Goldsmiths staff are striking for the university’s future. Counterfire members report on a battle that is crucial for the whole sector

Over 100 staff and students attended a lively rally at Goldsmiths, University of London on the second day of the 14 days of strike action called by Goldsmiths UCU against more than 130 planned redundancies. 

The union has been undertaking a marking and assessment boycott since 19 April. Members are being supported by not one but two student occupations on campus – the first, Students against the Transformation Programme – is specifically devoted to protesting the job cuts while the second, Goldsmiths4Palestine, is unequivocal in its support for the staff union’s campaign of resistance. 

The rally was opened by Goldsmiths professor and the former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen. ‘We’re in the eye of the storm’, he argued. Goldsmiths staff are targets both of a wider assault on arts and humanities which, if not stopped, will see arts education continue only for elites and attacks by a pernicious management. ‘We have the right to strike to defend our jobs and our working conditions’ he insisted. 

A staff representative on Council, the governing body, spoke of the tension between the ‘Hunger Games’ style of the jobs assault and the ‘creative and nourishing activities of staff and students’. She highlighted the ongoing occupations as examples of ‘what is valuable about this institution’ and the need to send a strong message to management that if they won’t speak meaningfully to staff, then ‘they can go and restructure somewhere else. We don’t need them. Students come to Goldsmiths not because of the state of the carpets but for great programmes and committed, energetic staff’. 

A representative from Goldsmiths4Palestine sent solidarity from the students, now in their 21st day of their third occupation this year. ‘While our demands may seem different, there’s an undeniable link between the two causes because of the atmosphere in which there’s always money for war but not for education.’ The job is ‘to imagine another Goldsmiths’. 

The speaker from Students against the Transformation Programme spoke of their 21-day occupation of the Deptford Town Hall Council Chamber and their success in pressing for a vote of no confidence in the warden of Goldsmiths which led to a 99% vote against management

Further speakers from University of the Arts UCU and Black Lives Matter UK offered their solidarity and spoke of Goldsmiths UCU as an inspiration to other groups of workers fighting for their jobs and for social justice. 

The strong turnout was evidence of a determination to put barriers in the way of management’s plans which will lead to the redundancy of around 25% of academic staff. While the university claims that the cuts are needed to ensure the financial survival of the institution, union members are quick to point out that huge savings have already been made as a result of a voluntary severance scheme and a jobs freeze.  

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the cuts are neither justifiable nor needed – especially when management are planning to double capital expenditure in the next few years at a time when most other universities are planning to scale back spending on new buildings and infrastructure. 

Goldsmiths is, not for the first time, on the frontline of resistance to the assault on the university sector. Dozens of universities are seen to be in precarious financial circumstances because of the complete failure of current funding models and the chaos of the Tories’ disastrous attempt to build a higher education market. 

Labour’s manifesto is completely vacuous on the topic of universities, promising only that it will ‘work with universities to deliver for students and our economy’. Fuzzy words are not going to support staff in their fight for jobs nor help students deal with rising debt. 

Goldsmiths is a crucial local battle in a war on public education. We’re campaigning on the basis that #ThisIsNotADoneDeal and we urgently need your support. You can donate to the strike fund here, support the academic boycott, and visit the picket lines from 9am every day until 28 June. 

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