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Goldsmiths UCU strike action: ‘never a more difficult and upsetting time’

Entrance to Goldsmiths, University of London

Goldsmiths, University of London Richard Hoggart Main Building – the location of the picket line. Image: LMMNews

Goldsmiths, University of London, is kicking off its first day of strike action in the nationwide industrial action over lecturer pension reform.

It is one of 61 universities that has voted to take industrial action out of the pre-92 universities.

With over 500 University and College Union (UCU) members, striking lecturers at Goldsmiths could amount to a third of the university’s workforce taking industrial action.

From today, the strike rally will open and talks highlighting core issues will commence.

Over the coming weeks ‘Teach Out’ talks will be delivered by activists and journalists from Owen Jones to the documentary director, Professor Sue Clayton.

In a university-wide staff meeting to discuss planned strike action, Goldsmith’s Warden Pat Loughrey said in his eight years leading the university, he ‘can’t remember a more difficult and upsetting time.’

Met with questions from teaching staff regarding their pensions, Mr Loughrey sought to be ‘open’ and ‘truthful’ but highlighted the complexity of the situation.

Adding that we are ‘caught up in a dispute that is beyond us’, but that he hopes for the best possible conclusion following further talks.

In a letter to The Guardian. Mr Loughrey spoke of outcomes:

If pension contributions increase significantly, the only practical option open to us in the short term is fundamental restructuring of our operations. We would have to reduce staff and other costs, raise tuition fees where possible and increase the student-staff ratio.

However, I believe that all our staff have a right to good pensions. Universities play a hugely important role in public life, with institutions such as Goldsmiths having a major impact on cultural and creative endeavours across the globe. Alongside decent salaries and other employment provision, the contribution that all our staff make must be recognised in the form of fair and sustainable pensions.

Students are rightly concerned about disruptions to their study that industrial action will inevitably bring. I cannot predict what will happen with certainty, but the college will work to mitigate the effect on students as far as possible. Goldsmiths’ senior management would like to see a fair and speedy resolution to this dispute for all our sakes.

UCU is dissatisfied with the outcome of national pensions negotiations which followed a major revaluation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension last year.

The revaluation gives the impression of a £7.5 billion funding gap between the scheme’s liabilities (what is needed to pay retired staff) and its assets.

Talks between the UCU and Universities UK (UUK), which represents 350 institutions whose staff belong to the USS scheme, on how to address this gap have been ongoing for well over a year.

The proposal made by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) on 23rd January 2018, would take future service accruing pension benefits on a defined contribution basis as opposed to a defined benefit basis which is currently in place – and what many lecturers feel they were promised.

The changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme could potentially leave lecturers £10,000 worse off per year.

The UCU had already balloted members on potential strike action in a large number of institutions.

Goldsmiths UCU members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

Those institutions where a majority of registered members cast a ballot and where the majority of those voting voted for strike action have now been asked to take part in escalating action totalling 14 days from 22nd February 2018.

Over 70,000 students across striking universities have called for compensation for what is expected to be week of disruption.

A petition started by students at Goldsmiths calculates that they stand to lose out on £1,260.

UCU’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, who will address a rally at Goldsmiths said they had no option but to strike.

We deliberately announced these strike dates to give universities time to come back round the table with us and get this mess sorted out. They have refused to do so and want to impose their reforms on staff.

Unsurprisingly staff are angry and significant disruption on campuses across the UK now looks inevitable. The key is how universities react to the action this week. We will be meeting on 2 March to consider what wave two of the action may need to involve, and nothing is off the table.

‘Teach Outs’ will be happening throughout the coming weeks on Goldsmiths campus, in which all groups are hoping for a positive outcome.

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