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UCU and Collective HE Action

The UCU is concerned about being able to deliver a 21st Century education to 21st Century students to meet 21st Century needs. 

Because the Union cares for its members and the students for whom we’re responsible, we need to fight the current situation in HE.

New managerialism, the preferred tool of the university bosses, seems to be sweeping the HE sector, and the unions seem to be thrashing about in an effort to combat this assault on the terms and conditions of workers.

 The UCU email lists are full of messages about how each of the universities is developing separate pay scales, not just for lecturers, but for academic-related staff, as well.  There’s also discussion about job roles and job evaluation.  What we can see is a picture on the box that’s nothing like the jigsaw puzzle inside. Ever-increasing workloads, differing pay scales, contestability, private finance, cut-backs, and a fragmented workforce. 

Not only is this an alarming situation, it seems to be one where the workers are powerless. And even some of those on the left seem to be promoting a ‘twin-track’ approach.

 It is clear to me that unless there exists a culture where workers in HE regard themselves as workers, (because the bosses do), then the resistance to the ravages that are facing the sector will be fragmented. 

Common terms and conditions should be primary goals of the UCU.  How else can we ensure quality of provision?   

This is not about self-interest, it is about ensuring that all workers in HE are able to do the job that the students desire.  And the key, here, is students’ desires, not industries’ needs. 

Sure, we need a 21st Century workforce equipped with the social, academic and technical skills and knowledge for society to progress, but that stems from each student’s own curiosity and their desire to find things out. 

A strong UCU fighting for common terms and conditions for its members will help bring that about.  But it can only be done through concerted collective action.

December 21, 2006 Posted by | Collective action | 1 Comment

Juggling and Free Speech? Article for THES Dec 06

Juggling and Free Speech  

My son went to a ‘posh’ university.  You know the kind I mean?  Squares, lawns, masters and all that.  I recall that his graduation was a stunningly hot summer’s day.  And as I looked around at the brightest and the best from around the world, I wondered about the experience for him and reflected on my own, as a mature student, less than ten years previous.

So I asked him what he thought he’d learnt during his three years.  “Juggling”, he said, as he produced three small balls and demonstrated.

Now here am I, a decade or so later, still trying to juggle.

The difference is, I’m trying to juggle concepts of freedom, boycotts and speech.

Someone posed a question on this blogsite asking me about academic boycotts, and what my views are.  I have to confess that I have not found this an easy question to answer.

Does an academic boycott mean a constraint on academic freedom?  Does a constraint on academic freedom lead to an attack on free speech?  Does an attack on free speech result in …  it goes on and on and on.

Is an academic boycott different from a cultural or sporting boycott?

Is a boycott a sanction by another name?

What was it about apartheid that said a sporting boycott was acceptable?  Did the lack of international cricket, rugby and athletics really help bring about the end of the pariah status of South Africa?

And, moreover, is the question really about absolutes?  I don’t know.

What I do know is this.

If the argument against boycotts is that working-class people are impoverished, in one or more of those areas, then there has to be serious consideration.

However, if a boycott, of any kind, cultural, academic, sporting and, most importantly, economic, is not only designed to, but actually does help bring about change for the better, then “yes”, boycotts are valid.

It is an unanswerable question and I could only attempt to answer if the question was more expressly put.  

I have to admit, I’m having trouble keeping all my balls in the air.

December 19, 2006 Posted by | Academic Boycotts? | 2 Comments

General Secretary Election Address – December 2006

This is my election address.

 Biographical information 

Service to TU movement: 

1968–1971     Amalgamated Engineering & Foundry Workers’ Union – Shop Steward, District Committee

1971-1981             Transport & General Workers’ Union – Shop Steward, District Committee, Trades Union Council (Chair)

1979-1981             National Union of Dyers, Bleachers & Textile Workers – Shop Steward, Branch Committee

1981-1986             National Union of Students

1986-Date     NATFHE/UCU

Burnley College – Branch Chair (2 years), Branch Secretary (15 years), Regional Delegate (12 years),

North West Region – Vice Chair (1 year), Chair (3 years), Secretary (4 years), Black Members’ Rep Equality Advisory Committee

National Executive Committee Member, (8 years) – Vice-Chair(Legal) Finance, Membership & Organisation Committee (2 years)National Negotiator (England) (3years) Annual FE Sector Conference – Delegate (10 years), Vice Chair (1 year) 

Deeside College – Part-time Members’ Rep (2 years)Wales Region – Black Members’ Rep Equality Advisory Committee 

Trades Union Congress Delegate (3 years)

TUC NW Delegate (1 year), Black Members’ Network

TUC Wales Delegate (1 year)          

Employment Tribunal Member

Member CIPD 

As the ONLY candidate with any experience of working in Adult, Further and Higher Education, my teaching experience is varied. 

Currently, I am a TUC Tutor in Employment Law, Deeside College and prior to that, I was the Co-ordinator of Management Studies at Burnley College. 

I have taught students with learning difficulties, levels 1, 2 and 3 FE students, HNC/D in Business, Care, Engineering and Tourism, Education at graduate and post graduate level, and, management studies at graduate and post graduate level.  

I am the ONLY candidate who has worked in: 

Ø       Adult and Continuing Education.

Ø       Further Education.

Ø       Higher Education 

My priority as General Secretary, will be to ensure that the union is responsive to YOU, working to ensure that the wishes of the rank and file members, yourselves, are listened to and acted upon.  I believe that it is YOUR views that are most important, and that the decisions made by your representatives do actually represent what you want. 

For many years, now, Further and Adult Education has been is disarray.

NATFHE failed to come to grips with the ravages of incorporation, and the results are there for all to see.  We NEED strong branches and regions where your representatives will reflect your views.

The struggle in Wales, which has been no less difficult than that in England, has shown that, with a strong effective leadership, members gain in confidence, demoralisation diminishes and the college bosses know that the fight will be a real one. 

We need to take those lessons and transfer them to England and Northern Ireland, giving members confidence, strength, motivation, which re-energises and galvanises members.

Adult, prison, landbased education?  Sectors where members feel isolated and forgotten. 

As General Secretary of UCU, I will not forget them.  

The terms and conditions of those members is equally as important as the rest of UCU.   Their issues, problems and struggles will be given high priority.   Because the way we treat the more disparate sections of our union will show how we treat ALL members.

As General Secretary, I’ll fight for national pay rates and terms and conditions.

The UCU is emerging from a Higher Education pay dispute which demoralised members and threatened to destroy unity. 

In seeking a three-year deal, both Sally Hunt and Roger Kline failed to learn the lessons of FE.  Both Sally and Roger were responsible for the ultimate ‘agreement’They were the people who led and directed the dispute.   They are the people who failed to learn the lessons from FE.   

We need to negotiate deals which are transparent and enforceable.  We need tactical awareness.   We should not take action which pushes us into tight corners. We need strategies which do not alienate the public who perceive young people as victims whose future is being threatened, and which do not hang our members out to dry.  

If you elect me General Secretary, I will ensure that the actions of the negotiators really does reflect the desires of the members.

I believe that the equality agenda is a key feature of any trade union. 

For us, so that we fight the prejudice and discrimination shown by management in the way they treat us.  For society, so that we can all live and work in a community where everything but intolerance is tolerated. 

We need equality structures that allow the Union to help all its members, because the equality agenda is not just about race, nor is it just about gender, or disability, or LGBT issues, or the plight of part-time workers – it is about all of these, and more. 

It is about educators working in an environment which breeds tolerance – and that starts with how the UCU treats its own members. Out there, there is much anger amongst our black members, amongst our disabled members  – amongst many members – anger based on the way our predecessor unions treated them.  That has to change. 

As General Secretary, I will ensure that the equality agenda is given top priority.

I am not a member of any political party.  I did not seek, nor did I receive the support of any party.

I will promise you this. 

As General Secretary, I will strive to ensure that subscriptions do not go to any political party. Your political fund will be spent on political campaigning which furthers the cause of all UCU members. 

However, there is a need to engage in the political process, to talk and negotiate with governments in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – and that will be continued and strengthened. 

Because I do not have any political affiliations, I will not yield to the pressure of any party. 

As General Secretary, I will do what’s best for the rank and file members, you. 

There is an international agenda which directly impinges upon us as educators. 

The war in Iraq is being paid for in the classrooms, lecture theatres and laboratories of the colleges and universities. Every penny spent on the war in Iraq, is a penny off the money being spent on education. 

Colleges cut ESOL classes, universities close science departments, adult education is decimated – it’s a straightforward calculation:                                  

                                  £billions on the war = cuts in education. 

As General Secretary I will continue to campaign to end this immorality. 

Uniquely, I actually have worked in the education sector, in Adult, Higher and Further Education. 

I know what it’s like to be a part-time lecturer and a full-time lecturer. 

I know what it’s like to be faced with a mountain of paperwork that is designed to make the managers look good, but has the effect of grinding you down. 

Not for me, the comfort of leading strike action from the office, secure in the knowledge that I won’t get the sack. 

No.  For me, industrial action is about making sacrifices, showing solidarity, agitating and organising.

I know what it’s like to be on a picket line, I know what it’s like to lose pay, I know what it’s like to be sacked for being a trade union activists. 

Unlike the other candidates, I’ve experienced all of those things, and more. 

So I make you this promise. 

Whenever the UCU is involved in national strike action, in either sector, I will donate a day’s salary for each day that the strike lasts. 

As General Secretary, I will work for you.  I will work for a union which is membership-led and equality-based.

December 18, 2006 Posted by | Election Statement | Leave a comment

Speech to UCU Left meeting – Manchester, November 06

On the face of it, I don’t think that anything any of the candidates will say will seem radically different one from another.

 But what members have to address is the question of what kind of UCU they want. 

As a socialist, I believe, first and foremost, that UCU should be a member-led union. A union that is responsive to the needs of its members at branch and regional level – not just the current activists, important though they are, but to those members that we all want to become active, whether they’re a professor in an illustrious university or a dance instructor working in a church hall in a Welsh village. 

As a union, we must represent and be responsive to our members.

I also believe that the equality agenda is a key feature of any trade union. Yes, for our own members, so that we can readily fight the prejudice and discrimination shown by management in the way they treat our members Yes, too, for society in general, so that we can all live and work in a community where everything but intolerance is tolerated. 

And that is why, consistently, ever since I can remember, I’ve actively fought racism – not just from the comfort of my PC, but on the streets.  From the national front in the 70s to the BNP now.  And for the latter part of the 18 or so years I worked in Burnley, that fight was acute. 

But the equality agenda is, as you know, not just about race, nor is it just about gender, or disability, or LGBT issues, or the plight of part-time workers – it is about all of these, and more. It is about educators working in an environment which breeds tolerance – and that starts with how the UCU treats its own members. Out there, there is much anger amongst our black members, amongst our disabled members  – amongst many members – anger based on the way our predecessor unions treated them.  That has to change. 

So what do I mean by responsive?

I mean a union which listens to the members and acts on their wishes – a union where the default answer is ‘can do’ rather than ‘no can do’.  Where ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ becomes the norm. And, when members call for a recalled conference, the union actually calls one, and doesn’t ignore the rules, or fiddles the requests, or re-interprets the rules. 

This means examining and changing the rules. It means putting out literature which actually reflects what went on in, for instance, negotiating meetings. It also means working for the members to bring about national terms and conditions in all sectors in which we organise. 

The framework agreement in HE, the national agreement in FE – tell me, are they working?

 The answer is a resounding “No”. 

Differing pay scales in hundreds of institutions. Different terms and conditions in hundreds of institutions. How can that make sense?

Look at the model in FE in Wales. 

A national agreement on pay, which gives FE lectures parity with teachers and automatic progression to £30,000 plus. And now moving towards discussions on a national agreement on terms and conditions.

 These things were not won by allowing members wishes to be ignored, they were won because the elected lay leaders in Wales know that they have the support of the members, and the members know that those leaders will respond. And that hasn’t been easy – it’s about the culture of that part of the union – a culture based on integrity, a culture forged from the organisation at branch level, coupled with commitment at regional level. 

We can become the fighting union that our members are crying out for. A union which does not shrink from difficult decisions. A union which becomes more sophisticated in its industrial action strategy.  

But, so much more than that. 

There is an international agenda which directly impinges upon us as trade unionists, as educators, as people. 

An immoral war that seeks to impose ‘our’ values, whatever they are, on the peoples of the Middle-East. Every penny spent on the barbaric war in Iraq, is a penny off the social wage that is supposed to help the poorest in our society. Where is the morality in a war where the winners are the international corporate gangsters and the losers are the poor people of Iraq and the poor people of Britain and the USA? 

How dare our political leaders, in our name, at the cost of our old, our weak, our young, seek to impose western democracy on a country that, daily, has the blood of its own old, its own weak and its own young running in the gutters and flooding the storm drains on a daily basis. 

No, not in my name, not in your name, not in our name! 

And those international gangsters aren’t just stealing oil from the middle-east, they’re also stealing our community heritage.  Through commodification, privatisation, contestability, they are plundering our family heirlooms – education, the health service, housing, prisons, (not to mention the mercenaries in Iraq!) 

Tribal running prisons, Peninsula running pay-rolls, Capita running pensions.  It’s not just education that’s for sale! 

A civil service stuffed to the gunwales with consultants, whilst PCS faces massive redundancies. A health service rationing drugs to cancer sufferers, whilst UNISON members struggle to maintain the NHS. And, universities shutting down science departments, and colleges turning away non-English speakers on ESOL courses. 

Where is the sense in all this? 

There is only the mentality of the fast-buck. 

And what about us? 

What about the teachers, the support staff, the researchers? 

Greater teaching loads, greater admin loads, oppressive management, longer working weeks and longer working lives. 

Two generations ago, my grandfather was one of the first to receive an old-age pension at 65, and it looks like I’ll be one of the last. 

Thatcher’s legacy is, indeed, New Labour’s inheritance. 

So, why me?   Why vote for Peter Jones?

Uniquely, I actually have worked in the education sector, in adult education, in Higher Education and Further Education. I know what it’s like to be a part-time lecturer and a full-time lecturer.  I know what it’s like to be faced with a mountain of paperwork that is designed to make the managers look good, but has the effect of grinding you down. 

And, I know what it’s like to be sacked for being a trade union activist. 

Whenever NATFHE called a strike, as a Branch officer I campaigned to maximise support.  And, as someone who stayed on the Silver Book, without a pay-rise for over 10 years, I also know what it’s like to have my salary deducted at 1/190th . Indeed, when Unison went on strike last Spring, I refused to cross the picket line.  As a part-timer, that cost me 1/50th of my yearly salary. 

Not for me, the comfort of leading strike action from the office, secure in the knowledge that I won’t get the sack. 

No.  For me, industrial action is about making sacrifices, showing solidarity, agitating and organising.

I know what it’s like to be on a picket line, I know what it’s like to lose your pay, I know what it’s like to be sacked for being a trade union activists. 

I’ve experienced all of those things, and more. 

So I make the members of UCU this promise. 

Whenever the UCU is involved in national strike action, in either sector, I will donate a day’s salary for each day that the strike lasts. 

So, I say to all members of the University and College Union, that I will work for you.  I will work for a union a union which is membership-led and equality-based.

December 6, 2006 Posted by | Speech Nov 06 | 1 Comment

Why am I the best person for General Secretary? And other questions asked by the Times Higher Education Supplement. 6 December 06

1 Explain why you think you are the best person for the job

 I am the only candidate who has any real experience of working in HE, FE and Adult education.  I have the experience, knowledge and understanding of the worries, issues and problems facing all those of us who work in the post-16 sector. That experience has not been gained from the comfort and safety of a union office, but from daily casework, leading disputes, fighting on the picket-lines, and giving the members what they want. My record more than stands up to either of the other candidates, and I have the management and leadership qualities that are demanded by this post. 

2 What do you see as the single most important issue facing higher education, and why?

 There is an acceleration of the commodification of education, which is being bent towards the needs of industry rather than the needs and desires of students, resulting in the narrowing of the knowledge base, and the shutting of science departments is an indication of that. Clearly, the whole of the country, and beyond, will be affected by the ‘academic deficit’ that seems to be the only thing left growing in the Petri dishes of the learning laboratory. If the government and universities don’t listen now, it’ll soon be too late. Art without science, Leonardo must be spinning in his grave! 

3 What do you see as the single most important issue facing academic staff, and why?

 Academic staff, and those who support them, are becoming victims of a system that is changing for the worse.   Having learnt the lessons from their colleagues in FE, HE management is now applying its new-found knowledge on all those UCU members in all our institutions.  Neo-managerialism, naked in tooth and claw, is being used to rip the heart out of an academic process where the ownership and control was largely in the hands of the people who would nurture and develop it, and is handing it over to the bean-counters. The result is demoralised and demotivated staff.  It must stop. 

4 What do you see as the single most important issue facing UCU, and why?

 The danger of centralisation and the development of the democratic deficit. A new union, developing a new culture, needs to be carefully led.  There is a need to ensure that all members, no matter which sector they are in, can be fully active in UCU. This means that the Union has to become an organisation that is membership led, which responds to the desires of the members, and does not ignore them. A union where the nationally elected and appointed leaders carry out the wishes of the rank and file members. As rank and file leader, I’ll do just that. 

5 What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in your career to date?

 I’ve been a shop-steward since I was 18.  Throughout that time, I have been involved in casework for individuals and groups, fighting management constantly, in engineering, transport, textile and lecturing unions.  And it’s got me the sack on several occasions.  I’ve also continuously fought fascism and racism. My greatest achievement?   I don’t wear any class war medals.  But I know that I lead from the front, not a desk.  I know that I make the lives of individuals change for the better.  I know that my achievements as a trade union representative allows members to put their trust in me. 

6 Do you believe that the 2006 pay settlement of 13.1% over three years was the best that could have been achieved?

 No.  Both AUT and NATFHE showed an amazing lack of tactical awareness.   Clearly, there was a will to continue amongst many members, just as there was a fear amongst many others that to continue would have been worse than useless. Anyone working in any field of education will tell you that taking action in Spring, as the academic year hurtles to a close, and the Summer break approaching, is like leaving the trenches whilst a full bombardment is taking place. 

I believe more could and would have been achieved, if only the leadership had been more sophisticated in its tactics.

 7 What would be the first thing you would do if you were elected? 

UCU is a new union and whilst the structure will need to develop, there will be a need to ensure that the government and employers know that there will be no cosy arrangements, no hidden agenda, no deals without the members’ say-so.

 All parts of the Union will need to come together to work towards making UCU a powerful and influential voice in the sphere of education – not just as a trade union, but also as a professional organisation. Together, with the members, we will build UCU to become a powerful trade union, and that will start on day one.            

December 6, 2006 Posted by | THES 6 Nov 06 | 1 Comment