Goldsmiths UCU votes for dispute with college and marking boycott comes to an end

A full month after ALs and GTTs from Art, MCCS and the Anthropology department first announced their wildcat marking boycott, the Goldsmiths UCU branch has unanimously supported a motion to call a dispute with the institution. The dispute relates to equality issues surrounding measures introduced by senior management to ‘control staff costs’ since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in early March 2020. These include the blanket non-renewal of AL and GTT contracts and the non-renewal of FTC contracts unless approved by SMT. The branch calls on Goldsmiths to conduct Equalities Impact Assessments (EIAs) for all staff that will be made redundant or will have lost their jobs due to cost-cutting measures brought in since March. They also resolved that senior management must rescind any or all of those policies that demonstrate a potential to be discriminatory, such as contract non-renewals specifically targeting fixed term contracted staff. Should Goldsmiths refuse by July 10, 2020 to present the EIAs and draft EIAs in all the areas listed by July 10, Goldsmiths UCU will ballot its members for industrial action.

In light of the successful passing of this motion, and also due to Heads of Departments ramping up the pressure and some frankly contemptible intimidation tactics from senior colleagues, including private phone-calls along with threats of picket crossing, ALs and FTCs in MCCS and Anthropology will submit their marks this evening. Boycotters of the Art department, who initiated the action, continue to withhold their grades, though the department is currently working on these marks being covered. This decision has not been taken lightly and comes after long, considered and collective discussions with all staff members involved in the action. After a month of courageous struggle, we now move forward to a new phase.

There are lessons to be learned and we have not achieved all of our demands and we have not rid ourselves of the real threat of the mass job losses which hangs over our heads. We will continue to defend every worker under threat by contract non-renewals, but as this phase of our campaign comes to an end, here is a non-exhaustive list of positive outcomes of our action:

– This action has provided a beacon of hope at a time when there has been little to no national campaign to actively resist mass layoffs of casualised academics across the sector.

– We have taken an unofficial action that lasted a month without any legal disciplinary repercussions. All boycotters will be paid in full for handing over grades.

– Payment of all additional hours worked by ALs and GTTs during the lockdown has been honoured.

– We have received positive commitments in writing from Head of Departments regarding the renewal of contracts of ALs and GTTs:

“we have every reason to believe that there will be contracts on offer, for each of the kinds of ALs currently employed in the department (including those GTTs who have time left on their three-year appointment).”

‘Graduate Trainee Tutors who very likely include our PhD students or those who have recently been awarded their PhD and who teach on particular modules and programmes as a ‘career development opportunity’ … should ordinarily have contracts for periods within the academic year … And we should also be very clear that Goldsmiths as a research university has a responsibility to contribute to the future of the sector, training and supporting researchers and teachers, but also a deep responsibility to support our PhD students in their ambitions for their careers as researchers and teachers.”

“we are very confident that we will be able to offer a large number of AL contracts in September.”

– MCCS has agreed to extend 10 AL contracts by 10 hours for the Summer in MCCS to provide additional support/tutorials for undergraduates over July/August. A similar offer has been made to ALs/GTTs in the Visual Cultures Department. 

– Agreement to redundancy pay for staff working over 2 years.

– Agreement to review Fixed Term Contracts which are due to end within the next couple of months involving meaningful consultation with individuals concerned. 

– A schedule of relevant Equality Impact Assessments scheduled to be undertaken and to be provided to GUCU by the end of July 2020.

– Agreement to review how FTC’s are managed within the College to be undertaken. 

– Permanent lecturers in Art and MCCS refused to cover work of boycotters on health and safety grounds through their union branch.

– Hundreds of casual workers have mobilised to take control of this campaign autonomously but in close collaboration with their trade union and invest themselves in this struggle for more than a month. This includes those who were directly involved in the boycott and those supporting the action. This is a crucial step for developing long term organisational infrastructure and trust relations for a sustainable and committed political program centring precarity. In view of J4W’s longer term project, this action moves us closer to forging an axis of solidarity across precarious workers in the university including casualised academics, facilities workers and other contractually insecure staff.  

– Several statements of support published, including amazing support from permanent colleagues and students in Art which drew wider attention to the institutional racism prevalent in the department and university more broadly. 

– Media coverage – Guardian, Tribune, The Art Newspaper, THE, New Statesman, Art Monthly, Counterfire 

– National and international conversations – we spoke with UCU comrades from across the country, and numerous branches passed motions in support of our campaign. We participated in calls with the COLA Agitation Committee from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) campaign and activists from New Delhi, New York and Edinburgh with comrades from Angry Workers.

– Virtual pickets: We carried out a very effective social media campaign that significantly raised the profile of the boycott. Highlights included solidarity actions by Forensic Architecture statements and the Politics dept

– We secured a meeting with SMT, which we thought they’d never grant us, and AL/FTC reps were able to raise many of the intersecting issues underpinning casualised work in the university and directly put forward their demands to management.  

– Established a mutual aid hardship fund for those impacted by cuts and involved in the action at Goldsmiths. The fund raised over £10,000 with support from colleagues and allies at Goldsmiths and across the UK. 

– The union has been compelled to put pressure on HoDs, adopt our demands, force SMT to meet us; now GUCU has unanimously passed a motion to enter into dispute on the basis of our campaign.  

– We have put the issue of casualisation at the centre of GUCU’s agenda.


As today marks 2 years exactly from when the Justice For Cleaners campaign started, we say with the confidence of experience, the struggle continues.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s