Students back Goldsmiths’ lecturers at start of strike action over pension changes

Goldsmiths Battle Bus supporting the UCU Strike Action. Pic: Nina Jones

Dozens of lecturers at Goldsmiths, University of London, have joined a planned 14-day national strike over changes to their pension scheme.

The strike, called by the University and College Union after an overwhelming ballot showed support for industrial action, has led to mass disruption of student’s timetables at more than 60 universities around the country.

Many are expected to miss out on more than a week’s worth of classes. The strike is spread out over the next month.

The action stems from a change in the lecturer pension scheme, USS, switching from a defined benefit to one in which the investments are dependent on stock markets. The UCU claim this will lead to the average lecturer losing up to £10,000 per year from their pension pot. The university’s organisation which supervervises the scheme says the changes are needed to cope with a multi-million pound deficit.

The industrial action began on February 22 and included a picket across Goldsmiths’ main building and a series of guest speakers taking part in ‘talk outs’.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt spoke to lecturers and students at Goldsmiths on Thursday morning to kickstart the strike action. “You’re doing what everyone in this country ought to be doing. You’re standing up for your old age and a pension. You should make no apology to anyone for doing that.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaks to Goldsmiths lecturers. Pic: Nina Jones

Later that day, Shadow Chancellor and close Corbyn ally John McDonnell arrived to thunderous applause and said: “This is not just about you but about the austerity measures that are being imposed on this country[…] You are standing up not just for yourselves, but also for the Trade Union movement overall and working people all over the country”. 

East London Lines spoke to the Shadow Chancellor after his speech:

On Friday, lecturers and students continued to brave the cold and stood to watch a series of authors, activists and journalists speak on topics of their choice.

The speakers, Guardian journalist Gary Younge, activist Faiza Shaheen and author Paul Mason, spoke about the strike action, socialism and the trade unionist movement.

Paul Mason speaking outside Goldsmiths, University of London. Pic: Joey McCarthy


Gary Younge speaking outside Goldsmiths, University of London. Pic: Joey McCarthy

Later that day, writer of ‘Chavs’ and Guardian columnist Owen Jones, spoke to a packed audience at the university’s student union about Labour, Grenfell Tower and the abolishment of tuition fees. Much of this speech can be watched here, on our live Facebook post of the event.

East London Lines also spoke exclusively to Jones:

The warden of Goldsmiths, Patrick Loughry made a statement to students prior to the strike in which he said: “I fully respect the decision of staff members to strike.

“But industrial action comes at a cost and it would be extremely complacent to assume that Goldsmiths could survive a prolonged dispute – over which we have very little control – without long-term damage being done to our students and staff.”

The ‘Goldsmiths’ Student Solidarity with Staff Strikes’ responded: “Given that you received a ‘pension augmentation’ worth more than £250,000 upon leaving your previous position at the BBC, it is understandable that you may have struggled to understand the plight of ordinary academic staff who, on average, earn less than a fifth of this as their total yearly salary.”

“We see the UUK’s (Universities UK) proposal as a further step towards the privatisation of higher education in its alignment with the market. Mr Loughrey, the university is a place for shaping critical thinkers, it is not a factory for producing labour force.”

The strike is due to continue from Monday to Wednesday this coming week. Although Loughrey is one of 17 university heads to call for further talks to resolve the dispute, there are currently no plans to restart negotiations.

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