University strike action across East London – the view from the pickets at Goldsmiths QMU and London Met

A student protester holds a placard outside Goldsmiths Library Pic: Chiara Rimella

A student protester holds a placard outside Goldsmiths Library Pic: Chiara Rimella

Universities in East London were affected by strike action today as both staff and students took part in a walk-out in a dispute about pay. East London Lines reported on the strike plans earlier this week. The nation-wide walkout was organised by the lecturers union (UCU), and unions representing support and clerical staff (UNISON and Unite). It also and gained support from students’ unions. The strikes disrupted classes and resulted in closures of university buildings. East London Lines reporters took to the picket lines at Goldsmiths, Queen Mary and London Metropolitan to talk to those involved in the strike and hear their reasons for taking part.


East London Lines reporter Jack Simpson spoke to students and staff on the picket line at Queen Mary in Tower Hamlets.

Branch secretary at Queen Mary, Richard Saull

“I think the pay decrease over the past few years fails to recognise the contribution that cleaners, administrators and lecturers make to the success of higher education and to  Queen Mary.”

“There is money available to pay a fair wage, a wage that stays with inflation. We are not asking for pay rises above inflation, we are just seeking recognition for our contributions alongside the rate of inflation. Some of the lower paid workers are really struggling and this is felt even more given the cost of living crisis.”

“The UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers association) are basically saying take it or leave it and projecting a future for us where we carry on working for reduced pay and that is unacceptable. No trade union can allow that.”

They have a message to Universities and Colleges Employers association, UCEA

"Sit down and negotiate with us. Recognise our contribution, recognise there is money and ensure that staff are properly rewarded. The protest today is not only about our pay but also about the education of future generations."

Sarah Sawar, Queen Mary Students' Union President 

"We feel improved conditions for our lecturers and staff  would help create a better academic future for students in the long run. Students have been really receptive to this and many understood that support would be in our best interests too.’

"Poor conditions for our lecturers will have huge knock on effects for our students. The workload of lecturers is already immense."

Nadia Atia, Lecturer

"I am standing here to express my view that our wages need to go up and stay as living wages."

"If it does not change, the profession is only going to go downhill,  we will lose talented people who do not see this career as financially feasible compared to the private sector."

Pickets not pay cuts Jack Simpson

Ellen Tansey, History and Politics student

"In a purely selfish sense, if lecturers, cleaners and administration staff are being undervalued they will not do a good job. Queen Mary will become a less nice place to study and will definately not be a good place to get a degree from."

"I fear for the future of students. Higher education is being completely privatised and huge chunks of our university are being sold off to private companies."

"It is really important as a student to strike and take action now, otherwise our universities are going to become private enterprises."

Strike in Bengali and Turkish

Pics: Jack Simpson

Goldsmiths banner Chiara Rimella

East London Lines reporter Chiara Rimella spoke to students and staff on the picket line outside Goldsmiths in Lewisham.

Tom Henri, UCU President for Goldsmiths:

"The big issue is that since 2010 fees are £9,000 a year for students so university income has increased. We know for a fact, thanks to Higher Education Statistics Agency, that the universities have squirrelled away £1 billion, so they have got money - they can afford it.”

“Education is a value beyond values, it is not about money. The government is reducing education to what is effectively an accounting procedure.”

Mask and flyer Chiara Rimella

Eleanor Saunders, UNISON chair:

“We represent the support staff, the lower paid staff up to grade 6. We have about 180 members in Goldsmiths, it’s difficult to predict how many people will go on strike, but there will probably be high support.”

“Since 2010 the average support staff pay in real terms has gone down 15%. Speaking for myself, this means I’m about £6000 worse off. The less you earn, the more the impact it has on you.”

“As a wider issue, the devaluing of education is obvious from this government, in particular the Arts and Humanities which is what is taught at Goldsmiths”

Town hall Chiara Rimella

Howard Littler, Campaigns Officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union:

“First of all, in order to understand why students are supporting the strike, we’ve got to think about why lecturers and staff are on strike. Over 45 years there has been a 14% pay cut. But this is not just about pay, many visiting tutors and part time lecturers are on ‘zero hour’ contracts that do not even guarantee them the national minimum wage.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t strike earlier. From the students’ point of view, there has been this rumour going round about education as a commodity, people say ‘we pay £9000 fees are we going to get our money back?’. This attitude is wrong, it’s a result of the marketisation of education started under Labour which has been continued by the coalition.”

“I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy to persuade some students. My generation doesn’t understand what trade unions, picket lines and industrial action represent, a culture promoted by Thatcher and Blair amongst others made people think of themselves only as individuals and not as society.”

Outside library Chiara Rimella

Student of Applied Social Science, Community Development & Youth Work who was convinced to not cross the picket line:

“I believe it’s worth striking today, I came here with the intention of going in, but I was convinced not to. Some of my lecturers aren’t striking and I have seen a few of my course-mates going in.”

Pics: Chiara Rimella

London Metropolitan

East London Lines reporter Hajera Blagg headed down to London Metropolitan University  in Tower Hamlets, where she spoke directly to those involved involved in the strike action.

Christina Paine, UCU Activist London Met

"The only way we're going to get a better deal is if we all join together. Everyone is getting squeezed and given more to do while getting paid less. People can't survive and what suffers is the education of the students."

"We're going to do all we can to get management to change its mind."

"I've been treated so badly, the way my hours have been cut. For me there's nothing left to do but to stand up."

Maggie Loughran, London Met UNISON Branch Chair

"We're standing here today to say, in real terms, we're 13% down in pay, and they're offering us a 1% pay raise which we're saying is not good enough! We're not having it any more. And that's why we're on strike today. If that doesn't work, we'll stand out on strike again and do whatever it is we need to do to get management to sit around the table and listen to us, because we've had enough."

There are people who are coming to us who can't pay their bills, and asking us, "Can we have some money through your hardship fund to pay some bills." There are people going to food banks. You know, this is the 21st century and this is going on. It's not right."

Jacqueline Applebee, London Metropolitan University UNISON LGBT officer, Library Assistant

"It's getting harder and harder to make ends meet. I like working for the university, I like knowing that I'm actually doing some good. But, I'm having to look at whether I can actually afford to stay in higher education. And that's why I'm standing here today."

John Biggs, London Assembly Member for City and East London, Labour's candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Also University Governor at Birkbeck, University of London. 

"There is a public misconception that university workers are fat cats on big salaries and pensions. Most people are on modest salaries and have had pay freezes for a number of years now. As a university governor, I know life is tough. But, we do need to make sure we reward and incentivise the workforce, otherwise we're going to be giving the wrong message about the value we give to higher education.”

He added:

"It is also important that we get the younger generation to understand the importance of organizing and trade union activity as part of their civil rights. It's disappointing that so many students don't seem to be aware of these issues. I know they have exams and other things to worry about, but they are citizens, and we need them to understand their duties. Without indoctrinating them, we need them to understand the range of duties that they have in life."

Cliff Snaith

Cliff Snaith, UCU London Met Secretary and law lecturer.

"This is the first occasion that all three big unions in higher education have been out --UCU, UNISON, and Unite. Here at London Met, where we really need the strikes to win because we have a very tough and unyielding management. Here at the Met the strike has been really effective. We've managed to stop all law teaching in the law school today, and very, very few lectures have gone on elsewhere."

Pics: Kamal Badhey

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