UCU strike national demonstration UCU strike national demonstration. Photo: Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright speaks to strikers and supporters at Birkbeck about the campaign to stop redundancies and the national UCU strike action they are part of

On the eve of Birkbeck’s 200th anniversary, senior management announced up to 140 potential redundancies, an eye-watering number for an institution of its size. But lecturers and administrative staff who routinely complain of being overworked and underpaid are fighting back.

Thursday saw around 300 staff and students rally outside the main campus as board members inside discussed the cuts. Staff and students spoke out not only on the immediate issue of job losses but also the wider context of pension cuts that disenfranchise younger staff, missed climate transition promises, and marked pay gaps across differences of race (12.5% at Birkbeck), gender (8%) and disability (6%).

The rally bookended a recent wave of national UCU strikes, which culminated in a several-thousand-strong march of academic staff, students and supporters from London Kings Cross to the university employers HQ, UCEA, in Tavistock Square.

Birkbeck has a special fight on its hands opposing what would be a devastating programme of cuts to an institution that prides itself on a legacy of accessible education for all. Although premised on real financial pressures post-Covid, the College has healthy reserves of £100m, plus millions more in expensive London property – some of it barely used in recent months as management splashed out an additional £35m in 2021 on acquiring the well-known Student Central building on Malet street.

More than 50% of undergraduate teaching at Birkbeck is done by hourly paid staff earning just over £22 per hour. When teaching prep, administration and marking are taken into account, this often means pay rates close to the minimum wage. A Birkbeck cleaner earns even less at £11.95 per hour. Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor David Latchman takes in £385,000 per year, pushing towards the top of the executive-pay league tables for university heads nationwide. 

Alistair Cartwright, a former student and tutor at Birkbeck and current UCU member in Liverpool, spoke to staff on the picket lines. 

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Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.

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