Archive for Unions

Statement of support for Biosciences staff from VP Welfare candidate

Aaron Kiely, a committed student activist and community campaigner, as well as candidate for the position of Vice President (Welfare) in the upcoming Kent Union elections, has come out with a statement of support in favour of the UCU and those opposing cuts in higher education. Aaron said:

I am absolutely behind our lecturers and their union in this. I attended the meeting where they voted unanimously to campaign against these redundancies and defend their members, OUR lecturers. To make someone redundant at a time like this where no one is employing is outrageous and these people have families and themselves to support.

The whole process that staff have been made to go through is degrading, with them being graded against an arbritary scale. Female staff are also being disproportionately hit and all four female staff are threatened with redundancies. Science is male-dominated enough, we should be employing and supporting more women in the sciences, not laying them off.

I am heartened to see a lot of student support and look forward to working with the UCU, and other Unions in opposing these redundancies and the mistreatment of staff.

You can join the Facebook group opposing the redundancies here.

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UCU votes to take action at the University of Kent

The University and College Union (UCU) branch at the University of Kent has unanimously voted in favour of taking industrial action if negotiations over compulsory redundancies break down.

The meeting took place last night and was attended by some 124 UCU members at Kent, as well as 5 at Medway and 16 from the Law School.

At the heart of this matter is compulsory redundancies in the Biosciences department, which incidentally is top in Teaching Quality Assessments and top in the National Student Survey.

It has been reported that ten out of the twenty-seven staff members in the Biosciences department have been given letters of notice that they’re scheduled to lose their jobs. It was also highlighted that this is not a financial issue given that the Biosciences department has not run a deficit, instead, it seems to be about re-structuring the department and placing an emphasis on creating jobs which are designed to attract big business investment, rather than placing an emphasis on the quality of teaching students receive.

Keith Mander, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University, has presided over the implementation group which has threatened the staff with redundancies.

The UCU branch chair predicted that a “storm is coming”, as well as saying it’s “never been as bad as this before.”

More from Dave Semple at Though Cowards Flinch.

UPDATE: It is now suggested that 12 members of staff from the Biosciences department face the threat of compulsory redundancy.

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TUSC must be having a laugh

I’m sure many on the left are now familiar with the infamous ‘son’ of the hopeless NO2EU project, TUSC or Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. This ragtag bunch is the latest effort at ‘left unity’ organised by the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party and other ‘left’ groups who deservedly shouldn’t get a mention.

From the start I was critical of this coalition, much in the same way I was critical of NO2EU. The far-left cannot continually expect to form these coalitions weeks before an election and expect a breakthrough. Elections are, by and large, a costly business, and anything but a suitable playground at attempting left-unity. If TUSC were serious about making an entrance on the political scene they should have started months a go, the fact they did not suggests they are not taking this election seriously, neither will they be taking voters concerns seriously and neither will they be offering a positive agenda to voters.

At this point I would say that I have nothing against those activists involved in TUSC…but I do. The reason being? Standing against Green Party candidates, some of whom have been selected for months, who openly identify themselves as being socialists or firmly on the left.

In Brighton Kemptown, Dave Hill, a one time right-wing Labour “moderate” and East Sussex councillor, is standing against Ben Duncan, whose politics, I would say, are on the left. Ben has been out and about in the Kemptown constituency since before he was selected, representing Queen’s Park residents on the city council. It’s madness that the far-left in Brighton have taken the decision to stand against Ben, rather than support his efforts.

In Greenwich and Woolwich TUSC have taken the decision to stand against Andy Hewett, a prominent member of Green Left and the Campaigns Co-Ordinator on the Green Party Executive (GPEX).

TUSC, as most Socialist Party endeavours are, is a futile attempt at playing politics. What do they expect to achieve? Do they really intend on winning a seat? I think not, they don’t even have any trade union backing. Yes, they have the support of trade unionists, but so does Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and probably even the Tories. A name is not enough by any means.

As always, the coalition will fail to do anything. In the wake of a crushing defeat the partners will be arguing amongst themselves on who was to blame for the failure. It will further lead to mistrust and antagonism between the far-left sects and will probably be a massive step back for the Socialist Party’s aspirations for a new Labour Party.

In short, TUSC is silly politics for amateurs.

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Scapegoating students…again

Last week, John Healey, Housing Minister and MP for Wentworth, launched one of the vilest attacks on students yet.

Healey announced plans to grant local councils the power to minimise highly populated student neighbourhoods. The plans will allow councils to license and regulate landlords letting to students in problematic cities.

The Minister for Housing said: “I am giving councils more local powers to crack down on the worst landlords and stop the spread of high concentrations of share homes where it causes problems for other residents or changes the character of a neighborhood.”

These plans to restrict the number of multiple occupation of properties has met opposition from the British Property Federation, director of policy, Iain Fletcher, said: “Clearly, ‘studentification’ is an issue on some areas, but the private rented sector provides far more than student accommodation and any interventions need to be balanced against the impact they could have across the wider sector.”

Already, Liberal Democrat councillors in Canterbury have seized upon the issue. Jo Calvett-Mindell, Lib Dem councillor for St. Stephen’s ward, has long been in favour of a cap on student homes. In 2007, she tabled a motion calling for a 20% limit on the number of student homes per road. She made the exaggerated claim that some streets had “90% student occupancy” without citing any data or evidence of this. This weekend, in a tiny article in the free Canterbury Times newspaper, Cllr. Calvett-Mindell repeated her calls for a cap on student homes in the city.

 The plans are a horrendous attack on students from a Government incessant upon getting 50% of young people into higher education, having committed themselves to narrowing the gap of opportunities for young people after mandatory education, making university an unfair default option for many young people who wish to aspire in other disciplines. How does the Government expect cities to cope with an increasing number of young people attending universities, when it narrows access to decent and fair housing?

It’s bad enough that students have to expect delays in their loans, even when the loans fail to cover the cost of rent for one term. It’s bad enough that students have to accept near poverty wages in jobs with non-flexible work hours. It’s bad enough that time and time again students are scapegoated by local authorities for being the root cause of anti-social behaviour in large towns and cities with a significant student population.

Students can expect to become fodder for negative campaigning in local elections. In cities such as Canterbury- where most students often return home between mid-April to mid-May before the start of the exam season- students are deprived of their opportunity to vote, losing their say and local councillors are fully aware of this. Students can expect local, mainstream politicians to use language usually reserved for the xenophobic BNP. There is already evidence that this is the case.

Under Labour, students have become an easy target. The decline in student activism, aided and abetted by the National Union of Students (NUS), has made cheap political attacks possible. Without the promotion of a culture of activism, students are more likely to be ‘benched’ by their elected representatives when it comes to organising against savage Tory cuts in higher education and the prospect of un-regulated student fees. Permanent campaigning is no longer a fixture for NUS bods and union careerists, they’re far more interested in governance reviews and the re-structuring of their bureaucracies.

Until we see the emergence of grassroots, activist-candidates in student union elections who care more about delivering for students than winning, many students will continually be subjected to a brutalisation that will be surgical, painful and ugly.

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New statement from the University of Sussex student occupation

“On the 8th of February 2010 over one hundred Sussex students entered and occupied the corporate conference centre in Bramber House as a display of support and solidarity for the UCU’s upcoming strike ballot. Furthermore, we stand in solidarity with all other workers at Sussex taking action against the cuts.

In a rally held yesterday we raised over £250 towards the strike fund and urge all those who value the work of staff to contribute further.

We strongly oppose the cuts and lack of meaningful consultation that management has offered students and staff.

This action is only the beginning and it is part of the wider campaign against management’s cuts at Sussex. We intend to continue to bring the fight to management.

We acknowledge that Sussex is not the only university being affected by cuts to public spending and that this is not only a national phenomenon but is affecting public spending and education internationally. We would like to express our solidarity with everyone fighting cuts all over the world.”

Check out their campaign site here and keep the twitter thread.

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Could a British ‘Die Linke’ pose a serious threat to Labour?


A little while back Socialist Unity carried this article on the RMT’s decision to maintain the NO2EU coalition from June’s European Elections. The RMT will be hosting a conference on Saturday 7th November 2009 at the Camden Centre, London discussing ‘ The crisis in working class political representation.’

Andy Newman’s analysis over on the Socialist Unity article that first carried the story is a rather sound one, and he is right to point out that in five or more constituencies there already exists a strong left-of-Labour challenge either from the Greens or from Respect. But could the NO2EU coalition that fared so badly in the European Elections ever seriously develop along the lines of Germany’s Die Linke, or would it remain a has-been, over-ambitious project that goes the same way as Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party?

In the context of Germany and Die Linke, both German history, it’s electoral system, the activity of trade unionists and other socio-economic factors make most comparisons between British and German ‘social democratic labourism’ somewhat futile. Die Linke is effectively a Social Democratic Party (SDP)-mark II with radical-left and neo-Marxian factions, some of which are revolutionary and others of which are reformists. Oskar Lafontaine, the popular co-chairman of Die Linke, is a former high-profile member of the SDP having been both a former chairman and former finance minister. He was also the former Prime Minister of the German state of Saarland between 1985 and 1998. The most prominent point of tension within Die Linke is over the issue of participation in coalition governments with either the SPD or the Greens in order to keep the neo-liberal and conservative parties (the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Party) out of power, with some of Die Linke’s platforms and tendencies much more enthusiastic about co-operating with the SDP than others. In Britain, the electoral system makes coalition governments almost impossible at Westminister, although a hung Parliament is not beyond possibility, it would be likely that both the Tories and Labour would seek either unionist or civic nationalist support for a minority Government. Neither party would be overly enthusiastic about entering into co-operation with the Liberal Democrats, even though the Lib Dems believe they are in with a shot of becoming ‘King makers.’

If the results of the European Elections are anything to go by (along with smear tactics from the right-wing press) then an RMT-only electoral challenge has neither the political talent nor the numbers capable of posing a genuine threat to either Labour, or for that matter the BNP. What would be needed is the enthusiasm and support from the other non-affiliated unions, such as PCS, FBU, NUJ and perhaps soon to be, CWU. Bob Crow’s ambition would not be enough to maintain a left-of-Labour coalition and the smaller the coalition the more personality becomes a factor of difference rather than policy or political direction. The split in Respect emerged to be a personality difference between John Rees (both with SWP members and non-SWP members) and the ‘populist’ wing led by George Galloway and others. Without the unifying force non-affiliated trade unions could have supplied to Respect from it’s inception, cracks emerged and the debate turned away from the political and on to the personal.

Trade unions are unifying forces inside coalitions, they can lead the direction of policy debate and are largely recognised to be the financial brokers of electoral challenges. Eventually all party factions of a coalition would take their cue from the leadership of supportive trade unions.

The support of trade unions can offer motivation and enthusiasm to all coalition factions. Factions would be much more willing to compromise with ‘cash promises’ from trade unions because it is a chance for them to grow and expand in an attempt to exert it’s influence inside a coalition. With trade union money a left-of-Labour coalition can hire a communications and press team, a publications team and full-time organisers to get on with the busy task of professionalising and politicising a new electoral coalition and prepare it for an organised electoral challenge. Without trade union money any left-of-Labour electoral challenge is likely to be minimal and only concentrated to one or two constituencies where the likes of either Respect or the Greens have been slaving away for years and months. Elections really cannot be fought on shoe-string budgets. This is something most radical-left players who wish to consider any electoral attempt must realise. The power of a message is only as good as the price tag that funds it.

In my opinion a British ‘Die Linke’ would only ever be possible if the non-affiliated unions were committed to the project from the start. The RMT does not have a large enough political fund to be the foundation for a party that seeks to re-discover labourism. For any kind of coalition to have a serious chance of establishing itself like Die Linke has, under a first-past-the-post or even an Alternative Vote (AV) system, it will need big money so that it could fight in the constituencies. Regardless of what it decides it’s political programme or message to be, all players that desire some kind of permanent left electoral challenge have to realise that they need the unifying factor of trade union funding.

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The end of the Labour-CWU link?

It was the story that has been pretty much missed by the mainstream press and mainstream blogs, the London branch of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) has voted to no longer supply funds to the Labour Party after the results of an ‘indicative ballot.’ Only Bethan Jenkins AM has picked up the story.

Next week CWU will announce plans for a ‘consultative ballot’ of members in relation to it’s affiliation with the Labour Party. It is not yet clear the exact proposition of the ballot but it is likely that it will be a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on maintaining it’s affiliation to the Labour.

There have been rumours for some time that the Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, has been contemplating such a ballot of it’s membership. In some ways the ballot can be seen as a referendum on the direction of Hayes’ leadership of the union and his ousting of pro-Brown opinion inside the union.

There has been little in the way of rumour in how Billy Hayes would like to see CWU’s political fund allocated. It is unsure whether he would consider going down the same path as Bob Crow and establish some kind of British ‘Die Linke’, or instead go with the PCS and FBU option of supporting individual candidates.

For some time I have been of the impression that the CWU represents a major unifying force for any radical-left challenge to Labour in British politics. CWU has a giant political fund that could potentially sustain a left-of-Labour electoral challenge from the non-affiliated trade unions backed up by one or two soft-far-left parties. My personal preference would be to see CWU throw it’s weight behind the Greens in England and Plaid in Wales, but the Green-trade union link is weak in comparison to the links non-affiliated trade unions have to the non-mainstream left, despite the Greens pro-worker policies.

We could well be seeing the break-up of the Labour-CWU link soon.


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Autumn of rage?

‘Unions back cuts protest action’, according to the BBC.

” A motion from public service union Unison, saying any cutback in spending would “damage” vital services and “ultimately impair economic recovery”, was passed unanimously.

It called on members to “support, co-ordinate and encourage joint union action, including industrial action, in pursuit of these objectives”.”

Autumn of rage? I would hope so.

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