Tag Archive: UCU

I saw the youtube footage of Jody McIntyre at the London protests.  There was a little shock, only because Jody was wheelchair-bound, the sight of able-bodied protesters being beaten in this country does not surprise me.  I saw the subsequent interview with Ben Brown on the BBC.  There was a little shock,  only because this was a direct interview, I have seen Ben Brown give his report at Westminster bridge and it was clear then that he is “establishment-embedded” to hear a mass media correspondent in this country get the facts wrong and have no intention of asking genuine questions does not surprise me.  In fact what little came out of the interview of any succour was the fact that Jody McIntyre far from being a cowed debilitated witness came across as strong and committed and made Brown look dogmatic and petulant.

At this point I have to stop and think though.  Why does it not surprise me?  It does not surprise me because it is now so commonplace, I have become anaesthetised to such behaviour, to such injustice.  Yet, this does not make each of these incidents any less wrong than when I saw such things for the first time, just that I am no longer seeing it with the same naivety-crumbling shock but through the eyes of a middle-aged man who has seen this and sadly far worse many times before.  We must be very careful here for when we start to accept such attacks we are already down the road to complete ambivalence and dare I say it, toleration, if we lose our outrage there is little to stop atrocity.  To become used to the violence, to the infringement of civil liberties and human rights is to presume that “this is the way things are” as if therefore it cannot be changed.  Were that to be the case a great many repressive regimes would still remain in power.  These regimes function by the very normalisation of the violence coupled with the presumption that if you behave yourself, if you do not represent a threat then you will be ok.  The police attack on Jody McIntyre is a rare slip-up that reveals the more sinister underbelly and under that fleece of “new conservatism” there lurks a beast we are all too familiar with.

What Jody McIntyre’s case illustrates is the complacency and arrogance of the establishment over recent times, they believe they have won, they believe the spirit is broken and that it is now time to mop up a few dirty stragglers and because of this they are making mistakes.  They have attempted to portray the demonstrators as thugs, as organised hooligans, they have tried to focus upon the damage to property and the demonstration meeting with the royal car in order to obfuscate the issues and yet still people protest and still people are not prepared to put up with it.  They are not going to rest here, the ‘powers that be,’ water cannons may come, the cherry-picking of “ringleaders” certainly will and the stigmatisation of those who take part throughout the rest of their lives has long since been a feature of this country’s way of doing things.  If you attend then you should be aware that they know you have attended.  If you join up with organisations against the system do not expect the system to let you back in later.

Do not presume they hold all the cards.  The reason they want to sort the students out now is because they expect public sector workers to take to the streets in protest against the massive cuts in the NHS, the information about which is seeping out of the dam of disaster capitalism, to risk an active united front of union workers, students and the general public is something they are very afraid of indeed, hence the desire to compartmentalise each individual section of the cuts to be dealt with in turn.  The vote should have seen this off people should have returned home embittered but defeated, this is the English working classes, the MPs aren’t supposed to be scared of them, after all they’ve beaten them before and “we’re not going to have another miner’s strike again.”  This much is true, centralised, mobilised trades union movements are not what they used to be but the loss of central co-ordination also brings with it the loss of central power, the movement now is of people in much smaller groups, more difficult to control but also for the establishment to infiltrate, the weapons of this struggle on their side will be the same, police brutality, zero tolerance in the courts, repression on a grand scale, but we have seen this before this does not defeat people it makes them come stronger and this time we have more modern weapons, ones that if used properly will hit them genuinely where it hurts.  People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people as Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta.  It is time to remind them why they should be afraid, very afraid.

Song Of The Day ~ The Smiths – Panic

Tories Of Millbank

(To the tune of U2’s Angel Of Harlem)

It was a cold yet bright November day
12 noon start, Horseguards Parade
Banners reading “Fuck the Fees”
Education brought to its knees
by the Tories

Parliament Sq and a big red bus
today this city belongs to us
not the Tories

Anger, this rage won’t let me go
such bile…for the Tories of Millbank

Tate Britain on our route
but first we pass the faceless suits
we got anarchists and a red/black flag
Sally says we have to resist the Tories

Aaron Porter got shallow eyes
we see the truth behind his lies

Anger, this rage won’t let me go
such bile…for the Tories of Millbank
Tories of Millbank

They’ll steal your education, and then your soul
Yeah yeah, yeah yeah
yeah yeah, right now

Blue lights on the avenue
riot police are coming through
fire extinguisher, flooded stair
how many really got in there
kettled you, lost liberty
up on a charge with 43
red flares exploding in the street
strike fear into the blue elite
Tory in a Lib-Dem tie
Betrayal, pack of lies
You never looked like an angel
Nick Clegg, another Tory of Millbank

Tories, Tories of Millbank

Song Of The Day ~ U2 – Angel Of Harlem

Picture 2
There are clearly some who still cling to the belief that it should be possible to sit down with the university senior management over a cup of tea and a scone and have a nice reasoned discussion about why they should not make staff redundant, why they should pay an acceptable wage and consider spending money on keeping the quality of education paramount and not on the external look of the campus and the complete wedding of education to enterprise.  Now this might all be very convivial and perhaps might have worked say 50 years ago, though that is questionable, but I remain aghast that there are those naive enough to believe that management will listen to this approach at all now.  Education is no longer managed by a cliquey group of senior professorial men, it is run by a different clique of ex-corporate men and the odd woman of the same ilk who want to bring the efficiency they feel they presided over in the private sector and use it to corporatise the public sector.

I am confident that most people in educational institutions both academic and non-academic staff take the job more seriously than their private sector counterparts and value a position that allows them to work for what they see as the greater good and therefore the students as very much part of that.  When it comes to any thought of industrial action the academics and academic-related union UCU members are extremely reluctant to do anything that might have a denigrating effect on the quality of the education of their students and this is voiced in both public and private time and again.  There is never any action taken where it is the primary intent to use the students as pawns but there is a very pertinent question of what action can be taken to act as leverage over what is becoming an increasingly dogmatic and repressive management in UCEA, the employers mouthpiece, who very often do not represent the views of all the universities they are supposed to but rather than more powerful ones?

Any action the UCU takes is likely to cause some disruption, that is kind of the point of industrial action, but the action itself is merely the means and not the ends, it is ideally a final card to play in negotiating a settlement in a dispute to voice the opinion that there are certain principles one is not prepared to compromise on.  One may also choose to see the long-term goals of staff who do care very much about the university and therefore many generations of students as being perhaps a little more important than the views of one set of students alone.  It is an uncomfortable trade-off but one that has to be made in struggles across the globe and history, the needs of the many do generally by default outweigh the needs of the few.  Let us not forget that a great many of the staff in academic institutions have seen students and senior management come and go for decades and will continue to do so.  Furthermore although one might expect any current crop of students to be opposed to anything that they feel hinders them the UCU dispute in 2006 had the support of the national NUS just as the UCU had strongly supported the NUS in opposing tuition fees.  Locally things are often more barbed, lecturers being subjected to abuse by their students, or being pleaded with to break the strike so as not to impact their studies.  Local NUS president’s have even been known to issue their own personally subjective viewpoints expressing sentiments such as that the action might mean a student misses the one key lecture that results in him getting a 2.2 rather than a 2.1.

Students at the moment seem to have forgotten exactly what it is they come here for.  If it is for a place on a graduate recruitment scheme, ie as the tick box that enables them to get the job they think they want then institutions might just as well pack up and go home and leave it to the fast-track degree specialists and online services which can do this job better.  Universities are about education, they are not about vocational training schemes and if we as a society forget that then we are doing our students a far worse disservice than any strike action for we are setting them up for a wave of mid-life crises the like of which this country has never seen.  No-one is currently talking about withholding student’s education in the UCU action, students and/or their parents have paid for an education and they have received this, what is in question is whether or not they will receive on time the validation that they have understood this education, this very much makes each individual’s reasons for being here quite clear and in the open.  Lectures are often crucial but they are to be given in the context of students who are interested in the subject and reading up on it.  If the reading is done correctly and diligently then frequently the lecture is merely a handy way to see that information analysed and disseminated.

There is, as everyone knows, a turbulent financial climate at the moment however this has led to a large increase in the number of student applicants leading to estimates that nearly 30,000 will be turned down due to there not being enough places available.  It is therefore madness for universities now to be further lessening places by closing departments across the board and it is essential that the employers and the government ensure that this does not happen.

Better pay for university staff across the entire sector will benefit the students in a number of ways:  Fair remuneration for the job maintains morale, one cannot pay the rent and the bills purely on the desire to do a good job within the sector.  It also means that the university can recruit the best people to do the job without the salary being seen as a hindrance to employment.  Conversely the lack of fair salaries will lead to a great many leaving the sector entirely and their expertise and continuity will be lost.  This cannot be good for students or the colleagues left behind who will have to take on a much greater workload.  In an age when other provisions such as pensions that might have been seen as offsetting the salary gap are under threat it becomes all the more important that the package in the here and now is commensurate with the work staff are doing.  It is easier for those on high academic grades to feel that they are already paid a very comfortable wage but one must not forget that a great many colleagues are not as lucky not just the lower-paid UCU members but the large number of members of other unions such as Unison and Unite.  Joining a union is ensuring justice for all not just top-slicing for the few.

Finally there is the issue of loyalty, being a member of a union is not just about what you can get the union to do for you, it is not just an insurance service for when the shit may hit the fan in an individual’s professional circumstances.  Union activity is about collective action and bargaining, knowing that it is not only right but also more efficient for people to ally together to safeguard the jobs and conditions of their comrades.  No-one complains when pay rises are achieved or conditions safeguarded as a result of union action and negotiation, sometimes it is necessary to give something back and give the union the support that gives them a strong position to take to the table.  Not to do so undermines the union not only now but for a long-time in the future, weakness will always be capitalised on because the aftermath of disunity will herald a wave of attempts to erode rights that have been hard-fought by past colleagues.

I have my reservations about a strike, I have grave ones about the management of the media battle based on past experience and I am concerned that there appears to have been no serious thought given as to what the alternative will be in the event of a ‘no’ vote.  Nonetheless I feel that the threat of industrial action to maintain pay, conditions and the jobs of employees now and in the future is worth voting ‘yes’ for and I believe it would be grossly irresponsible to vote any other way.

Song Of The Day ~ Les Gars – Nice Way To See Things