You and UCU

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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.

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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