Shadow chancellor John McDonnell and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt addressed large crowds this morning outside the main building of Goldsmiths, University of London in a show of support for the UCU strike action, as Hunt outlined that further strike action was not off the table.
On a cold and wintery Thursday morning, large numbers of staff, students and friends of the university also turned out at the rally to support members who carried out the first day of action in a set of co-ordinated strikes, set to total 14 days.
UCU secretary Hunt said that members were standing up for their pensions as they were a “core part of terms of conditions” and that in the last six weeks, the union’s membership had swollen by over 5,000.
“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,” she added.
Hunt also stressed that the union was open to negotiations and has been in talks with employers for months. However, she stated that UCU members would not go back to work until the relevant parties to the dispute got back around the table, claiming that the USS fund “is healthy” and therefore the changes are unnecessary.
Last to take the microphone was Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who expressed his solidarity with those on strike and criticised UUK’s proposed pensions changes, saying that the alterations are the latest attack on education and a further result of austerity policies.
“It’s an absolute privilege to be on this rally and to be joining picket lines not just today, but all over the country and in Scotland tomorrow. It’s a privilege because exactly as Sally has said, you are standing up not just for yourselves, but also for the Trade Union movement overall and working people all over the country,” he said.
Speaking to [Smiths] Magazine, the shadow chancellor said that employers are trying to undermine lecturers’ pensions while they refuse to negotiate a decent settlement.
“All we’re asking for is these employers to get back around the table to negotiate a decent settlement. That’s why I’m here in solidarity with them.”
Watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/257016086
McDonnell also spoke to Goldsmiths New School Economics society, saying that neoliberal policies implemented by the government continue to undermine working conditions and have a detrimental impact on wages and pensions. You can watch the video here:
“What we’re seeing today is a reflection of neoliberal policies, that are implemented by the government”
NSE spoke to @johnmcdonnellMP on the @GoldsmithsUCU picket line about the power of industrial action in neoliberal times.@Goldperc #strikeforuss pic.twitter.com/mV5Yb2dNav
— New School Economics (@NseGoldsmiths) 22 February 2018
Goldsmiths Students’ Union sabbatical officers have been vocal in their opposition to the changes and the president, Eva Crossan Jory, along with education officer Taylor McGraa, gave passionate speeches supporting staff but also criticised university management over their handling of the dispute.
McGraa said that a statement released by the warden which suggested that if pensions contributions were to be increased that the college “would have to reduce staff and other costs, raise tuition fees where possible, and increase the student staff ratio” amounted to bullying tactics.
“I cannot put into words how proud I am to be alumni and student officer at Goldsmiths, especially at a time like this. Well done to all staff and UCU members who have worked tirelessly and gone out of their way to make sure this [the rally] happens. Thank you to all the students that have kept the fire burning – you are such an asset to Goldsmiths,” she added.
Union president Crossan Jory said that the huge turn out at the last student assembly, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting the strike action, was one of her proudest moments as a student at Goldsmiths.
“Goldsmiths has quite a reputation for being political and that our students are political. The amazing solidarity shown between staff and students, and the self-led support coming from students now for their lecturers is amazing,” she added.
Members of teaching staff also spoke out against the proposed changes to their pensions, with estimates suggesting that some could be up to £200,000 worse off in their retirement. Speaking to [Smiths] Magazine, reader and co-director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre, Natalie Fenton, said that the risk imposed by the new changes was unacceptable.
“The university sector has had a massive increase of money going into it since the introduction of tuition fees, yet they have persistently reduced the amount that they spend on the staff that are delivering that education, and supporting that education delivery.
“So it is a political choice they are making to not take mutual responsibility for people’s retirement,” she said.
Also forming part of the picket line was Goldsmiths UCU vice president Des Freedman of the college’s media and communication’s department, who joined colleagues and students criticising the UUK’s decision to switch staff pensions from a ‘defined benefits scheme’ to a ‘defined contributions scheme’ which means that pensions would be decided by returns on the stock market and the speculation of bankers in the city.
Following the rally, a large group of Goldsmiths students marched from the main entrance of the Richard Hoggart building towards Deptford Town Hall, to confront the warden. One student said that they planned to give the warden letters from students who wanted to display their anger and frustration at how the situation is being handled. You can read one of the letters below:
Disputes arose between the UCU and the UUK, the representative organisation for UK universities, after the latter proposed alterations to UCU members pensions, citing a £12.5 billion shortfall in the scheme’s liabilities. The UCU disputes the figure as “overly pessimistic.”
The remaining strikes will take place on the dates below and UCU members will be on the picket line from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Fri 23 February
- Mon 26, Tue 27, Wed 28 February
- Mon 5, Tue 6, Wed 7, Thu 8 March
- Mon 12, Tue 13, Wed 14, Thu 15, Fri 16 March
Words: Matt Mathers @MattEm90
Images: Goldsmiths UCU/Twitter/[smiths] Magazine/@NseGoldsmiths