This article contains the following information:
What is the UCU?
The University and College Union (UCU) is a trade union for university staff. They represent over 120,000 academics, lecturers, instructors, researchers, administrators, professional staff and postgraduate research students across universities and colleges in the UK.
Most universities have their own local UCU branch that represents the staff working at their respective universities. Each local branch is a member of the national UCU office, where they vote on policies and motions such as strike action.
Learn more about the local Goldsmiths UCU branch here.
What is happening, and when?
Earlier this month, the UCU ballotted at a national level for industrial action. Over 150 universities across the UK will strike for three days this term over pay, working conditions and pensions.
The three days of strike action is planned for the following dates this November:
Thursday 24 Nov
Friday 25 Nov
Wednesday 30 Nov
Staff will also begin Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) from Wednesday 23 November.
What is the difference between Strike Action, and Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)?
Both strike action and ASOS are forms of industrial action. They put pressure on employers in order to call for change.
During strike action (i.e. Thursday 24th Nov, Friday 25th Nov, Wednesday 30th Nov), staff will walk out. Classes and assessments are likely to be cancelled, and most College functions are likely to shut down. You may want to check ahead of time with your tutors and other College services.
The SU will still be running, and SU spaces will be open as usual.
During ASOS (i.e. from Wednesday 23 November), staff can take action such as:
working to contract
not covering for absent colleagues
not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
not undertaking any voluntary activities
a marking and assessment boycott, where staff temporarily not publish marks and feedback for assignments
Why is this happening?
This round of industrial action comes after UCU members overwhelmingly voted 'yes' last month in two historic national ballots over issues of pay, working conditions and pension cuts. According to the UCU, “employers imposed a pay rise worth just 3% this year following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. A third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract” (UCU, 2022).
Deteriorating working conditions for staff have and are continuing to affect students. Staff do not have the capacity to deliver the teaching students deserve and are promised. At Goldsmiths, the 2021/22 round of industrial action locally and nationally pushed back against unfair working conditions, redundancies and centralisation of administrative services by the Goldsmiths Senior Management Team (SMT) as part of their Recovery Plan. While SMT eventually committed to no further redundancies, centralisation of student-facing administration was still put through, including an increase in the membership of SMT. Students ended up experiencing the brunt of the centralisation which saw the Student Centre dissolve and department business administrators dismissed for a new centralised school-based hub structure. Where each department would previously have handled their own administration, such as processing of extenuating circumstances and grades, students now have to direct their requests and issues to a centralised school hub and await processing by the registry.
The large number of emails and under-resourced staff have resulted in extensive delays and wait times with extremely critical impact, as we have seen over last summer, where many students were unable to graduate on time, receive their student finance/funding, enrol or progress. The precarity continues as many students are still waiting for their appeals to be processed, to be enrolled, or to hear back on their emails or complaints. These delays on the new centralised official admin processes result in a large number of anonymous mailboxes and a lack of response. Students turn to their tutors, staff in their department as well as the SU for support and personal contact, as official procedures do not accord them the answers they need or respect they deserve. However, resources and power have been taken away from department staff by the SMT’s financial-first narrative. This means staff are severely overworked, underpaid, and left to pick up the pieces of an incompetent structure that does not serve its purpose, all while College Management continue to receive large amounts of salaries.
We have seen and experienced how staff working conditions directly influence and impact students’ learning conditions. Students and staff are both put in precarious positions. Goldsmiths SU stands in solidarity with striking staff.
What can I do if I need support?
We understand that strikes disrupt student life and routine, and that having to go through this is frustrating. Strikes, on the other hand, are a withdrawal of labour that intend to disrupt the notion that people should be underpaid and overworked. It is unusual to work in an institution where people are replaced by chatbots and automation is prioritised over pastoral care.
As a result, we understand that you may require various types of assistance during this time.
1. College Procedure & Student Support Flowchart
We have designed a flowchart with links to help you navigate which College internal procedure and/or support department you may need to engage with.
Download the flowchart here.
The SU will also provide any updates as they come.
2. Community on the Picket Line
There will also be strike talks and conversation spaces on the picket line where you can find community and engage in conversations with others going through similar experiences. More details to come from Goldsmiths UCU.
View the Picket Schedule here.
3. Disruption Diary
After the last strike, we learned that for students to have a better chance of receiving compensation, they need to document everything they have missed and all experiences of disruption - to then complain after the strike ends to stand the strongest chance.
Download the Disruption Diary template here.
Make sure you keep copies of any associated evidence or cost, such as train tickets, work shift timetables, etc. Make a copy of this template and fill it out in as much detail as possible.
What can I do to show solidarity?
Student solidarity with the strikes is underestimated by senior management as their communications would suggest a hope to pit students against staff who are striking for the future of their education. You can show solidarity by:
Engaging with the strike action by attending and creating spaces of alternative learning both on the picket line and beyond
Writing to SMT and Council about the experiences
Use all avenues of appeals and complaints available
An important note to assert is that using all the avenues of complaint and appeals do not undermine the strike but instead support it in making a big impact on the college. As we have seen with the Strike Assessment Scheme last year, it hastened the deal agreed between GUCU and the university.
Goldsmiths UCU have written their own comms to students you can read here: https://goldsmithsucu.org/2022/11/16/info-for-students-on-ucu-industrial-action/
University and College Union (UCU) (2022). Biggest ever university strikes set to hit UK campuses over pay, conditions & pensions. [online] www.ucu.org.uk. Available at: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12609/Biggest-ever-university-strikes-set-to-hit-UK-campuses-over-pay-conditions--pensions [Accessed 15 Nov. 2022].