Defend Education, Defend Equality!
Defend Civil Liberties, Defend Academic Freedom!
Saturday 24 October 2015, Quaker Meeting House, Liverpool
Thanks to Saira Weiner, Liverpool John Moores and Chair of Women’s Committee, and Carol Cody, City of Liverpool College, for organising this event, hosted by the North West Regional Committee, with lunch supplied by the University of Liverpool branch. Thanks also to our two speakers from outside the region, Liz Lawrence, UCU President and Dave Muritu, Chair of the Black Members Committee, and to all of the members who contributed to a fantastic day of learning, sharing and strategizing. The day reflected some of the rich diversity of our membership and increased the visibility of sections that are historically under-represented.
One of the main themes of the day was how intrinsic equality is to all of the issues that we deal with as a union. It is not an add-on or an after-thought. We discussed four major attacks on equality that we are currently facing in the education sector: the Trade Union bill; Prevent legislation; casualization and deteriorating pay and conditions, particularly in FE. The two pieces of legislation put together represent an incredibly chilling curtailment of democratic rights and freedom of expression.
Trade Union Bill
Liz went through the key features of the bill and talked about the widespread opposition to it within society, not just from the unions, political parties, academics but also from human rights organisations. She talked about the ‘pressure on citizenship rights’ and how the bill would move us from collective bargaining to collective begging. Unions could end up as a place where members came for ‘tea and sympathy’ and nothing else. In the discussion we suggested different levels at which the bill could be challenged and the question was asked if a judicial challenge had been considered by the TUC.
Next we discussed another draconian piece of legislation, Prevent. We started with its terms. What is an ‘extremist’? Who defines it? Who institutionalises it? The suffragettes, the ANC, LGBT campaigners have been seen by those in power as ‘extremists’. Yet these actors were ahead of their times, changing society for the better, ironically, fighting for equality. In a recent Prevent training session, police gave Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, as an example of an ‘extremist’ Again, another term, ‘British values’ is deeply problematic, given Britain’s past and present foreign and domestic policies. Are we all obliged to espouse a revisionist history which air-brushes out the British state’s racism? We know what happens to societies, which rewrite and mythologise their histories.
The consequences of Prevent are to silence dissent and to threaten both student and staff activism on campus. In addition, students who have been the victims of Prevent have felt so intimidated that it has turned them away from education (see articles below). As educators, this goes completely against our job of creating a bond of trust in a safe space. In the discussion, a number of points were made. As educators we also need to defend the right of the learner to make mistakes, that that was integral to the learning process. This legislation not only targeted Muslim students but also those defending academic freedom and civil liberties. UCU have excellent policy and resources in this area and the question was raised if members of GMB, Unite and Unison working in the wider education sector, were equally well prepared and resourced. UCU national policy and how branches could implement it was discussed as has been reflected on the ucu activists list.
Dave explained to us that the Black Members Standing Committee was an advisory committee and its aim was to address the disconnect that some black members feel towards the union and to access the structures of the union. He reported how the recent New Black Activists workshop was oversubscribed and another one was planned as a result. He also told us that some 700 members had responded to a survey, indicating that they wanted to talk about issues of (institutional) racism and that they want change on them. Other initiatives include re-starting a black members’ network in the West Midlands.
Casualization is discriminatory and so widespread that everyone in the room had some experience of it. Liz stressed how damaging stigmatization (hot-desking, excluded from department/faculty meetings, not paid for training) was as making people different then allows the institution to treat them differently. GTAs are more vulnerable because their supervisor is also their hirer. We need to dispel fear of victimisation, identify protection and other benefits of membership. How do we tackle external drivers (research/funding structures) at a national level? We aim for inclusion, dignity and respect for all workers.
FE Pay Strike 10 November
This £1 per hour claim is an equalities pay claim because female, BME and precarious staff are overrepresented at the bottom of the pay ladder.
1. FE Pay Strike – 10 November – twinning of branches in the region
2. Invite ‘Students not Suspects’ tour to other universities and colleges in the region
http://roarnews.co.uk/wordpress/?p=18195 Email Pura Ariza for contact details.
3. ‘Unite the Resistance’ conference 14 November, London, includes John McDonnell http://uniteresist.org/2015/08/unite-the-resistance-conference-2015/
4. National Day of Action on Casualization – 19 November 2015 & disseminate the anti-casualisation blog on ucu web-page
5. National Day of Action on Race – February 2016, details to follow
6. Share experiences of case-work, surveys, strategy amongst the branches in the region
7. Regional solidarity to our victimized colleagues at City of Liverpool College and Salford University.
Julie Hearn, Joint VP, Lancaster University UCU