Lecturers at Goldsmiths are set to strike after University and College Union (UCU) members voted in favour of industrial action today (November 4).
Results from the postal ballot reveal 85.8 per cent of members voted to strike, with 93.3 per cent supporting industrial action short of a strike. 70 per cent of UCU members took part in the ballot. Dates for strike action have yet to be decided but it can be expected before Christmas.
The action follows disagreements between the senior management (SMT) of Goldsmiths and members of Goldsmiths’ UCU branch (GUCU) over planned redundancies of 52 academic staff.
SMT say that redundancies are the last resort of their “recovery plan”, which includes selling buildings and reducing capital costs to reduce expenditure in the face of significant financial challenges.
Goldsmiths lecturer and union representative Becky Gardiner said the action was “a fight for the integrity of the university”. She added: “No one wants to go on strike. I am sure I speak for all members when I say that I want to come to work and teach my students! The last thing I want to do is disrupt their education, especially given they have suffered so much disruption already because of the pandemic.
“But our working conditions are your learning conditions, and if we don’t fight for the integrity of the university, students will suffer more in the long run. We owe it to the students – the ones who are here now, and the ones who might come in the future – to fight for the higher education they deserve.”
Gardiner’s comments come after thousands of academics across the UK have signed an open letter addressed to Goldsmiths, University of London’s senior management team, raising concerns about pensions, poor working conditions and inequalities in the workplace. This also coincides with the potential threat of axing all lecturers on the MA Black British course, the only one of its kind on offer in the UK, and MA Queer History. The open letter describes the courses as being treated as “mere adornments on a portfolio” rather than “deeply rooted scholarship”, stating that “Goldsmiths management see its core mission as no different from fast fashion”.
The university’s senior management are also looking to make £2m of job cuts to professional services, and they have already announced that 32 professional services staff are at risk of redundancy.
The letter has now generated more than 3,500 signatures from students and academics around the world, as well as Carol Ann Duffy, former poet laureate, and Bernardine Evaristo, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Support has also come from former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, who works at the university as its Professor of Children’s Literature. In a tweet last week, Rosen said: “Cancel culture? One place I can see a lot of culture being cancelled is Goldsmiths…”
A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London said: “The overall picture remains that Goldsmiths must deal with significant financial challenges including an underlying deficit, over £10m of additional costs and lost income due to Covid-19, government cuts that will see the College lose over £2m in funding every year, and a decline in the overall number of students studying some subjects.”
However, Students and staff have also been protesting in October for the university to “open the books” after an alleged “secret deal” with Lloyds and NatWest. GUCU claims that the redundancies had been demanded by Goldsmiths’ “banking partners” as a condition of receiving a loan worth up to £7 million. The university’s spokesperson further commented: “Regardless of any agreements with our banking partners, we need to save £9m in ongoing spend over the next two years to put the College back on a sustainable financial footing.”
SMT, led by Warden Frances Corner, took the unprecedented step to urge GUCU members to not vote in favour of taking industrial action after fearing the “significant effect any such action could have on our students’ learning and experience”, in a letter sent to students explaining the imminent strike action.
In a statement on their website, GUCU said: “In the face of these brutal cuts at Goldsmiths that will leave our students with less professional support, less contact time with academic staff, and a drastically narrowed curriculum, the visionary, radical and altruistic thing to do is to fight; and to fight hard. In the face of unprecedented attacks by our senior management, who act as the handmaidens of a right-wing government agenda, we are the last custodians of higher education. We need to protect arts and humanities teaching not only for our current students, but for their younger siblings and the next generation.”
The union is also balloting members across the UK at other institutions in a separate fight about pensions and fair pay with results set to be published shortly.