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Michael Rosen, Goldsmiths rally

Michael Rosen, Goldsmiths rally. Photo: John McGrath

The suspensions of Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany by Goldsmiths University has been met with outrage from Goldsmiths staff and students as well as trade unionists and the wider movement, reports John McGrath

An emergency rally organised by Goldsmiths UCU gathered on 13 July on campus outside the Richard Hoggart Building in New Cross, South East London to support the appeals against the redundancies of Goldsmiths staff. A number of politicians, trade unionists, and educators chastised the administration for continued assaults on jobs and conditions including the recent suspensions of the Head and Deputy Head of the Department of Media Communications, and Cultural Studies at the University.

Gholam Khiabany and Des Freedman were notified this week that they have been removed from their roles as a result of an email that they sent to some students informing them of the consequences for graduation and progression of UCU’s ongoing “action short of a strike”. The informative emails were a step too far for management who took the opportunity to target the left-wing professors for the administration’s own failures in securing a more functional experience for students and staff. The incident highlights the growing authoritative tendencies in higher education and the fragility of the Warden who apparently is more reflexive to business consultants and not the institution she was hired to serve.

“I’m here in absolute solidarity,” MP John McDonnell told the demonstrators after introducing himself as ‘the Parliamentary Wing of Goldsmiths UCU’ as a result of his reoccurring appearances on the picket line at the University this past year.

“When I talk about Goldsmiths and what you’ve been having to endure, I always remind people that the reputation of this University, the reputation of this cause, the reputation of Goldsmiths - which is so high, that attracts so many students that want to come here - is as a result of the absolute dedication and professionalism and commitment and heart of the staff themselves. And that’s why I find it so angry-making when I see people like Des and Gholam, who I’ve known over the years, been effectively victimised for their… what for? Freedom of speech! Telling the Truth! Informing their students of the reality of what they’re facing at the moment.”

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Photo: John McGrath

Local New Cross Gate Councillor Liam Shirvastava recalled his time as a student of Gholam and Des at Goldsmiths. “I thought, 'wow, the staff and everyone is so dedicated'. And 'isn’t it such a radical and progressive place'. And that is something this management trades on: it likes to cloak itself in the language of 'representation' and all of this stuff, but it’s obviously very superficial. The attack on Des and Gholam is nothing short of authoritarianism. It’s absolutely egregious, disgusting, and shameful. They must be reinstated immediately!”

Others speakers included author Michael Rosen, Dr. Deepa Govindarjan Driver, John Hendy QC, and a number of supporting trade unionists who linked the struggle of the teaching staff with other planned redundancies and casualization across different industries. As Unjum Mirza of Aslef put it, “Different industries, exactly the same words. In our industry, as in yours, the words are ‘modernisation’, the words are ‘workplace reform’, the words are ‘productivity’, the words are ‘flexibility’, the words are ‘efficiency’. These mean ‘job cuts’, these mean ‘cuts to our terms and conditions’, these mean ‘attacks on our pensions’. Mirza spoke about the rail strikes and the linking of industrial actions across industries for maximal effect.

The General Secretary of UCU, Jo Grady, told the demonstrators that she was confident that “For the first time in a very, very long time, every single UCU branch in the country will be taking industrial action together this autumn and winter.” This energised the crowd who have been coming to rallies like the one held on Wednesday for months. “As you can imagine I travel around the country and there are a lot of vice chancellors trying a bit of what’s going on at Goldsmith’s at the minute. You are providing inspiration to countless people that are unfortunately in the same position, but also countless others who are supporting them.”

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Photo: John McGrath

Goldsmiths must immediately overturn the unfair suspensions of Khiabany and Freedman. Staff, students, trade unionists and the movement are determined to stand with them. An open letter defending the pair has already collected over 2,000 signatures from academics internationally, you can add your name to it here.

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