Royal Society of Arts Boycott sees major speakers drop out of events

Mon, Feb 12, 2024, 9:25 AM
  • The staff union at the Royal Society of Arts are set to call a public boycott of the organisation today as an escalation of their ongoing pay dispute
  • Figures such as Yanis Varoufakis, Chris Packham, and Deborah Frances-White have all pulled out of RSA hosted events in support of staff
  • Trade unions supporting the boycott include UCU’s London Region and individual branches, the PCS Culture Group, and Equity’s National Council
  • Politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn MP and Zack Polanski are pledging to boycott the organisation until the industrial dispute is resolved

Monday 12 February: Today, staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) represented by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are announcing a public boycott of the organisation, asking members of the public, Fellows of the RSA, politicians and universities to not attend RSA events or participate in research with the RSA until their ongoing industrial dispute is resolved.

The call for a boycott is the latest escalation of RSA staff’s campaign for a pay rise. In September 2023, union members won a ballot to strike that saw the first strike action at the organisation in its 270 year history.

So far, Yanis Varoufakis, Chris Packham, Deborah Frances-White, and Professor Brené Brown have withdrawn from upcoming events being hosted by or at the RSA, with Packham withdrawing as a keynote speaker at the organisation’s flagship Fellow’s Festival.

Politicians and trade unionists have pledged support for the boycott, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, Ian Byrne MP, and deputy leader of the Green Party Zack Polanski, as well as support from branches across the University and Colleges Union (UCU), the Public and Commercial Services Union’s (PCS) Culture Group, and the British Actor’s Equity Association (Equity).

Amanda Ibbett, an IWGB member and veteran member of staff at the RSA, says, “Ten years ago, I joined an organisation that felt like home. Now, the RSA has become a den of wolves in sheep's clothing. I've seen so many amazing colleagues crushed and broken with it. Now there are an abundance of self-serving policies that gag the staff and undermine our long history of serving society, and a complete democratic deficit. The RSA's leadership lives none of its values - with ‘openness, optimism, rigour, enabling its staff and societal change, and rewarding courage’, all now empty words.”

Zack Polanski, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, says, “I joined striking RSA workers on their first picket line back in December, and wholeheartedly support their campaign. It is clear that there are serious questions about Andy Haldane’s leadership with workers telling me he's left the organisation in a dire state, causing a stain on the organisation's historic and rich reputation. It’s time for management to intervene to put this period behind us, meet the union’s demands, and begin a new, more positive chapter for the RSA.”

Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB, says, “Members of staff are calling for a boycott of the RSA to protect the organisation they believe in from further damage. Andy Haldane’s leadership has been reckless, short-sighted, and at times spiteful, and has caused a vibrant, talented workforce to become demoralised, with huge numbers choosing to leave the organisation because of this. It is encouraging to see Fellows, staff, and public figures taking action demanding immediate and serious change, which should be a stark wake-up call for Haldane to rectify his behaviour.”

For more information, please contact Jake Thomas:


Notes for editors:

  • UCU branches that have formally passed motions in support of the boycott include: All of UCU London Region, as well as Sussex University, University of Manchester, University of Dundee, University of Birmingham, Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths University, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London.

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