What is Goldsmiths management doing?
Goldsmiths Senior Management Team (SMT) is planning mass staff redundancies across departments this term, as part of a wider scheme of redundancies to be rolled out over two years. They have informed us that they plan to cut 52 jobs this year: 20 academics in English & Creative Writing and History, and 32 professional services staff. The survival of courses in the departments of History and English and Creative Writing are in serious jeopardy, and the professional services cuts (to staff in timetabling, student support and other areas) risk causing chaos and harming student experience.
In response, GUCU members have voted to take 15 days of strike action, beginning November 23rd 2021 and ending December 13th 2021, in order to pressure SMT to take these damaging job cuts off the table.
Why is SMT doing this?
This is part of what SMT terms ‘The Recovery Plan’ to attempt to use job cuts to improve the College’s finances. Goldsmiths UCU (GUCU) argues this is a bad plan, both in terms of the financial impacts and the injustice of the proposed job cuts themselves. Senior management also claims these cuts are required by the banks due to a deal that was struck with Lloyds Bank and Natwest bank, negotiated by the consultancy firm KPMG, committing to £4million of staff cuts this year followed by £2million next year.
How will I be impacted by this?
These cuts will significantly impact student facing services. Department administrators who process examinations and admissions, mental health provision, finance teams etc will all be vastly reduced. SMT plans to centralise admin and student support work away from department specific workers. You may have had problems getting your timetable this year or getting replies to emails. This is in part due to SMT having already moved senior administrators out of departments and into a central admin team. If SMT’s planned job cuts go ahead, the chaos on campus will become much worse and student experience will inevitably suffer. In addition, the threatened redundancies in academic departments risk courses being cut and will undermine the teaching of critical humanities subjects.
What will happen if my lecturers go on strike?
Any industrial action (whether strike or other forms of action) will only happen if SMT refuses to move towards GUCU’s demands for no compulsory redundancies, transparency over the College’s finances and an alternative plan to reduce the College’s financial deficit. If there is industrial action, classes may be cancelled and marking and other forms of assessment may cease. But lecturers, who will lose pay if they take industrial action, will want to get back to teaching and marking and GUCU will continue to negotiate with management throughout any industrial action to try and reach a resolution that will end the dispute.
While the target of any industrial action is SMT, whose plans for job cuts have produced this dispute, there will also be impacts on students. The pandemic and previous industrial disputes over the last few years have been extremely stressful for both staff and students, and we need to support one another if there is industrial action.
The decision to take strike action is not one taken lightly, but without this action things are likely to get even worse for current and future students. Staff and students are organising departmental support pods to make sure students are not left unsupported during a strike. You can get involved in shaping this work by signing up here. While the normal functioning of the university is disrupted by strike action, this does not mean we stop learning and teaching! There is a lot to be learned by participating in an action like this.
What is a picket?
While on strike, staff, along with student and community supporters, form a picket line at entrances to the university.
A picket line is literally a line of people holding signs, handing out pamphlets and encouraging people not to enter the workplace – in this case the university.
It is also a place in which every day of the strike, talks, food, performances and other events take place. Students are encouraged to join and invent activities on the picket line and have in the past staged exhibitions, residencies, classes and attended workshops.
The picket line does not block students from entering into the university. Students who need to make use of university services like Wellbeing and the Library, will understandably need to cross the line but the goal of a strike is to stop business as usual so, where services are not required, we welcome you to join us.
What should I do if my class is cancelled?
If you have classes scheduled for strike days, you are welcome to meet as a group to discuss and debate the texts and seminar questions. Please remember that seminars are driven in large part by your ideas and input.
However, if you support the strike or do not want to cross a picket line, you are under no obligation to do so and will not be penalised for non-attendance. Many students are signing the Goldsmiths Community Solidarity pledge not to cross the picket line.
The following areas of campus will not be picketed:
Wellbeing and disability services
Practice studios in MCCS/ PSH
Laurie Grove Baths
Immigration – DTH
Who will mark my coursework/ assessments?
In the event of industrial action, academics or professional services staff who are not taking action (for example, if they are not UCU members) are encouraged not to cover for (that is, take on the work of) colleagues who are taking action. For this reason, it is unlikely that work will be assessed until after the dispute is resolved and industrial action comes to an end. However, if there is industrial action, GUCU will push for changes to assessment policies so that grading takes account of the difficulties students will face due to industrial action. And the sooner SMT makes concessions, the quicker the dispute can be brought to a close and teaching and assessment can continue as normal. The best way to get this to happen is for both staff and students to put pressure on SMT to negotiate meaningfully over GUCU’s demands.
How will these proposed cuts affect the course I’m on directly?
It’s unclear at the moment which courses will be cut or reduced in size as a result of SMT’s planned redundancies (should they go through), but we know that every lecturer in History (bar the head of department) and every lecturer in English (though not Creative Writing) has been told they are at risk of redundancy, so any course within these areas could be impacted. There may also be more job cuts to come, in other departments, given that SMT is seeking £6m of savings on staff costs over two years.
And students across the university will suffer from the cuts to professional services staff, with a whole range of student facing services hit. In this Twitter thread, academics in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies explain how the professional services cuts would harm students.
Who will teach and manage the departments if the cuts go ahead?
The cuts proposed by senior management will have a devastating impact on student-facing services across all departments. These cuts are part of a larger plan to centralise administrative and student support work, away from departments. This means less department-based support for students, when we know that departments are students’ first port of call when they need help. The proposed cuts also threaten academic staff who are vital to student learning and also provide pastoral care. In the longer term this means fewer courses, less individual and collective support for students and possibly the merging or closure of entire academic departments.
What can I do to stop this?
Sign the Goldsmiths Community Solidarity student pledge not to cross the picket line in support of the strikes
Fight – Fight management’s redundancy plans by joining the picket line gatherings every day from 8am-1pm Nov 23rd-Dec 13th, outside the main entrance to RHB
Complain – Write to email@example.com, copying in firstname.lastname@example.org and Dinah Caine (email@example.com), chair of Goldsmiths Governing Council. Let them know how outraged you are at their plans and what these cuts would mean for you.
Post – On social media using the hashtags #NoJobCuts and #OpenTheBooks
Switch your bank account from Lloyds and NatWest and tell you’re doing that because you don’t support them calling for job cuts at Goldsmiths – tell them by email and on social media (@Lloydsbank and @NatWestGroup on Twitter)
See also this brilliant thread from Goldsmiths Rent Strike on how students can support the workers
Is there a national trade union dispute or just a local one at Goldsmiths?
At a national level, members of the University and College union (UCU) across the country are voting on whether to take industrial action over two issues: 1) attacks on lecturers’ pensions, 2) the “Four Fights”: pay, workload, casualisation and equalities. The UK university bosses organisation UUK wants to cut lecturers’ pensions by an average of 35% (following big cuts already since 2011). Lecturers’ pay has also fallen in real terms by 20% since 2009, there are 75,000 academic staff on insecure (temporary) contracts in the UK, with women and academics of colour suffering much worse pay and conditions. On top of this, workloads have grown and the pandemic has made things much worse. Academics are at breaking point. Watch this video for a summary of the key issues, and visit this page of the UCU website for links to more detailed info.
On top of the national dispute, lecturers are also in dispute with senior management at Goldsmiths over the threat of mass job cuts (see above for more information).