As the start of the strike comes closer, we wanted to share some reflections and thoughts with you.
Goldsmiths UCU is the union representing most of the academic staff and many of the administrative staff that you see and speak to on a daily basis at Goldsmiths. We are seminar leaders, your practice tutors, and your lecturers. Some of us work behind the scenes in departmental offices, doing our best to smooth out administrative problems and making sure programs are running.
This year, Goldsmiths’ senior management team has signed an agreement with the banks Lloyds and Natwest. Part of this agreement is to make severe cuts to staffing, and senior management has announced they will be making 52 people redundant this year, with a further two million pounds of cuts next year. Concretely, senior management is proposing to make 32 members of administrative staff redundant across all departments, with the remainder being asked to compete for a small number of jobs and take on extra work. Senior management is also threatening the jobs of 20 academic staff across the departments of English & Creative Writing and History, threatening the continued survival of these two departments. Staff and students in these departments have worked hard to build communities of critical enquiry and learning that could be gone in the next year if we do not fight back.
This is taking place in a situation where we are already severely understaffed; departmental administrations have already faced severe cuts and are struggling to keep their services running, while many teaching staff are on short-term, insecure contracts, often working several jobs to stay afloat. Nevertheless, we have kept our work going; as educators, we are passionate about education and willing to work hard under the most difficult circumstances to build a community of learning and mutual support that we can be proud of.
This is why we cannot accept 52 of us being made redundant. We have all worked too hard to let our colleagues be put out of their jobs in this way. This is part of our community, and we won’t let them face this threat alone.
As unfair as these cuts are, there is even more at stake here than these jobs. Institutions like Goldsmiths, with our emphasis on critical thought, education, social work, and artistic practice, have been under attack by the government for many years. This takes the form of hostile legislation, educational policy that undermines the work we do, and attacks in the media on the value of our degrees. Sadly, we have a senior management that often enforces, rather than challenges, these policies. At the heart of the struggle here at Goldsmiths is the question of who education is for, what education can and should be, and how it is organised. Banks should not have any say in what gets taught in universities, or how it is taught, in the interest of short-term profitability. For a university to be a community of learning, staff and students need to determine the direction of the university together. If our senior management and their banking “partners” succeed in making these cuts, it will have serious consequences not only for our university but for higher education as a whole.
Since senior management announced their plans, UCU has been in continuous meetings with them. We have pointed out to them that these cuts will not address the financial problems Goldsmiths has. We have pointed out that making such deep and widespread cuts in such a short space of time will have disastrous effects on our ability to function as a university, and will make students’ lives much more difficult in an already difficult time. We have pointed out that they should be working with staff, building on their expertise and commitment, to find solutions, instead of hiring external consultants and getting rid of student-facing staff. However, senior management has refused to listen. Even as one member of senior management after another has quit in the last months, they insist on pressing ahead with this disastrous plan. We have been left with no choice but to strike.
This is not a decision we take lightly, and we know that it is a big sacrifice for all of our students who have worked so hard to be here. However, it is the only thing that has worked in the past to get management into meaningful negotiations. Classes and tutorials will be cancelled and the normal business of the university will cease, but that doesn’t mean learning stops. We will be present on campus every day and we invite all of you to come along and join picket lines and protests over the coming weeks. We are working with students to present a program of teach-outs (alternative learning spaces) as well. These redundancies and restructures are a major challenge for the whole Goldsmiths community, but we are confident that by sticking together, we can collectively defend our working and learning conditions.