Corbyn backs university union’s call for “season of action”

Gary Younge and Jeremy Corbyn joined UCU activists at the meeting. Pic: Giannino Arrigoni

Goldsmiths’ University and College Union (UCU) activists called for a new season of action in response to education cuts at a meeting last Thursday.

Jeremy Corbyn, Islington North MP and ex-leader of the Labour party, as well as Manchester University Sociology professor Gary Younge were among the guest speakers.

“Students crippled by the system, ending fees and restoring grants for students is the priority,” Corbyn told ELL.

The meeting, which was organised by Goldsmiths UCU on October 6 and hosted in Goldsmiths Student Union, was attended by around 60 people including activists, politicians, students and teachers.

The main topics raised during the evening were staff cuts as part of Goldsmiths’ financial restructuring, together with the deterioration and marketisation of the education sector.

The speakers and attendees at the meeting also called for the reinstatement of the head and deputy head of the department of media and communications, Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany, who were suspended by Goldsmiths’ Senior Management Team (SMT) in early July.

Banner in support of Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany’s reinstatement Pic: Giannino Arrigoni

First to speak at the event was Goldsmiths student union president, Hafsa Haji, who addressed the struggles students and staff faced at the university.

Haji highlighted a shortage of staff following a series of redundancies, which she said severely affected grade releases and communication with students.

As a result, some students could not enroll with student finance, with some international students being affected to the point of failing to support their visa applications.

“Right now, students are facing no grades at all and this has nothing to do with the action short of strike (ASOS) organised by the union,” Haji said, referring to a marking boycott organised by the union.

Goldsmiths responded to the remarks by blaming this summer’s marking boycott for having a “knock-on effect” on grade releases.

“The marking and assessment boycott unfortunately had a clear impact on the release of students’ results. For example, the marks of 2,150 undergraduate students were delayed past the college’s July 22 release date because the boycott did not conclude until July 29,” a spokesperson for the university said.

The source said that all students had now received their results, with international and final-year students prioritised in the process.

The college has continued to defend the recovery programme it has launched in order to save £9 million in ongoing spend by the end of the 2022/23 financial year.

While £6 million has already been saved, the institute has stated that they aim to work with the community and staff unions to find how to secure the remainder of the money. The marking boycott was terminated as part of an agreement stipulated between the university and the union.

MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn Pic: Giannino Arrigoni

Corbyn, welcomed with cheers by the crowd, congratulated Goldsmiths’ students and staff for their persistence and courage during protests and strikes over the last few years.

“I want to say thank you for the solidarity shown by all the staff at Goldsmiths and the student body. You campaigned in a way that students understand – that their future, their wellbeing, their welfare is dependent on properly employed, properly paid, properly treated teaching staff. There is a unity of interests here. It shows an amazing fraternity between teachers and students”.

The flyer for Thursday’s meeting Pic: Goldsmiths UCU

He also reiterated the “requirement of very high participation” for the success of any union action and the importance of voting in the upcoming trade union ballots for the approval of strikes. “In fact, abstention counts as a no,” Corbyn added.

Labour councillor for New Cross, Aisha Malik-Smith, stressed the importance of getting involved and supporting protesters and upcoming strikes.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking to ELL Pic: Giannino Arrigoni

“Students are being ripped off, single parents, railways workers, nurses, the hospitality, Deliveroo riders, anyone who has not been paid in line with inflation in the past 30 years by CEOs and shareholders of sort is being ripped off, but we are the many and they are the few,” she said.

Gary Younge, journalist and professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester, also gave a speech highlighting the importance of unions.

“This is not just about lecturers, this is not just about doctor and nurses, this is not just about the RMT (National Union of Rail and Maritime Transport workers), it’s about the kind of society we want to live in and whether we are prepared to fight for it,” he said.

Corbyn spoke to Eastlondonlines, outlining his education policy ideas.

“To me, the priority is ending student fees and restoring grants for students to study, otherwise we end up loading people with massive debt. And also, change the direction of our primary and secondary schools away from excessive testing for a much more inclusive learning”.

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