Citing Low Pay, Staffers at Goldsmiths, the Courtauld, and 60 Other Art Schools in the UK Are Staging a Massive Strike

Faculty are fighting against changes in pensions, and issues of pay, equality, and workload.

Image Courtesy UCL UCU comms.

Faculty at some of the most globally-renowned art schools in the United Kingdom—including Goldsmiths College, the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of the Arts London, Slade School of Fine Art, and Glasgow School of Art—are participating in a collective strike this week. The walk-outs, which began Monday and are planned to continue through December 4, are being overseen by the University and College Union (UCU) as part of a broader effort taken up by 60 universities across the country.

The eight-day strikes were spurred by disputes over changes to pensions, and issues of pay, equality, casualization, and workloads. For example, an October 2019 study by the University and Colleges Employer Association found that pay for higher education staff has dropped by a minimum of 17% since 2009.

Additionally, throughout this period, union members will begin what the UCU calls “action short of a strike,” meaning that they will work strictly to contract; refrain from covering for absent colleagues; and refuse to reschedule lectures missed during the strikes. 

While all 60 universities are united in action on the shared issues, each school inevitably comes with its own individual concerns. Speaking with Artnet News, Sean Wallis, the representative for the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London, expressed the staff’s problem with insecure contract arrangements. He cited contracts offered through agencies, which allows the university to deem various faculty members as being self-employed. “The effect of this is to create a kind of isolation as well as uncertainty,” he said.

Strikers outside of UCL/The Slide School of Fine Art. Image Courtesy UCL UCU comms.

Wallis also elaborated on the energy of the strikers on the ground, describing their mood as “determined,” and estimating that there are more participants out on the picket lines than in previous strikes, including that of 2018. “The strike can be resolved because many of these issues are fixable: even without a significant injection of cash one can offer proper contracts of employment,” he concluded.

Academic faculty at the Courtauld are voicing distress over the school’s current renovation project, dubbed “Courtauld Connects,” the first phase of which comes with a £50 million ($64,432,750) price tag. The institution declined to comment to Artnet News, but has released a general statement, insisting upon Courtauld Connect’s role as “an important investment in our future.” Yet striking staffers are pushing back, telling The Art Newspaper that “the current inequalities in pay, especially for teachers on precarious contracts, are particularly difficult to endure” in light of the pricey refurbishment. 

UCU university branch representatives at Goldsmiths and the Courtauld were not immediately available for comment due to active participation on the picket lines, but automated email responses voiced strong support for the strikes. In addition to noting that she is “striking in solidarity” for “fairer pensions, pay, and conditions,” the Courtauld’s Joanna Woodall included a link to the Twitter account of philosophy scholar Amia Srinivasan, who is detailing the strikes.

Perhaps more bluntly, the automatic message reply of Marian Carty of Goldsmiths College includes no overt reference to the strikes, but simply quotes Albert Camus: “The dignity of man is not in triumph but in revolt.”

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