The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II. Wars and interventions in the Middle East have led to instability in Iraq and Syria, the exacerbation of sectarian religious tensions and the rise of ISIS. Millions are fleeing from violence and persecution. Some western countries which have done so much to create the problems in this part of the world are now trying to shut their borders. Far from a humanitarian response, some politicians are demonising the refugees. Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely right to propose that the Labour Party apologise for the invasion of Iraq. The labour movement and all decent people must demand that the refugees are admitted and that each European country take its fair share of refugees. The front line countries such as Greece and Italy cannot be expected to provide for all the refugees. There should be a Europe wide agreement in which each country agrees to take a proportion of refugees. If there were the will to do so, a formula could easily be worked out for each country’s quota of refugees, based on factors such as national income, population size and land mass. There should be no religious discrimination regarding which refugees are admitted. The decision of Poland and Slovakia to admit only Christian refugees must be condemned.
UCU is taking an emergency motion to the TUC Congress on the refugee crisis.
Trade Union Freedom
The struggle for trade union freedom will be a major focus for union activists and defenders of civil liberties in the UK in the coming year. The proposed Government legislation will substantially reduce the right to strike and hence the right to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.
As the legislation unfolds in the parliamentary process we will see the detail of the proposals. We must challenge the ballot thresholds and the way the proposed legislation treats abstentions as no votes. We must preserve the right to engage in industrial action and picketing. Agency staff should not be forced to act as scab labour. We must also oppose the establishment of more unnecessary record-keeping and reporting, which diverts union funds and resources away from representing and providing services to members.
Mobilising union members for campaigns and demonstrations against the new anti-union law must be a priority. The TUC demonstration outside the Conservative Party Conference on 4th October must be built for. Trades Union Councils should call public meetings to put the case against the anti-union laws. Barnsley Trades Union Council has called such a meeting for 20th October.
Time for a Real Fightback against Austerity
In addition to attacking trade union rights the Tories are pursuing other employment and social policies which will widen social inequality drastically. Those who were waiting for the return of a Labour Government to alleviate austerity must recognise that we now face a right-wing Conservative Government with a parliamentary majority. They need to support a real fightback, not austerity-lite.
Cuts to tax credits coupled with maximum 1% pay rises for the next four years will impoverish many public sector workers. Unemployed people and those dependent on welfare benefits will be subject to more demonization. The left must argue for national
insurance and the defence of the welfare state. It was a mistake for the Labour Party to abstain rather than oppose the welfare bill. The Labour Party needs a leader like Jeremy Corbyn, who will lead a genuine fightback against austerity. Jeremy’s campaign shows that anti-austerity candidates can win votes and mobilise people to be involved in politics.
Defend Education, Jobs, Pay and Working Conditions
For UCU members as they return to work for the autumn term there are pressures on pay, jobs and workloads. Colleges and universities urge staff to deliver ever more in terms of research targets, student satisfaction and income generation. Meanwhile jobs are cut, pay flat-lines and workloads escalate.
In HE activists need to organise for the regional/national meetings in September/October to debate the 1 percent pay offer. In FE there is the struggle both to get a decent offer from the national employers and then to get colleges to implement the national award. FE members will be balloted for industrial action over pay in the autumn. Activists must campaign to win this ballot.
The campaign to defend Adult Education must be continued actively. UCU members, students and others have waged a brilliant campaign, with regional strikes, demonstrations and two well-attended lobbies of Parliament. We need to continue to make the case for Adult Education. We need to challenge the view that FE Colleges only provide apprenticeships and technical training. We need to raise public awareness of the many ways FE provision contributes to society, in terms of Adult Basic Education, ESOL, and further opportunities to study for GCSE, A levels and other qualifications. If there is no FE, there is no second chance for students who do not succeed first time at school.
The struggle against casualization and precarious work must continue to be a priority. Activists must build for the Anti-Casualization Day of Action and the Anti-Casualization Conference. Branches locally must try to negotiate to transfer casualized staff to secure contracts of employment.
Work intensification must be resisted through local disputes in defence of contracts and through building up a union culture where members feel they can say no to unreasonable demands.
The struggle against austerity is an international one. We must learn from the experiences of workers in other countries and offer solidarity. UCU must continue support for the Greece Solidarity Campaign and demand the dropping of the debt.
In Spain there is a general election in December 2015. A victory for Podemos would support the anti-austerity struggle worldwide.
Sunday 4th October, TUC Demonstration outside Conservative Party Conference, Manchester
Saturday 10 October, UCU Left Conference at UCL Chemistry building, 20 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AJ
Saturday 17th October, UCU London – Defend Adult Education Conference, Westminster Kingsway College, London
Thursday 5th November – UCU Annual Meeting of representatives of Retired Members’ Branches
Thursday 12th – Saturday 14th November, UCU Equality Conference, Eastbourne
Saturday 14th November, Unite the Resistance Conference, London
Thursday 19th November UCU Adult Education Staff Annual Meeting
Friday 26th February 2016 UCU Prison Educators’ Annual Meeting
Wednesday 2nd March 2016 UCU Academic-Related Staff Annual Meeting
Friday 11th March 2016 UCU Anti-Casualization Conference
Dr. Liz Lawrence – UCU President