Remembering Cliff

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We would like to thank the many colleagues and friends who have contacted us with messages of condolences, following the death last month of Cliff Snaith.

Below is a speech read by Mark Campbell during the service:

Mark at Cliffs FS

Cliff was my friend, colleague, comrade, and brother-in-arms.

 

Cliff’s battles weren’t waged on foreign soils, from 30,000 feet, or via humanity-less drones of death. Nor were they waged against the victims of dictatorships, government backed autocracies and counter-revolutionary reaction. Rather, Cliff, like many of his friends here today, waged war on injustice, ignorance, and elitism. He championed the powerless and strove visibly with his very fibre to break down the many barriers thrown in their way.

 

Cliff was an educator and leader but determinedly never an instructor or manager. He well understood the difference between each. His greatest bugbear being the legion of leaderless-managers he exasperatingly confronted the entirety of his working life.

 

I first met Cliff some fifteen years ago when I was a recent transfer from industry to academia, and newish member of NATFHE representing the University of East London at NATFHE London Region where Cliff was Regional Secretary. I remember being impressed in equal measure by both his full-flowing passionate oratory, and his pre-emptive withering voluble distain for any hint (in his mind at least) of detraction. I later learnt it was never a good idea to shuffle or become distracted with something else when Cliff was in full flow. Although, he was always much kinder to me than he was to managers for doing likewise.

 

If I didn’t realise back then how interlinked my life would become with Cliff’s it soon became apparent when in 2002, some six months after I moved to London Guildhall University it merged with the University of North London – where Cliff was the longstanding, and long-suffering, NATFHE Branch Secretary, to become London Metropolitan University.

 

Within weeks of its formation the new London Met NATFHE coordinating committee, with Cliff as its secretary, was forced into the start of what was to become a serious, and years long, contract dispute with London Met management. Cliff helped formulate our initial dispute letter sent on 22 October 2002, which culminated in the following prescient sentence: ‘This University is in its infancy. In less than 3 months you have managed to generate what is perhaps the worst industrial relations climate in the sector…’. Neither Cliff, nor the rest of us, realised just how much worse it was going to get.

 

In April 2004, almost immediately upon becoming sole Vice-Chancellor, Brian Roper, got his Director of HR, Lyn Link to issue a legal notice to all ex-LGU staff telling them they were going to be forced onto the ex-UNL contract on 1 September 2004 under threat of dismissal. The battle for London Met had begun, and Cliff was to be at the very heart of it. He knew that there was only one way to deal with bullies and that was to stand up to them. He also realised we needed to have a collective fight that brought ex-UNL staff as well as ex-LGU staff together. He therefore helped formulate a dispute against ‘management imposition’ so that we could ballot all members on industrial action not just those immediately threatened. Cliff then helped lead one of the greatest collective acts of defiance in London Met’s history – hundreds of members of staff gathered around a brazier on a cold morning at the beginning of September 2004 and proceeded to burn Link’s ‘preferred contract’, defying her to try and sack the lot of us. Cliff’s smile that day was the warmest thing.

 

That was the Cliff I knew, a committed trade unionist and socialist whose deeds matched his rhetoric. We fought side-by-side in battle after battle, dispute after dispute, both national and local. Cliff kept me, and very many colleagues, going when it all seemed just too much to take on. And, as Cliff would be the first to acknowledge, under his leadership we chalked up some remarkable victories – we stopped hundreds of job cuts and the destruction of our national contract, we prevented union de-recognition, we led the campaign to defend our international students threatened with deportation – including marching out of lessons (without a ballot) and picketing the Home Office. We managed to achieve the removal of three VC’s (so far) and an entire Board of Governors. We have one of the best records in the sector of solidarity work with our Unison colleagues, and have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our students through five (now six) occupations.

 

To help achieve all that, Cliff led from the front with vigour and determination. Though, not always consciously. Such as the time we were late – the result of the usual banner problems that have dogged London Met UCU from the beginning, to a London Region UCU and NUS demo against the introduction of fees shortly after the 2010 Milbank demonstration. We arrived at the back, banner high, just as the front was halted by massed ranks of police. Cliff, not one for hanging around in the cold, suggested that we turn to our left and head to Embankment. Which we did, but then about a thousand others who had been in front of us thought it sensible to follow our banner. Thankfully, the few police on duty at that exit were as surprised as we were and just got out of our way! Feeling confident as a result, Cliff suggested we might as well continue to Parliament down the Embankment, which we duly did, stopping loads of traffic along the way.

 

Cliff always seized the moment (and the opportunity). As London Region Secretary, and liking the odd pint or three of beer, he was rather delighted when he and most of the rest of the London Region executive managed to get ‘kettled’ in the Lord Moon pub on Whitehall following another anti-fees demonstration. He decided to do the sensible thing of firstly ordering a beer, and then constructing and issuing a press release while drinking it.

 

I loved Cliff’s oratory and magnificent turn of phrase. He spoke with such passion and conviction and constructed sentences with scalpel precision. In management negotiations he could visibly shake with righteous anger and frustration one minute. While the next deliver a quietly-spoken, and well-aimed, barbed comment that would utterly disable the management side. Though, he really wasn’t very good with numbers, and social media just passed him by.

 

Cliff was most animated when he was actively championing widening participation and working class access to critical education. He was incandescent with rage when courses such as Philosophy, History, Caribbean Studies, and Performance Art were slated for closure, and he lashed out with tongue and pen in their defence. As he would often say, you can’t deny people their own history.

 

In his last weeks he was outraged when he received news of further threatened course and job cuts at London Met, and was quick to note that those cuts, and the educational vandalism of closing the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture, and Design’s Aldgate campus, were the exact outcomes he had predicted in his submission on London Met’s Strategic Plan. It will therefore come as no surprise to his friends that one of Cliff’s final acts – only days before his untimely death, was to make sure that I formally registered his no confidence vote in London Met’s current VC, and to give me advice on how best to take the struggle forward.

 

Finally, I can only assume that Oscar Wilde had a Cliff-like friend in mind when he penned the following:

 

‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.

Here you can find the rest of the speeches read during the service.

David Hardman read a passage from ‘The Tempest’

Davids reading

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158
Prospero

 

Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended.
These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and
are melted into air, into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
the cloud-clapp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
yea, all of which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

followed by the singing of ‘The Internationale’.

Here’s London Met UNISON’s account Cliff’s final march

 

LizL at Cliffs FS
UCU President Liz Lawrence (L) and former NATFHE General Secretary Paul Mackney (R)

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Remembering Cliff with great love, the UCU Coordinating Committee

(Photos and video by David Hardman)

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