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UCU dispute sign

UCU dispute sign. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Goldsmiths UCU members who are victorious after almost four months of industrial action show that when you fight you can win

Goldsmiths UCU has won its current dispute with management. This victory is a testament that concessions from management can be won, even as Higher Education is being decimated by the Tory government. Management had previously threatened up to 120 job cuts and were initially willing only to give a guarantee of no job losses until Easter 2021 – all part of a restructuring plan following the pandemic, which saw hundreds of casualised staff made redundant last summer, and continued threats to jobs.

After almost four months of industrial action, significant concessions have been secured from the College’s management, including a 12-month guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and protection of 95% of the budget for casualised members of staff. Other concessions have also been won, including mechanisms for addressing workload and equalities, and ensuring that information is provided to the union about potential redundancies through monthly financial reports.

The tactic of choice was action short of a strike (ASOS) in the form of a marking boycott, which severely delayed the return of grades and disrupted the timelines for exam boards. Student support was visible, with the action triggering a solidarity strike over tuition fees. There was also huge support for the action over Twitter – the virtual picket in March reached over 2 million people and was trending in London.

In an e-ballot, members voted 72% in favour of accepting the commitments offered by management, with 27% against, ending the boycott. Getting a victory now will help build confidence to prepare for future action: Goldsmiths UCU fully expects that management will announce redundancies in the coming academic year, and will be preparing to ballot for strike action when they are announced.

In the meantime, vital union work and ongoing campaigning will be done to monitor the proposed commitments that management have made, including around reducing the use and improving the terms of casualised contracts, and ensuring Equalities Impact Assessments are implemented. The current dispute is therefore understood as part of a much wider battle – a tactical decision that will help the branch prepare for bigger and potentially more sustained action next year.

The College’s plan for yet another vanity project, the Enterprise Hub, is of particular concern, since the cost of the new building – £6 million – is roughly equivalent to the job cuts being proposed. The branch will be reaching out to management’s ‘partners’ – Lewisham Council and the GLA – to cultivate support for rescinding the project and concentrating on what the university should focus on: teaching and research.

Preparing to resist future management attacks will require sustained work over the summer. The branch will also need to ensure that it brings students with them, through a series of regular communications online, in classrooms and on-campus activities when teaching resumes. The vast majority of students this year have learned through experience the lesson that teaching conditions are also learning conditions, and that this dispute is the result of a neoliberal management putting in place cuts that dovetail with Tory government policies for HE, which include curbing dissent.

Goldsmiths UCU has won this battle but not the war. The end of the current dispute means a transition to a different mode of fighting and, crucially, one that will prepare the branch for the bigger assaults that are coming.

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