On Monday Goldsmiths UCU members were joined on the picket line by notable figures from journalism, politics, and literature as their strike in opposition to more than 50 planned redundancies entered its third and final week. 

Journalists Owen Jones and Gary Younge were joined outside the University’s Richard Hoggart Building by Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, and acclaimed poet Michael Rosen, who also works in the education department at Goldsmiths. 

“I am reminded that I am back here again, I was here in solidarity and now I’m here along with you in the same profession, fighting for our rights and conditions,” began former Guardian journalist Gary Younge, who is now a professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. 

He spoke on a similar picket line during a strike over pensions at Goldsmiths in 2018: “There is something quite important about the fact that we’re still here, they haven’t ground us down.” 

Younge, who authored the books No Place Like Homethe Story of a Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South and The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream, told the crowd that black creative writing, black history, and queer studies courses are some of the programmes most threatened by the proposed cuts.  

“When they come to put their brochures out they will make it look like the United Nations,” said Younge, “there will be black and asian faces all over the place and they will try to present themselves as a modern, diverse organisation. But we want equal opportunities, not photo opportunities.” 

He continued: “These things that we have, we have because we fought for them and we will only keep them by fighting for them. When you fight there is no guarantee that you will win, but if you don’t fight what is guaranteed is that you won’t win.” 

Speaking to Raven News after his speech, Younge criticised the government’s failure to see education as a public good – “an uneducated society is a poorer society” – and the forcing of debt onto students. In light of prominent threats to the future of black humanities courses and black academics, he described Goldsmiths’ rhetoric around diversity as “a way of looking different and acting the same.” 

Younge was followed by Begum, who worked as Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Queen Mary University, an associated institution of Goldsmiths: “As someone who has previously worked in higher education, I know your struggle.”

“I’ve seen for myself the casualisation of labour, the rising workloads and pay gaps, the falling pay and reduced pensions being normalised in higher education.” 

“If you have money to hire consultants to tell you how to cut, then you have money to protect students and staff and to invest in the long term,” she added. “You’ve spent £3.5 million on the restructure so far, that is a disgrace and a scandal.” 

Owen Jones, another Guardian columnist and activist, also spoke to the assembled crowd of around 40 staff and students: “It’s ironic that the same government that saddled students with debt are also attacking staff conditions, and then pit students against staff by saying that they’re not giving you your money’s worth,” said Jones, whose twin sister studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, “these are classic divide and rule tactics.” 

After the event, Raven journalists asked Jones how best students could mobilise and fight for their rights during the strike: “Resist the idea that you’re customers, you’re not. You’re students.” 

“This isn’t a consumer good, it’s a social good that’s good for you and good for society. They want you to feel like you’re customers because they want to reduce everything to its market value.” 

Image shows Owen Jones talking into a microphone in front of a banner that reads "PICKET LINE, DO NOT CROSS".

Owen Jones, columnist, author and activist, speaks to the crowd.

“Your university workers fought unanimously against the tuition fees increase in 2010 and now the government are saying you should be angry with those same university workers because they’ve made you pay all that money.” 

“One of the biggest things students can do is fight back vocally against divide and rule tactics and make it clear that their anger with tuition fees and debt is directed at the government and not with their underpaid, insecure, overworked academic workers who are there to support them in education.”  

“Spreading that message to other students is very important.” 

“Labour has abdicated its responsibilities as an opposition, but for now at least their policy remains to abolish tuition fees; you can’t trust a single word Keir Starmer says, but that remains the official policy.” 

“Another thing students can do is put pressure on the Labour leadership to stand by that proposal.”

Later that day, GUCU members voted to continue the strike into the next term should the senior management team continue to push ahead with their current plans. 

Details of what that continued industrial action will look like are still being figured out and students will have to wait until the new year for a clearer understanding of how things will work. 

Goldsmiths students have announced a tuition fee strike in solidarity with staff strikes.

Written by Joe Ballesteros and Joe Skirkowski