Events since the new Prime Minister took office have been terrifying. One of Theresa May’s first acts was to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change, placing the responsibility under a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The new Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has previously voted against numerous environmental policies and, when appointed as Energy Minister last year asked her officials whether climate change was real. On Monday last week, the packed benches of the House of Commons listened to Theresa May enthusiastically declare her willingness to commit a major war crime, then they voted by a large majority to provide her with the means to carry it out. The following day, a sparsely populated Commons debated the second reading of the HE Bill, although large numbers suddenly appeared when the vote took place and thereby passed the bill. Within the next day or two after that, a number of vice-chancellors announced that they would be raising fees above £9K, even though that cap hasn’t formally been lifted yet.
H.G. Wells once said that human civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe. It would appear that our elected representatives have chosen catastrophe. Both climate change and nuclear weapons contribute to the setting of the Doomsday Clock, overseen by leading atomic scientists and Nobel laureates; in 2015 the clock was set forward to 3 minutes to midnight. Clearly we need more education, and not the kind of education that produces wage slaves whose main concern in life is paying off the huge debts they accrued at university.
Higher education is being taken in the direction of greater inequality and reduced social mobility (as is discussed in the Alternative White Paper), with the threat of privatisation waiting in the wings. As we noted recently, the new Chair of the Governors at London Metropolitan University is Mark Anderson, who has had a career at Pearsons, including in their education division. Pearson have been busy setting up private colleges around the world, setting up their own degrees, selling assessments and validating teachers. For some of the bad news stories associated with them, see here.
As you know, London Met are cutting 395 members of staff and, as a prelude, have made myself (Branch Chair) and Mark Campbell (Branch Secretary) compulsorily redundant. Yesterday, there was a protest rally against the job cuts and victimisation at London Met, attended by representatives of many unions. We had speakers outside London Met and, following a march along Holloway Road, more speakers at Highbury Fields (with myself compering). We would like to thank everyone who came along or sent messages. The speakers were as follows:
At London Met – Sean Wallis (UCL and HE Convention), Alex Tarry (London Met Unison), Paul Mackney (former NATFHE General Secretary), Sam Strudwick (Unison steward at Barts Health), Mick Gilgun (Islington Trades Council), Jenny Nash (London Met CASS student), Dean Ryan (Islington Unison), Steve Hedley (Assistant General Secretary, RMT)
At Highbury Fields – David Hardman, Gary Heather (Islington Councillor – and also reading out a statement from Jeremy Corbyn),, George Binett (Camden Unison – also reading out a statement from John McDonnell), Sean Vernell (UCU NEC), Barbara Ntumy (NUS Executive and London Met SU), Kiri Tunks (VP NUT), Monica Mottin (London Met UCU CoCom), Christina Paine (London Met UCU CoCom), Dominic McFadden (PCS NEC), and Mark Campbell.
There is some video footage of the event below (which includes a statement from Jeremy Corbyn, who yesterday was launching his leadership campaign), though we hope to post more in due course. You can also read this blog account of the event. We are extremely proud of the contributions made by two London Met students, Jenny Nash, who was a leading campaigner for keeping the CASS art faculty at Aldgate, and Barbara Ntumy, who is now on the NUS Exec and has appeared on several news and current affairs programme in the last week, supporting Jeremy Corbyn.
There are also just a few hours left for colleagues to sign up to our social media Thunderclap, which will be released this Monday morning.
Although we are both scheduled to be officially made redundant at the end of this coming week (31/7/16), we don’t want anyone to assume that’s either the end of our particular battle, nor that of the wider campaign to defend the jobs, and terms and conditions of our colleagues at London Met. It most certainly isn’t.
We (Mark and David) are meeting our barrister, as provided by UCU, early this week and we will be submitting a claim for unfair dismissal resulting from union victimisation, and we have every intention of fighting this all the way.
However, that fight, and the wider fight to save London Met, and to defend public widening access, inclusive, education, won’t be primarily fought in a law court. It will be fought and won by the collective strength of our members and our union that represents them.
With that in mind, at two well attended, quorate, branch meetings at the end of last week – impressive in itself given the time of year and the fact that the teaching year ended quite sometime ago and many/most members are taking a well needed break, the following decisions were unanimously agreed to send to Sally Hunt directly as our General Secretary:
At quorate London Met North Campus, and London Met City Campus, emergency branch meetings, the following was unanimously agreed:
- Initiate an indicative e-ballot of all London Met UCU members to run for two weeks (from WB 25 July 2016). The ballot will consist of the following two questions:
- Do you support industrial action consisting of discontinuous strike action – commencing with a one day strike during Induction Week (WB 25 Sep 2016), and to initiate a legal industrial action ballot at the beginning of September 2016 to that effect?
- Do you support a request to UCU HEC (Higher Education Committee) Officers to commence the Greylisting (Academic Boycott) of London Met from early October 2016, unless the union victimisation of London Met UCU Officers are rescinded and the current plan of mass redundancies and attacks on research, and members staff terms and conditions are halted and subject to full and detailed negotiations with UCU.
- Request that you, as UCU General Secretary, and in line with the emergency motion passed at UCU Congress 2016, now personally intervene with London Met management/governors, in an attempt to rescind the unfair dismissal – as a result of union victimisation – of our branch officers, David Hardman and Mark Campbell, and to protest at the current mass job cuts and attacks on the terms and conditions of London Met UCU members, letting it be known that national UCU considers these as attacks on the whole union and will respond accordingly.
- Request that UCU nationally, again in line with the Emergency Motion passed at UCU Congress in June, urgently implement a full media and press campaign in support of members at London Met, expressly stating that the national union regard the current situation at London Met as a direct threat to the national union and will be responding accordingly unless those threats are withdrawn.
To be clear, we don’t believe Greylisting (academic boycott), by and of itself, is a panacea for all the issues affecting London Met and the sector more widely. However, we do believe the active threat of impending Greylisting, providing national UCU sufficiently highlights it, will itself be a useful tool in our armoury in putting pressure on university managers and governors to resolve at least some of our concerns prior to that October deadline. We envisage that the issue can be highlighted by placing a countdown clock on the UCU website, press releases, and articles from the GS in the press, and all member emails, etc,
The decision to declare the dispute at London Met a ‘local dispute of national significance’ reflects the reality that our university really is the ‘bleeding edge of the HE Bill’. We are being softened-up (actually, more accurately, roughed-up) either for direct privatisation, or for some private-public lash-up. The targeting of staff unions is in order that management can more easily make mass staff cuts, campus reorganisation, and increased casualisation. These are all part of the softening up process.
London Met, with all its issues, is the frontline in our union’s fight to defend our sector and our students, and we can’t simply leave it to the local branch – no matter how committed and valiant they have been through over a decade of attacks, to carry that fight only on their own shoulders. We are a national union for good reason. It is now time to fully act as one. This is not business as usual or just another local battle. This is a fight that each and everyone of us needs to take up. UCU must collectively tell London Met management and the Tory Government that we won’t carry on as normal. UCU must not allow London Met to be the thin end of the wedge that will allow the government and local managements to trample our members’ jobs and terms and conditions into the ground.
We need to raise our game to the challenges we face in our fight to defend our sector. The barbarians are at the gates and they are wearing suits and carrying profit and loss spreadsheets.
David Hardman & Mark Campbell (London Met UCU Branch Secretary and Branch Chair, respectively)
Video by Terry McGrath