Richard Hoggard Building, Goldsmiths | Public domain Richard Hoggard Building, Goldsmiths | Public domain

Restructuring and job cuts are on the agenda, but staff at one London college are determined to strike and campaign to defeat them, explains Feyzi Ismail 

Staff at Goldsmiths, part of the University of London, have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in a fantastic show of opposition to unprecedented cuts. Management recently announced an astonishing 130 full-time equivalent jobs to be cut, which could mean up to a third of the academic workforce. Restructurings are taking place in at least 39 universities, but given the proportions, what is happening at Goldsmiths is off the scale.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted by over 87% to take strike action over this massive programme of job cuts, sending a resounding message to management that staff at Goldsmiths are up for a fight. 

Management’s so-called Transformation Programme is the second attempt at restructuring in the last three years. The last time, they aimed to save £9m, which was supposed to solve the problems at the college. They had promised that Goldsmiths would increase recruitment and be back on track. But now, after a prolonged voluntary severance scheme earlier this year, they are seeking £20m in savings. This reveals staggering levels of management incompetence and disarray. 

The high turnout and vote for action shows the deep anger people feel at the appalling way they have been treated and the dysfunctional way the institution has been run. The emphatic vote to strike comes on top of the fact that Goldsmiths staff have taken high levels of industrial action recently, including a local dispute in 2021 and several rounds of national action. It shows that staff know what the stakes are, and are willing to defend the creative, radical and critical place that Goldsmiths represents. 

Management have no vision and no strategy for how to make Goldsmiths thrive – constantly shifting the blame onto government cuts – and it appears they have no concern about the wellbeing of the staff or students.

Eleven out of 18 departments will be affected, including History, English and Creative Writing – which were the centre of job cuts in the 2021 local dispute – Music, Psychology, Sociology, Theatre and Performance, Visual Cultures and others. This level of job cuts brings into question the very future of the institution. 

Alongside industrial action, staff are organising a process called Reimagining Goldsmiths, to stop the restructure and imagine alternative strategies around governance and finance, teaching and learning and other areas that are essential to the running of the university. But it is also an attempt to get the rest of the higher education sector involved in the fight for Goldsmiths. Over a hundred people came to the first meeting, both staff and students, and countless ideas emerged about how to run the university in a better way. It shows that if Goldsmiths was run on a democratic basis, it would thrive. And this is why it is vital that there is a serious, concerted fight back. 

As well as strikes and other industrial action, plus Reimagining Goldsmiths, members are planning a campaign to boycott the university, and are pushing for the rest of the higher education sector to boycott Goldsmiths. We cannot cooperate with a management that has no investment or interest in the institution. Every UCU member at every university needs to take notice and get behind the fight at Goldsmiths, because if management goes through with these devastating proposals, it will give confidence to managements across universities to carry out mass redundancies. But if we unite to stop them, this could help ignite a process that turns the sector around. 

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Feyzi Ismail

Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU