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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