7 Jun 2006

Memoirs of a Callous Picket

I love this iconic book title, fron the 'winter of discontent' in 1978/1979 when the public service unions went on strike, the IMF were running Britain and insisting on pay freeze/cuts...the agreement between the labour government and the unions collapsed. Thatcher exploited the strike action and was elected in May 1979. The tabloid press were labelling unions as all powerful and oppressive, thus the ironic book title above.

Any way, I wanted to post on the end of the University teachers action. Its been quite a bitter industrial action, I have had some students being very supportative, others have felt upset and confused. There has been the usual media barrage.

I am going to think about the offer. I am pleased that apparently non academic workers have been offered 15.5%, this is important. Its also important that the newly merged union has flexed it's collective muscle, higher education is institutionally ageist (I have plenty of friends in their 40s or even 30s who will never get a full time post), very casualised (lots of graduate students teaching courses) and invaded by the corporate sector.

So if we can't strike over pay, when if ever, will we work on the struggle to free education from the worst dogmas of the market?

More positively I have had support from many of my students, my partner Sarah has been great and I must thank Richard Mallender (Green Party chair) and Peter Murray/Joseph Healy from Green Party Trade Union Group for support.

I am also pleased that there is now a lecturers left group meeting on saturday June 24th, June.

All I can say is if you are a 'callous' picket keep on keeping on, tutition fees, etc are part of what must resist, so compassion is the real word for the picket! Sadly given how well the Left Green meeting went I am becoming tolerant of everybody.

Usual invective another day.

Here is a letter from Sally Hunt from the union.

2006 Pay campaign

As you will have seen, the union has suspended the current industrial
action following receipt of a further offer from the UCEA. You have been
taking action since March, and have shown us amazing support and I think
that you therefore deserve a personal explanation from me as to why the
union thinks this latest offer should be accepted.

These have been some of the most difficult national negotiations that I
have been involved with in my career. The employers have failed to speak
with one voice, have adopted aggressive strike breaking tactics and have
been dragged kicking and screaming towards prioritising more money for

I want to be very clear with you that the deal on the table, 10.37% on
salary points over 22 months from August 2006 plus the right to reopen
bargaining once the employers have opened the books in year three, is not

* It is not enough to make up the 40% shortfall in your pay over the past
two decades.
* It is not enough to compensate for the huge increase in administration,
bureaucracy and teaching and preparation time that you have had foisted on
* It is not enough to compensate for the huge growth in job insecurity as
a result of fixed term and hourly paid contract working; and
* It is not enough to show that the employers are finally treating you
with the respect that you deserve.

But it is a start in my opinion. The proposed deal is the highest in the
public sector this year by some margin, and with the Chancellor seeking to
pin down pay settlements to around 2.5% in the future is likely to be
better next year as well. The 10.37% increase will increase the average
UCU member's salary by a little more than £3,500 (excluding increments)
over the next two years, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that
we would not have even approached this outcome without the strength of the
action undertaken by you and your colleagues.

Turning to the third year of the deal, UCEA had previously sought to
"handcuff" the union so that we would not be able to renegotiate a further
salary increase. This could never be acceptable given the substantial
extra funding that is coming into the sector in 2008/09. We now have an
independent review which will "open the books" of the HE sector to
determine how much more money is available for pay. UCU will play a full
part in that review, submitting evidence and arguing that priorities have
to shift towards rewarding staff. If the review reveals that there is
more money, we have achieved the right to re-negotiate and this is an
important principle.

So that is my view. Sometimes as a negotiator you have to recommend
something which you think falls short of what you think the people you
represent deserve. We have achieved something, but not enough in my
opinion and one reason for this is the utter failure of our current
national negotiating structures to work effectively.

That is why I have called for an urgent review of bargaining arrangements.
Everyone in the union benefits from the protection of national
bargaining, but I have seen at first hand in recent years how
unrepresentative the UCEA structure is of the range of institutions within
the sector. I am accountable to you for the decisions that I make - and I
will take the flak when I get it wrong but there are many on the other
side of the table who have no role in managing their institutions and are
accountable to no one for the hard line stance that they take. I will
negotiate with whoever the employers put up as their representatives but,
in my view, new national bargaining arrangements are essential if we are
to avoid a repeat of this dispute.

Whatever your views, I hope you use your vote in the forthcoming ballot.

I will respect the outcome either way, but I do not think that your
negotiators should hide once they make their recommendation and so I
wanted to give you my view.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or wish to
share your views with me and thank you again for your magnificent support
so far during this dispute.

With best wishes,

Sally Hunt UCU joint general secretary


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