankment.

Communications and Cultural Studies lecturer and Goldsmiths UCU secretary, Des Freeman, said: “Last Thursday’s Assembly was an inspiring event and fantastic preparation for next Wednesday’s strike. We will be joining millions of other public sector workers in refusing to accept that our pensions should be sacrificed because of a financial crisis we did not cause.

“The same one per cent who are cutting pensions are also determined to undermine our universities with their market reforms so I hope to see lots of students joining us next week. The campaign will not end on Wednesday and we will be renewing our struggle to defend pensions with more action in the New Year. The reforms are unjustified, unnecessary and unfair.”

Goldsmiths College sent out an email to students on Thursday saying all teaching activity will be suspended on November 30, while core student services such as the library catering services will be kept open.

The email also emphasised university workers’ right to strike: “It is a shared interest of the College as a whole and its staff to have good and sustainable pensions provision. We recognise the legitimate right to take strike action and are keen that good relations on campus should be maintained as far as possible during this action.”

At Queen Mary, UCU members will stage pickets at the Mile End campus from 7.30am. But a UCU spokesperson at Queen Mary told EastLondonLines that the university management have threatened to discipline any Unison members who seek to show solidarity with UCU by not crossing picket lines, and has disciplined workers in the past for so doing.

Britain will witness the biggest strike since 1926 as thousands of teachers, lecturers and civil servants are expected to take part in strikes called in opposition to pension reforms and the government’s austerity drive.

In order to reduce the national deficit, the government are proposing to make workers pay more directly from their wages into their pensions, basing pensions on career averages rather than final salaries. Unions say contributions will be rising by 50 per cent, with the Public and Commercial Services Union saying that in some cases civil servants will be paying double or triple what they do now. Public sector workers have also been given a two year pay freeze, which, with inflation running at over four per cent, amounts to a substantial pay cut.

The reforms also include linking pensions to the Consumer Prices Index, which does not take into consideration the cost of things like council tax and mortgages, rather than the Retail Price Index, on which pensions have traditionally been based. This will amount to a major reduction in the value of pensions – £83bn over the next 15 years according to the Department of Work and Pensions.

Last week, an assembly held at Goldsmiths saw film director Ken Loach address over 150 students and staff. The assembly was held to build for a big turnout on the picket line on November 30. Other speakers included head of department of Media and Communications, Dr Natalie Fenton, Guardian journalist Seumas Milne and Clare Solomon, former University of London Union President and member of Counterfire.

Goldsmiths Students’ Union president James Haywood told EastLondonLines: “From our fight against fees last year, students have learnt that defending education is part of a wider struggle about defending public services in general. That’s why we’ll be fully behind the strikes on Wednesday and driving round Lewisham supporting the picket lines.

“Attacking pensions is attacking the working conditions of all those employed in the sector. This applies to our lecturers as well – how can we expect a quality student experience when our academics are demoralised and concerned for their future? All our struggles are intricately linked.”

In Lewisham, workers from over 20 unions will be participating on November 30, which will see pickets at hospitals, universities, schools and a wide range of public services.

A march will gather at 7am at Lewisham Town Hall and visit all major pickets towards New Cross before arriving at Goldsmiths College.

In Tower Hamlets, public sector workers are planning to have pickets at some schools and most public service workplaces. Unison have organised a ‘Battle Bus’ to tour the borough on Friday and Saturday, leafleting markets and addressing the public about the strike.

On Monday, EastLondonLines will publish an interactive map showing where pickets and marches will take place accross central and east London.

Leave a Reply