30 September 2012

Equality in education: a nice idea, but how we achieve it? [AEIP]

This is a report back from a workshop at the recent UCU Left conference, please discuss the article and the ideas from it in our “Another Education is Possible” Forum here.

These were the questions and themes that were suggested for the workshop to consider:

  • How do we ensure that the inequality aspects of the assault on the public sector are at the centre of our resistance?
  • What practical opportunities can we address to build links and networks with other unions and with campaigning equal rights organisations?
  • How do we ensure that the equality agenda becomes more central to the union’s industrial relations strategy, and that the equality agenda is not marginalised in any proposed changes to the NEC?

Around a dozen people took part in the workshop, with a more or less equal mix from HE and FE institutions. There was a useful and lively discussion framed by the suggestions above.

While the time available was limited because the previous session had overrun, a number of useful points emerged.

1. There was discussion about how more black members and women could be involved as reps at branch level. The point was made that one way of encouraging involvement in the union branch is to link issues of concern in the local communities (eg stop and search, pro-abortion activity, anti-cuts campaigning, etc) to branch support and activity.

There was discussion about how political spaces and opportunities could be opened up at all levels in the union where minorities could be encouraged to play active and leading roles.

Some at the session argued that a recognition of the broader political and ideological context in which the austerity assault is taking place is essential if equality reps and branch officers are not to risk being submerged in casework and consultation and thus not see the wood for the trees.

2. The issue of how to undermine an unfortunately still common view in some branches in the union that equality is effectively compartmentalised and ‘bolt on’ was discussed. Some members argued that it was crucial to explain the ways that equality concerns are fundamentally part of jobs and redundancy, working conditions and pay. For example, women are being hardest hit by the pensions attack, and most of the public sector workers on strike earlier this year and last were women.

3. Members suggested that there should be a dedicated equality forum on the union’s website, and that we should be agitating for the union to produce more campaigning materials emphasising the equality dimensions of the cuts, tuition fee increases, etc.
Part of this could be sharing ideas and best practice on how branches have been thinking about promoting Black History Month, or International Women’s Day, or LGBT History month, and so on.

4. It was suggested that out of the conference which had been proposed in the ‘defend multiculturalism’ workshop session earlier in the day should also come a UCU Left guide to ‘how we get genuine equality in education’, or something along these lines.

Laura Miles, group convenor, 27/09/2012

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