Precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths take action to resist unfair and unreasonable cuts to almost 500 staff
The most precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths have today launched an unprecedented defence of their livelihoods, their students and the future of the institution itself. Associate Lecturers (ALs) and Graduate Trainee Teachers (GTTs) will withhold unpaid labour and marking in response to management actions that unfairly attack casualised academic staff and will do lasting damage across Goldsmiths.
Goldsmiths management have decided that the financial uncertainty caused by Covid-19 should fall upon the most precarious teaching staff (mirroring the course taken by senior bureaucrats at other myopic institutions including Exeter, Warwick and Sussex). All this while ALs and GTTs make up approximately 7% of Goldsmiths’ wage bill but do about 40% of the teaching.
These short-sighted and illogical actions from Goldsmiths management include a hiring freeze for the lowest paid teachers (ensuring effective redundancy for up to 472 employees on short-term/termly contracts); withholding of payments for additional hours worked responding to the lockdown; and the refusal by the college to use the government furlough scheme to support precarious staff through this crisis, with no explanation. In pursuing what may be a discriminatory approach to these most casualised staff, a high proportion of whom are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and/or with caring responsibilities, Goldsmiths is taking a reckless and heartless course at odds with its legacy of work in the areas of social justice and the creative arts.
The most precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths have therefore come to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to take collective action to save their jobs, protect their students and shift the disastrous course pursued by Goldsmiths senior management.
This collective action is to withhold unpaid labour through the refusal to return assessment grades until Goldsmiths changes course and negotiates with Associate Lecturers and GTTs. Grades will be withheld until that point. If Goldsmiths refuses to act then they risk further disruption for students, who have already been impacted by strikes and Covid-19 in this academic year. The last thing that precarious teaching staff want to do is impact their students, but it is clear that not acting would do more harm to these students in the long term – ensuring significantly lower numbers of teaching staff next year, enabling Goldsmiths (along with institutions across the sector) to continue its disastrous course of action imperilling the very future of higher education.
This action was launched in one of Goldsmiths’ main departments and is now sweeping through departments across the college. By treating valuable staff in key departments as if they are worthless and expendable, Goldsmiths management have shown a serious error in judgement.
As one graduate teacher put it, ‘it seems like Goldsmiths has shifted their financial concerns onto the most precarious among us. As frontline staff, we are often the only people the students have direct and sustained contact with. This has become clearer through this lockdown, as we have worked tirelessly and over our contracted hours to make sure our students stay connected with the college, providing pastoral care alongside our teaching roles’.
Senior management formally agreed on 21 April to pay the additional hours worked, but most ALs and GTTs are yet to see those payments made. And now they fear this won’t happen at all, with management adding the qualification on 22 May that these hours had to have been agreed in advance with management, which simply wasn’t practical in the scramble to support students through an unprecedented pandemic.
Another Associate Lecturer added: ‘They keep telling us that the finances are unavailable, but we know that these are choices they are making. I earn just over £20 per hour while the head of Goldsmiths (the ‘Warden’) is paid more than £238,000 per year. Why couldn’t the Warden and other senior managers take a temporary pay cut instead of harming the livelihoods and cancelling the careers of the most precarious staff?’ Indeed a 20% wage reduction for the Warden alone would cover the costs of furloughing ALs and GTTs.
Goldsmiths also has the finances for expensive projects like the new gallery and the future £6million enterprise hub. And just last week a new senior manager position (salary £65k) was advertised. Another staff member said: ‘We can’t help but question if less damaging cuts could be made elsewhere. Alongside the Goldsmiths UCU branch, ALs and GTTs have requested an extension to all fixed term contracts that end during the Covid-19 crisis until at least October 31st. This measure could be financed by temporary salary cuts for senior management, with the government furlough scheme used as a cost saving measure if necessary. But instead Goldsmiths have announced a hiring freeze.’
These cuts have much wider implications for the college too. With almost half the student body (45%) from BAME backgrounds, access to BAME staff (a high proportion of whom across Goldsmiths are on precarious contracts) will be radically reduced through this freeze. This move by senior management is an attack on women of colour and black colleagues, and further undermines the demands fought and won in 2019 through the inspiring 137-day occupation by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (demands that were only agreed to by senior management after issuing a possession order to have the students removed at the end of their occupation). It comes too after two successive strikes by UCU asking universities to address this issue, with its ‘Four Fights’ campaign making explicit the race and gender pay gaps apparent across the board, and how this relies specifically on job insecurity for these members of staff.
Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid
On behalf of the Warden, Frances Corner, Goldsmiths Communications team have corrected the early claim we made that the Warden’s salary was £370,000. It is £238,000.