Protesters outside Goldsmiths University today (all images courtesy of Independent Workers Union of Great Britain)

LONDON — While some people in Britain spent this year’s Valentine’s day eating a “Love Sausage” from Marks & Spencer, others dedicated it campaigning for the rights of outsourced security staff at Goldsmiths University. Around 100 people participated in a “Valentine’s protest,” organized by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB), during which they called for the university to “show some love.”

The protest, which took place between noon and 2 pm, began with a march through the university. The group, which is made up of workers, students, and supporters, then protested outside the office of Goldsmith’s Warden and CEO Patrick Loughrey, asking that he listen to the demands of staff and students to discontinue the university’s contract with the outsourcing company, CIS.

The protesters are asking that Goldsmiths end its contract with the CIS, a company which has supplied the university with its security staff for the last 15 years. They contend that outsourced staff members are not offered the benefits given to in-house staff, including sick pay, improved maternity and paternity leave, and university pensions. They also claim that security staff, most of whom are from BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds, are subject to arbitrary discrimination, such as being denied use of the university’s canteen and car park.

In response, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London, said:

This claim is completely untrue. Our canteens and cafes at Goldsmiths are for everyone to use — we have a very clear open-campus policy to ensure College facilities are available for all. Security staff are also able to use our car parks.

Over 100 activists were in attendance throughout the day

According to the protesters, the separation between outsourced and in-house staff has created a “two-tier system” which is at odds with the university’s current slogan of “One Goldsmiths.” Michael Bukola, Chair of the IWGB’s Security Guards and Receptionists branch, told Hyperallergic:

Goldsmiths claims to be an institution based on equality, diversity and inclusivity — yet, even after the cleaners have been brought back in-house, we’re still being excluded from the “One Goldsmiths” family. We want the university to sit down with us, listen to our demands and bring us back in-house where we belong.

In a statement emailed to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths responded:

The IWGB is not a union formally recognised by Goldsmiths or CIS, the current contract holders for our security provision. Goldsmiths management will however be meeting with UNISON, the recognised union for in-house support staff, to discuss these matters. As with all services, we will review options as we approach the end of the current contract.

Today’s protest

In their press release about the protest IWGB said that, as Goldsmiths University and CIS do not recognize the union, it will be seeking statutory recognition via the Central Arbitration Committee. IWGB represents other outsourced workers such as Uber drivers, Deliveroo couriers, foster care workersgames developers, and others. It is currently leading a campaign to end outsourcing at the University of London and last year launched a boycott of the institution. The Goldsmiths Student Union and the Goldsmiths (UCU)  have passed motions in support of IWGB’s campaign and the demands of the security staff.

Goldsmith’s current contract with CIS is due to expire in approximately a year — on January 31, 2020. The university has stated that CIS, a local company based in the borough of Lewisham in South London, operates in accordance with all statutory requirements in relation to employment terms and conditions. It says that, as well as paying the London Living Wage, the company offers its staff a range of additional benefits and training opportunities.

This protest comes several months after a similar campaign, formally organized by the campaign group Justice for Cleaners surrounding the outsourcing of cleaning staff. Coinciding with the opening of the University’s Centre for Contemporary Art in September 2018, the protesters from Justice for Cleaners held banners with the slogan: “Who Keeps the Cube White?” A couple of weeks after the demonstration, the university announced that its Governing Council had approved plans to bring cleaning provision in-house in order to “harmonise the terms and conditions of cleaners with other Goldsmiths staff.” Whether or not IWGB’s “Valentine’s protest” will meet with similar success remains to be seen.

Naomi Polonsky is a London-based curator, art critic, and translator. She studied at the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art and has experience working at the Hermitage Museum and Tate...