A wrong move at Congress

The decision by UCU Congress to close down debate on, and then back the ‘organisation’ of women involved in prostitution rather than prioritise routes out of prostitution, is an example where those calling themselves the ‘UCU Left’ should be ashamed, says Michael McKrell, who has just retired from the NEC.

 

In 2009 the TUC Women’s Conference debated Motion 40 (The Commodification of Sex) – proposed by UCU – which demanded that Conference campaign to:

  1. i) expose the social causes of prostitution including women’s poverty;
    ii) review the residency status of trafficked women;
    iii) criminalise men’s purchase of sex rather than its sale; and
    iv) ensure that the commodification of sex and the objectification of women’s bodies is shown to be a contributory factor in violence against women.

The motion was carried.

Fast-forward to UCU Congress 2017. Motion 56 motion on ‘Education, sex worker safety and collective organising’ was passed – albeit with a curtailed debate – calling for ‘decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working and improved safety for sex workers’.

I have no doubt that this will be regarded by organisations involved in the fight against domestic abuse and violence against women, such as Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and anti-trafficking organisations with utter incredulity and dismay. How is it possible that a union which has until now sought to campaign against the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies has now come to adopt a policy which represents de facto collusion in the continuing wave of abuse against women forced into prostitution?

Rather than adopting the position of the TUC Women’s Congress, representing 3 million women, or the position of organisations who deal with the rape, deaths, and abuse of women involved in prostitution, Motion 56 – which was not taken to any of the Union’s Equality Committees before Congress – was pushed to a vote at Congress, debate having been guillotined. We are now stuck with a position that isolates us in the labour movement and effectively means we contribute nothing to the ending of the exploitation of women involved in prostitution.

It was good to see two men – Douglas Chalmers, President UCU Scotland, and Eurig Scandrett, a prominent member of the ‘white ribbon’ campaign in Scotland – speak against the motion. Douglas ably articulated the position of Rape Crisis and other groups opposed to legalizing prostitution. Eurig stated that if student poverty is driving students into prostitution then the answer is to end student poverty, not legalise prostitution!

But it was the deliberate and calculated move to close down the debate that shocked and angered me and which, in my view, brought discredit on the union.

For the only time during Congress the ‘move to the vote’ was called for before HE President Joanna De Groot and FE President-elect Vicky Knight (Chair of the TUC Women’s Committee) could voice their opposition to the Motion. And the manner in which it was done was shameful; it was galling to see a prominent member of the SWP/UCULeft go to the front of Congress where those waiting to speak sat, and say to those in favour of the motion ‘You should close down the debate, we’ve got the votes for it.’

Opponents of the motion had asked ‘where are the Pimps in this motion? Where are the men who buy women’s bodies?’ and had argued that prostitution was part of the cycle of exploitation and abuse women faced and should be worked against, not facilitated.

The answer in the debate, by one prominent member of UCULeft (and NEC member), was that ‘women do not sell their bodies, it’s just like work – which has unpleasant parts to it.’ This is an astonishing statement. Of course, all forms of labour are exploitative and alienating. But are we really expected to compare the everyday experience of workplace ‘unpleasantness’ with the situation in which, driven by economic desperation, women are compelled to endure the systematic use of physical force, threats and use of violence, psychological coercion, and in many cases crippling addiction?

One of the reasons I am angry at those promoting this policy is the callous ignorance of the brutal reality of prostitution, as outlined in The Independent some time ago ; a reality masked by the use of words like ‘collectivise’ and ‘organise’. A question for those who believe we can “support self-organised sex workers in their call for decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working and improved safety for sex workers” is this. Just who are the ‘organised sex workers’ going to negotiate and bargain with? Answer: pimps and gangsters (not exactly renowned for their unimpeachable adherence to fair employment practices) – lumpen criminals who risk nothing themselves but make huge profits from the exploitation of women.  

Drawing on the Independent report on the effects of the legalisation of prostitution, Megan Murphy writing on the Feminist Current blog pointed out that; “the only thing the Dutch government’s 12 year experiment with legalization succeeded in doing was to increase the market. The illusory labour-based approach, put forth by confused lefties, wherein prostitution is imagined to be ‘a job like any other’ hasn’t worked either…Rather than be given rights in the ‘workplace’, the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain. Under the “labour” model, assault and rape is no longer violence against women, but “an ‘occupational hazard’, like a stone dropped on a builder’s toe,”

There’s simply no reason for police to charge men for doing something they feel they are legally entitled to do. Talking about ‘sex work’ as ‘work’ doesn’t help women. It doesn’t help women leave the industry, it doesn’t create gender equality, it doesn’t stop the violence, and it doesn’t de-stigmatize prostitution. Reframing legalization as ending the ‘stigma’ has not only been shown to be untrue, but it distracts us from the reality that violence and inequality doesn’t happen because of stigmatization — it happens because of male power and systemic injustice.

Detective Superintendent Kajsa Wahlberg, Sweden’s national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings, is quoted as saying; ‘The problem is gender-specific. Men buy women.’ Which is why a feminist approach is needed’’.

Congress Motion 56 is tantamount to an endorsement of capitalism’s relentless drive to commodify every aspect of human relations and to condone the further alienation of the body from the self; the body and its most intimate functions are reduced to a means of production, a machine for producing a commodity in the form of a service – sex – the use value of which is appropriated by the (male) consumer, whilst the exchange value enriches the trafficker and the pimp. The way to tackle prostitution is by eliminating its material basis – the demand by men to pay for women’s bodies; exactly what UCU called for at the TUC Women’s Conference in 2009.

As trades unionists and progressives we should be seeking a way out of exploitative human relations, not facilitating their all-pervasiveness and entrenchment. UCU needs to move quickly to reverse the retrograde step it took at Congress this year, adopt an informed and gender-specific analysis of prostitution and drop this shockingly out of touch position.

Michael McKrell

Retiring NEC member

In the interests of debate, we would welcome any members of UCULeft or the SWP who proposed or backed this motion to write in and let us know what was in their mind when they did so. We’ll publish any contributions.

Contact: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Last day of UCU Congress features international solidarity

Congress demanded the truth about the disappearance and murder of Giulio Regeni

In addition to lots of discussion on taking the union forward domestically, the international flavour previously exhibited at Congress continued on the last day.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK addressed Congress, praising the union for the work we continue to untertake internationally, something further reinforced by a video from Huber Ballesteros from Colombia’s Labour Federation of Agricultural Workers who talked of the importance of international solidarity in Colombia’s peace process and in ensuring his freedom.

A photoshoot taken at Congress (see above),  again underlined our demands for a full enquiry into the death of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni an Italian Cambridge University graduate who was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt. Giulio was a PhD student at Cambridge and had been researching Egypt’s independent trade unions, and the demand for an enquiry follows the belief that the Egyptian police were heavily implicated in his murder.

The morning had seen decisions taken on how to take forward the General Secretary’s suggestion of the day previously that a commission be set up to look at our industrial strategy in the aftermath of the anti-trade union act. An emergency motion was placed before congress and narrowly passed, which limited membership on the commission to those attending the current congress, and agreed to the calling of an additional special Congress to discuss the recommendations.

Traditional timeline of industrial action – but is this sufficient? Some of the issues for the commission to discuss

Congress delegates from the devolved nations had felt forced to raise the ‘devolved blindness’ of some of the resolutions over the period of Congress, including on the last day a recommendation to vote Labour, although this is of course impossible in Northern Ireland since Labour do not stand candidates, and a delegate from Scotland suggested it was totally inappropriate in the Scottish situation. Whether or not we should recommend support to any individual party at all is of course an even bigger question since we are unaffiliated. This followed on from other resolutions passed investigating the creation of ‘one UK Education union’ although the unions mentioned did not operate either in Scotland or Northern Ireland. In a similar vein, motions calling for ‘national’ demonstrations, made devolved nations delegates wonder where the movers had been since 1999. Clearly the disregard of our nature as a union operating over different education and legal systems in different nations within the UK is something that needs resolved in future years.

Towards the end of Congress, an important debate was closed down by movers of a controversial motion which proposed our support for ‘the decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working’

This is of course against the position of the TUC women’s conference, and that of Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, and all UK Anti-Trafficking organisations. Rather than all speakers being able to speak on this, the movers suggested in mid debate that ‘the vote be put’ (the only time this happened in Congress), resulting in a vote being taken (in support of this controversial motion) without the benefit of all those sitting ready and willing to speak being able to do so. Not the best moment for democracy, and a terrible signal to women trapped in prostitution and who are not looking to ‘collective working’ but to routes out of this dreadful exploitation.

Other key resolutions were passed which will help shape our work positively over the coming year and can be found here on the UCU website. These included:  on racist interference in elected roles;  developing our anti-casualisation campaign (including a road show); the future of TUC education; work related stress; bilingualism of documentation for use in Wales; Electronic meetings and tele and video conferencing; developing the equality agenda; the disability pay gap and abortion rights.

The union will have its hands full, (in a good way) over the next year, in helping implement these decisions, and we hope the UCUAgenda blog will help as part of a forum to discuss how best to do this.

To take part in this debate, or to add your voice – please send comments, or articles to: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

The NEC will have its hands full implementing the decisions of Congress – a good position to be in

Vote for a strong team of Pension negotiators

Pensions are a crucial issue for all of us, and the USS pension continues to be under attack – which is why we need competent, and combative negotiators to work on our behalf, negotiating the best improved deal from the pension authorities.

We strongly urge delegates to vote for the following candidates, who can be relied on to negotiate effectively for our interests.

We ask delegates to vote for Renee Prendergast and Amanda Williams, for the USS negotiating team.

Renee Prendergast is chair of UCU in Northern Ireland. She is a member of Queens University Branch of UCU.

Renee’s message to delegates is:

I am a Reader in Economics at Queen’s, Belfast with over twenty years’ experience as a Local Association Officer in AUT/UCU. I am an experienced negotiator on the whole range of local issues including UCU Recognition and  Procedures, Framework, Charter & Statutes and Local Regulations as well as being elected twice as a UCU National Negotiator on Pay.

The role of USS negotiator is a specialist one involving a steep learning curve over complex issues for which my professional training as an economist is helpful. Currently, I am a UCU alternate on the USS JNC and have undergone training for this role. Being a negotiator on USS at this crucial time means putting knowledge before slogans and examining detail forensically. Our priority going forward must be maximising the retention of defined benefits within USS and making it as good, if not better, than TPS.

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and a member of the University of East Anglia branch.

Amanda’s message to delegates is:

We need a USS negotiating team whose members complement each other.  We need shared values but distinctive skills and expertise.  My values are a commitment to:

  • the basic principles of Defined Benefit schemes to counter the ideologically based attacks they suffer, and
  • ethical investment in line with the social values of a trade union.

I am currently a member of the NEC, of SWG and on the USS Advisory Committee. I am a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser.  I trained in audit (including work on pension scheme audits).  Now I’m a Lecturer in Accounting.  I bring an auditor’s professional scepticism linked to commercial awareness. As a local negotiator the most public success was the university’s reversal on 100% pay docking after we obtained a mandate for local strike action.  But the most important team successes are behind the scenes, getting policies on key issues like FTCs and redundancy avoidance.

Friday night debate – Strategies to build the union

Friday night of Congress started off with a fringe meeting looking at how to ensure that the union dealt with a wide range of issues in its campaigning and practice over the next year. Speakers from the devolved nations were Ann Gow from Scotland (UCU Scotland’s incoming President), Renee Prendergast, NEC representative from Northern Ireland who were joined by Vicky Knight, UCU’s incoming President Elect, and national negotiators Jo McNeill and Sean Vernell, with Mark Abel, a representative from the local (Brighton) branch also joining the debate.

A whole range of issues were raised during the meeting, which started with Jo McNeil who argued that in the face of the Trade Union Act, we could still have wins – she thought the NSS boycott had been extremely successful, and solidarity was key, an injury to one was an injury to all. She suggested we did not have a strategy for industrial action.

Ann Gow, President elect, UCU Scotland, drew on Scottish experience

Ann Gow took a different angle, talking of the lessons of Scotland, pointing out that it was a nation and not a region, and consequently worked in a different manner, education, being totally devolved to the Scottish parliament. UCU Scotland negotiated directly with government and in working with all parties in opposing the vested interests of University principals, had been successful on issues such as Governance of universities and also in achieving and retaining Scotland’s no tuition fees policy.  UCU Scotland came together however, with the universities on areas of common ground such as dealing with Brexit and had signed a common cause statement with them and NUS on this. The union also worked with the Universities to lobby the Scottish government on the budget for the university sector. In general UCU Scotland acted as a ‘branch led union’ which talked publicly ‘for the university community’ – not leaving it to university managements to claim this crown. This meant members identified with the union, and thus when industrial action was necessary then it got support. We had had serious industrial action – but this was where it was merited. Current priorities were gender pay and anti-casualisation.

Taking an angle that chimed with the points Jo McNeil had made, Sean Vernell suggested that Corbyn could win and the 9th June might see a Labour government elected. He then suggested the audience should remember the TV drama ‘A very British Coup’ and that we should be ready to defend a radical Labour government. He thought that the union wasn’t yet ready for that type of action and we needed to use the congress to build for this. He felt the concept of local or national was a false polemic, it was always both. Using a phrase that quite a few others  were to repeat during the meeting, he stated ‘You cannot casework yourself out of a crisis.’ He believed getting a 50 percent turnout in ballots was achievable and that ‘we have never had a real campaign’

Renee Prendergast suggested we drew on best practice wherever it arose

Renee Prendergast, looked at the specifics of Northern Ireland, and talked of how a successful union would learn from its different component parts. Regions, nations, and action locally could give positive examples. She believed that local and national issues were both important, although in practice some national actions had not been as successful as local ones. Today’s successful local actions could lay the basis for successful national actions – but that would be in the future.

Vicky Knight talked of the continuing unacceptable gender pay gap

Vicky Knight, current UCU VP and chair of the TUC Women’s Committee outlined the horrific situation women still face in terms of gender pay inequality pointing out that the gap is such that it was equivalent of women working all year, but only being paid up to October, and that the World Economic Forum suggested at current rates it would take 174 years to close the pay gap.

Mark Abel, from Brighton branch, referred to recent industrial action in the university, and how this had been achieved successfully.

In the discussion from the floor, Douglas Chalmers President of UCU Scotland suggested that there was a weakness in reducing what had been suggested by several speakers as ‘national action’ to strike action alone. Successful national action could be something totally different. He suggested that the gains Scotland had made had indeed been through national action, but not necessarily involving strikes. Rather the union had taken the ‘high ground’ and had been active on all sorts of democratic issues, which had won wide public support and support from union members thus achieving the basis for being able to run successful campaigns involving industrial action on the occasions when it was necessary.

Another contribution from President elect Joanna de Groot argued that we had to work smart as well as be strong, and we needed to think through how we worked. There was a huge range of actions we could use to win, so thinking smart about what better delivered jobs, pay deals, gender pay audits etc was crucial. We should work through this bit by bit, but as part of a UK wide strategy.

Other, interesting contributions from a range of strategic and political positions were also made, with the meeting going on for 30 minutes longer than had been planned.

Overall, the debate and discussion was an indication of some of the differences that do surface at Congress between UCU members who perhaps equated a successful union to one that above all saw industrial action – normally strike action – as the touchstone of success, and another, perhaps broader view that believed that the union had to be less ‘economistic’ and more strategic. A more strategic union, working to achieve success would use a whole range of methods, which above all could unite members, making the union a dynamic one which could actually be effective in the post TU Act era.

Wales UCU Congress – professional and combative


Douglas Chalmers writes: As President of UCU Scotland, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Welsh UCU congress for the third year in a row. From across the border (or indeed several) it’s only possible to form some impressions of how the union is doing, but I really felt a buzz this year and was impressed by the level of debate and the issues addressed. I’ve put my impressions below. Any mistakes in the report are of course mine (but do let me know)

The Welsh UCU Congress once more showed the union to be at the heart of education matters in the Welsh post-16 sector when it met in Cardiff on 4th March.

Opening the well attended conference – which impressively for me, offered bilingual translation from Welsh into English – Chris Jones, Vice-President Wales UCU, outlined many of the problems facing the sector – casualisation, zero-hour, contracts, and especially in HE, the gender pay gap.  Chris also looked at the gains they had made in the last year.  In Welsh FE, every lecturer was now on the national contract, and prospects looked positive for a joint funding council. Despite some problems, (which were dealt with later on), the Diamond report would offer the most generous grant or loan situation for students in the four nations. On Brexit, Chris pledged that no matter what position individual union members had taken in the referendum, all members were united against the insidious upsurge of racism, stating “for the UCU there was no ‘us and them’ only the one race – the human race”.

Vice-President Chris Jones, and Chair John James were joined by AMs Kirsty Evans and Alun Davies

Two members of the Wales Assembly addressed the congress and took part in questions and answers. Kirsty Williams the cabinet secretary for education, and member of the Lib Dems, took up the tone of Chris’s speech, stating that

“Staff and students from the EU and beyond are welcome in our universities, our colleges, and in Wales in general”. Her speech covered a whole range of issues including the Welsh Government’s response to the Hazelkorn report on post-compulsory education and training in Wales

Kirsty Williams AM was first invited speaker to address Congress

She highlighted the government’s support for parity in esteem between academic and learning routes, and also talked of current moves to establish a single strategic authority to improve cohesion and promote collaboration as the foundation of a ‘whole systems’ approach which should give parity of esteem for part time and full time students in the system. Referring to developments in England she stated that it was important to ‘look at the unintended consequences that have too often emerged from reforms across the border.’ In a similar vein on TEF, she stated the Welsh government recognised and shared the UCU concerns about this, and while needing to live in the actual situation facing us, the government ‘did not share the same marketisation agenda as across the border’’ so would not be encouraging universities to take part in this. On the living wage issue, she talked of her concern that Cardiff was the only university that had achieved accredited ‘Living Wage’ employer status.

Alun Davis AM complemented many of the issues raised by Kirsty

Alun Davies AM, the minister for life long learning and the Welsh language struck a similar tone critical of the policies emanating from Westminster. Brexit had been an ‘unmitigated disaster’ and impinged on the conversations about ‘who we are’, and meant we needed to stand united against racist attacks, now becoming more common.

Referring to FE he talked of the sector as often being on the ‘sharp end of change’ and also stated that there were often gaps between what was said in speeches on issues such as parity of esteem and the reality we actually experienced.  This needed to be openly discussed.

He commended and argued for the need to register all of the educational workforce, towards the aim of achieving equal status for all educational professionals in Wales.

Some key questions were then put from the floor including  one relating to the funding gap, a second on austerity. A question was then asked on democracy in universities, and a final one on the impact on Welsh speaking students of the Diamond proposals.

A question was put requesting transparency on senior salaries in post-16 education, and on workload issues.

In the subsequent discussion of the ministers’ contributions, points were made that while the Hazelkorn report was welcome, and dialogue was being requested, very little effort seemed to be being made to ensure that the unions’ voices were at the table. The Diamond report was also welcomed with its emphasis on lifelong learning, including adults. However the dangers of it increasing marketisation were also mentioned.

On the living wage, while this was welcomed the issue of zero hours and fixed terms contracts also needed tackled. Secure contracts were felt to be key.

While the EWC (Education Workplace Council) was welcomed it was felt important to move on to have proper representation on that body to deal with questions such as the charging of full fees for part timers, and the problematic nature of the disciplinary aspects of the code. The union was having to hire barristers to fight the vindictive use of it which was costing the unions thousands of pounds. Regarding CPD this was double edged unless the issues of adequate time to undertake it was tackled together with a say in the nature of CPD. No one wanted to use their precious time to learn how to fill in forms correctly.

Finally on professionalisation, it was felt that proper workloads were key to developing a fully professional workforce.

The HE Sector conference heard from invited guest Reneé Prendergast chair of UCU Northern Ireland who compared and contrasted some of the issues facing the sector in what was a period of political instability. Not surprising to those listening, the similarities in terms of heavy workloads, casualisation and the funding gap seemed familiar in both Wales and Northern Ireland.

Representing UCU Scotland, I also addressed the HE Sector conference and confirmed that these issues were also common to us, although we were working in a situation where university governance was being democratised and where the current Holyrood SNP government had published a joint paper with the STUC, praising the work of workplace trade union reps – a clear contrast with either Wales or NI.

The sector conference went on to debate motions on electing Vice Chancellors of Welsh HE institutions, on improving the current under representations of BME staff in academic roles, on the funding gap and its relationship to the sustainability of the sector, and on funding for reforms in Initial Teacher Education and Training.

According to delegates I spoke to, the FE conference had a lively discussion on motions on growing workloads, lesson observations, the lack of union representation on the EWC, the pay claim, CPD and subsidiary companies in Wales.

Unfortunately, transport being what it was, I had to leave before the full congress resumed after the sectoral conferences, but I want to thank my colleagues for a stimulating and positive experience, which left me with confidence for the union’s future in Wales.

English, Welsh and bilingual – inclusivity at the heart of the Welsh UCU

Cradle to Grave conference tackles the new post-Brexit issues

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UCU conference faces up to the real issues we are facing in post Brexit Britain

A well attended Cradle to the Grave conference in TUC Congress House put the UCU once more firmly in the centre of the major issues facing us all in post-16 Brexit Britain.

A range of key speakers, from shadow chancellor John McDonnell, leading pro-refugee campaigners, Steven Hale, and founder of Care4Calais Claire Moseley, NUS President Malia Bouattia, political commentators Steve Richards and Melissa Benn, together with leading academics Peter Scott and Kalwant Bhopal, and our own UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt were joined from North of the border by Jenny Gilruth MSP, SNP Parliamentary liaison officer for education. A workshop on transforming FE also heard from academics Vicky Duckworth, Rob Smith and Sean Vernell together with Steven Exley, the Further Education editor of the Times Educational Supplement.

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John McDonnell pledged support for building an alternative coalition for education

John McDonnell’s speech which opened conference was, as might be expected wide ranging, although perhaps inevitably also dealt with the internal temperature in the Labour Party, something which resulted in some flack in the post speech discussion.

 

 

John supported the holding of an enquiry into the impact of Brexit in HE, and pointed out that the education sector did not feature on the current UK government’s list of negotiation priorities. He however, thought that education should be central to the debate on the principle that ‘another Europe is possible‘. He also pledged labour’s support to UCU in ‘building a coalition of opposition‘.

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The new joint pamphlet was launched at the conference

The next session of conference saw the launch of the joint UCU-Refugee Action pamphlet on ‘A Place of Safety’ where we heard Stephen Hale chief exec. of refugee action and Claire Moseley, founder of Care4Calais talk of the horrific conditions facing refugees and the disgraceful decision of the current Tory government to ditch the Dubs amendment. This government decision ended the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees at approximately one tenth of their previously understood commitment. Sally Hunt talked of why this area continued to be a key one for UCU, while NUS President Malia Bouattia also talked of the NUS campaign to support refugees drawing on her own personal experience to illustrate this.

Highlights in this session were the focus on the Let Refugees Learn campaign, with speakers pointing out that for many refugees it was at least 2 years until they could sit in a class room and study English. Claire also pointed out that there was no safe and legal route for refugees to claim asylum in the U.K., which put anyone aspiring to get to the UK immediately into the ‘illegals’ category.

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NUS President Malia Bouattia commended UCU on our work with refugees

Malia congratulated UCU on producing the pamphlet pointing out that refugees didn’t come here by choice. She invited everyone to the 12th March national summit on Trump, Brexit and Beyond, finishing by commenting that refugees were clear on who their friends were, acknowledging  ‘we are here because you were there

Peter Scott, the newly appointed Comissioner for Fair Access in Scotland started the next session on the challenge of Brexit and Trump using a powerful presentation downloadable here.  He considered the ‘many sides of populism’, and it’s link with education, or lack of it, what he believed had gone ‘wrong’, and ‘right.’  He then considered Picketty’s views on the rise of economic inequality, and the ‘achievements’ and ‘disappointments’ of mass education. He finished up by stating that re-asserting public good/ and the values as the core of the academy’s mission was the ‘unfinished business’ on the table.

Jenny Gilruth talked of combatting stereotypical role models

Jenny Gilruth talked of combatting stereotypical role models

SNP member of Scotland’s parliament Jenny Gilruth, then talked of how the Scottish government was trying to tackle widening access, including the important of contextualised admissions, and ‘taking direct action to create a level playing field’.

Peter Scott looks on as Kalwant outlined the intricacy of her latest research

Peter Scott looks on as Kalwant outlined the intricacy of her latest research

Leading researcher and academic Kalwant Bhopal looked in details at her ongoing current research on BME student experiences in higher education. This covered legislation in theory and practice, then the demographics, and degree attainment of BME students. Amongst the many invaluable insights that her research had uncovered was the fact that when BME students got good grades, they were less likely to be pushed to apply to Russell group universities. and when they did, less likely to get in. The role of social and cultural capital was also a key issue that BME students and aspiring students faced. The powerpoint images can be downloaded here

The FE workshop on Further Education – Education Transforms featured Vicky Duckworth from Edgehill university, Rob Smith from Birmingham City university, Stephen Exley from TES, and Sean Vernell from City and Islington College. Within it three main interlinked strands were highlighted:
Firstly, the need to seize the major opportunity opening up for Further Education in terms of the skills that will be needed in the post Brexit world. Tackled correctly, this could help win the argument that FE is needed more than ever.
Secondly Stephen Exley, the Times Education FE editor made the key point that we could not just ‘talk to ourselves’ and that we needed to win the arguments outside the UCU by ‘taking the necessary talk‘ in all the possible forums available to us.
Thirdly we needed always to celebrate how FE can and should transform lives, families and communities.
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UCU’s innovative Transforming Lives and Communities initiative

Vicky Duckworth and Rob Smith’s UCU project http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/  was a fantastic example of how to do this and those attending the workshop were asked to make full use of the UCU initiative allowing individuals to directly e-mail their MPs and call on them to invest properly in the recruitment and retention of more further education staff to ensure that more people can benefit from the transformative power of education.
Finally Sean Vernell arguing the case for making the curriculum more inclusive and effective rather than repeatedly setting people up for (re-sit) failure gave a compelling argument for ‘themed learning’ quoting the initiatives at City and Islington College and other London Colleges.

 

Steve Richards listens while Melissa Benn answered some questions from the floor

Steve Richards (right) listens while Melissa Benn answered some questions from the floor

In the final joint session of the conference columnist and commentator Steve Richards talked of his view of the insurmountable problems now facing the government due to the Brexit result, and how we might take advantage of it. He thought that her non-Thatcherite and indeed  non Cameronite or Blairite restating of the role of government and even the state in a modern society was one that campaigners needed to take up and use from our point of view.

Malia Bouattia talked of the work done with UCU on issues like the NSS survey and the need to recapture education for staff and students.

Melissa Benn talked of how the government was trying to reshape universities as temples of consumerism and conformism, and stated that the government were ‘tackling the wrong question, with the wrong people, in the wrong way’. She also made a devastating argument against current increasing Tory support for selection in schools.

Sally rounded off the conference talking of the battle against casualisation and the HE Bill

Sally rounded off the conference talking of the battle against casualisation and the HE Bill

Sally Hunt then finished the conference by talking of the battle against casualisation and the implications of the HE bill, and quoting Primo Levy’s words of the ‘would be tyrant waiting in the wings with beautiful words’ argued for the need to take back the language being used in the current debates against intellectualism and even experts, and restate the real meaning of truth and evidence.

At the end of the conference, a very moving film 722 TMX Engineering battalion looking at a refugee camp in the town of Alexandria in Norther Greece.

 

Strengthening not retreating

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Talking truth to power. But what are the next steps to win the battle?

The HEC at its last meeting took a decision to pause industrial action and conduct an indicative ballot of HE members on the way forward. Here are some points from the Independent Broad Left Network regarding the next stage in the battle to achieve better pay, close the gender pay gap and end casualisation.

It would be easy but mistaken to see the decision taken by HEC on 14 October to pause industrial action on the 2016 pay offer while conducting an indicative ballot of HE members as a retreat. Looking at the achievements and difficulties of our pay dispute, and at the political and economic situation in which we have to go forward, HEC has chosen to move to decisions about next steps which will be informed by the judgement of the people who will actually have to implement them about what will achieve the most for us all.

Making tough choices
We are proud of what members have already put into the dispute, and confident that they will give serious and intelligent consideration to the risks and possibilities of seriously sustained industrial action this autumn. There is wide agreement that we have had an unsatisfactory offer from the employers, and that there is considerable appetite for continued campaigning on the gender pay gap and on casualisation issues, but real uncertainty as to whether industrial action at this particular moment will produce positive results. The HEC recognised that in considering the direction of the current dispute, members needed to be clear that any future pay campaign would be conducted under the new ballot threshold imposed by the Trade Union Act. Tackling pay erosion in future may be much more challenging, with early career colleagues especially likely to suffer the consequences in the medium to long term

Working together
As experienced activists we all understand that industrial action is a means to achieve change, not an end in itself, and that we owe it to ourselves to assess its possible dangers as well as its possible opportunities. Successful action is based on strong support and participation, and on confidence that there are reasonable prospects for the action. Since ‘the union’ is no more or less than all of us, it makes sense to involve all of us in building that support and confidence

Fighting smart and fighting strong
In taking the decision to hold a consultative ballot HEC is working constructively with members by asking them to make an informed judgement about how best we can all work together to make progress in very difficult circumstances. We are not retreating, but strengthening the trust, good sense, and ability to deal with tough situations, on which the effectiveness of union campaigns always depends.

 

Colleagues who have comments on this can get in touch and let us know your views by contacting: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Convention on Higher Education looks at strategy to defeat HE Bill

 

UCU NEC member and President of UCU Scotland, Douglas Chalmers, took time out to attend the 3rd Convention on Higher Education, following the last HEC in London. Here are his impressions of this useful meeting

Malia Bouattia: "Those who say it cannot be done, are usually interrupted by those doing it"

Malia Bouattia: “Those who say it cannot be done, are usually interrupted by those doing it”

An audience of up to a 100 listened to speakers at the 3rd Convention for Higher Education in UCL’s Darwin lecture theatre today where educational experts, UCU activists  and others condemned the proposals in the UK government’s Higher Education and Research Bill.

John Holmwood opened events by a devastating critique of the proposals, declaring that ‘it’s the nature of the public university that’s at the heart of this discussion’. Member of the House of Lords and professor of public sector management at Kings College London, Baroness Alison Wolf,  went on to condemn the flimsy ‘cod’ market economics underpinning the proposals,  pointing out that what she called a ‘very underdeveloped form of economic thinking’ had come to dominate the debate’ which was ‘ a genuine step in the wrong direction’.

Martin McQuillan of Kingston University pointed out that the whole fees debacle which would now be exacerbated was a ‘question of intergenerational justice’, and he castigated the universities for being ‘on the wrong side of the public debate’.

Amber Rudd’s proposals to cut international students to all but Russell group universities were roundly condemned by all speakers – as were the efforts by some in the Russell group itself to lobby in support of these divisive proposals.

Malia Bouattia, NUS president suggested that the prospect of ‘market exits’ by some of the proposed new providers which would fail (as some inevitably would), might be seen by Teresa May as a sign that the ‘market was working well’.

She finished by saying the proposals could still be defeated, and quoted James Baldwin in saying “Those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by those doing it”

The conference also heard and condemned the current situation at London Met university, and also spent a useful session looking at the joint work that could be done in different areas, to help weaken the Bill and work towards defeating it.

 

Practical sessions mixed FAQs and ideas for future action

Practical sessions mixed FAQs and ideas for future action

The website for the Convention on Higher Education can be found here, and useful resources such as a letter writing pack, found here

UCU President’s Perspective

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Rob Goodfellow, a lecturer at Hull College was recently elected as President of UCU for 2016 – 2017.
Between spots at the rostrum of this year’s TUC, where he presented UCU’s view on post 16 education he took some time out to talk about his views on all things UCU. Interview by Scottish UCU President and NEC member Douglas Chalmers, and thanks to Julia Charlton for helping with the filming.

“We’ve made an impact at the TUC – everyone who wanted to speak on a motion did so. If we hadn’t been here….. less people would have been ‘educated’ ”.

This view of Rob Goodfellow, half in jest, encapsulated the feeling of the UCU delegates to the TUC in Brighton this year. Speaking on a whole range of issues from Post-16 Education, the European Union, Professional Status, to Challenging the Politics of Hate, our delegation made a very positive impact both from the rostrum and in our networking between times.

NEC member Julia Charlton spoke on immigration, HE Vice President elect Joanna de Groot spoke on the European Union, Vicki Knight, VP spoke on Prison Education, NEC member Pauline Collins spoke on the need for people to work smarter, not just longer, and Vicky Blake from the UCU’s anti-casualisation committee, asked a question about the TUC’s work on casualization and Douglas Chalmers moved a successful emergency motion on Colombia.

Between appearances at the rostrum, Rob took some time out to give his views on a range of issues UCU will encounter under his presidency (Interview 12 mins long).

In England, for H.E, a priority for the union had to be the White Paper – which allowed private providers to operate a ‘smash and grab’ – taking profits and disappearing, leaving taxpayers to clear up the mess and help students affected.

In F.E,  the area reviews were essentially just a means to save money “but it’s a paltry sum, but will have a huge impact on staff, on students and on the local communities”

A key question that post 16 education had to answer was “how far a distance would be travelled by a student and their families” while on their educational journey – “that’s not measured in league tables”

In terms of his own role, Rob saw the President’s job to be to safeguard the democracy of the union, while the union had to take some pragmatic choices.

In terms of the ‘culture’ of the union – making  Congress better in terms of its own culture and practice? “I want branches to see what’s in it for them – get them engaged by sending resolutions and delegates. If it’s a case of two blocs voting I don’t want that anymore than anyone else does”…

Sally Hunt

UCU Gen. Secretary Sally Hunt talked against ‘The politics of Hate’

 

 

 

 

 

Last day… but not least

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Friday’s copy of Broadcast can be downloaded here

Although this is the last day of Congress, it’s by no means the least important. As well as giving Congress the chance to demonstrate UCU’s solidarity with  Malia Bouattia, president-elect of the National Union of Students, and the first black and the first Muslim to hold that post – in which she has already suffered Islamophobic media attacks, and totally unjustified allegations of antisemitism, there are also important issues of rules and finance to be decided upon.

It is not our intention on the issues of finance and rules to give voting advice on all motions – although we point out some issues in Broadcast relating to some of the proposals before congress. We note that it’s to the credit of the Treasurer and the staff advising her that the finances are in a robust situation and this should be acknowledged and applauded. With some exceptions we would simply advise listening to the arguments in the debate.

One motion, however, which we suggest must be passed is 55, on model branch rules, (with or without amendment 55A). There have been bitter arguments on this topic at previous Congresses, and now we are essentially back to the situation at merger. These are of course, only model rules, and a number of branches may need to seek variations. But, given the current climate, we believe it is essential for the union’s protection that all branches have rules of this nature in place, and that they are lodged with the national office.

On the other hand, motion 56 from Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Committee would set a dangerous precedent with regard to the status of elected members of our national committees. The rules state that members must be, or have recently been, in qualifying employment in order to be nominated for the NEC. They do not require NEC members to resign if they subsequently retire – and that is because they are elected to represent a constituency of members who are employed, and they could themselves become re-employed. In the HEC, there has been a convention that members in USS branches do not vote on TPS matters, and vice versa; but the arguments for that are not strong, since all HE constituencies comprise members in both pension schemes – who are disefranchised if their elected HEC member cannot vote. Motion 56 would extend that disenfrachisement, and it would be the start of cake-slicing: for example, should only NEC members from the various equality strands be allowed to vote on matters relating to those strands? We think not.

As always – points of view on the above are welcome. And if anyone would like to submit a ‘think-piece’ or opinion piece on something that they think should be part of the ‘UCU Agenda’ – please do so to: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com