Tuesday, 26 April 2011

We are London Met - Education not Privatisation!

On Friday 15th April I chaired an emergency joint union meeting of approx 200 support staff, academics and students at London Met, to agree to a robust defense of teaching humanities and to resist the scandalous closure of two-thirds of our courses, agreed the day before.

Philosophy, History, Performing Arts and Caribbean Studies are all to go, alongside hundreds of others. The blunt message is: ‘these courses are not for the likes of you, study 'vocational' courses instead’.

We agreed a statement castigating the plans and re-launched the 'Save London Met Uni' joint union website, as a hub for all our campaigning against this new round of cuts.

The mood is of shock and anger - staff and students showed a determination to resist these cuts at our hastily-called union meeting. New petitions blogs and facebook groups are already up and running, and all three unions are committed to resist these cuts and support the campaign.

When staff see their unions campaigning to defend jobs and education, they quickly join up - three new members joined UNISON immediately after our meeting. And it's not just our jobs we're defending but the principle of providing educational opportunities for all. As one of our Librarians put it, these cuts will mean: "It will not be the University I wanted to work for anymore."

An event already in the pipeline, called 'We Are London Met - Education not Privatisation', will now have additional emphasis on these new cuts to Humanities - and focus on our defense of publicly funded education.

London Met is back in the eye of the storm again. We're used to ongoing battles, but this is about the shape of things to come across the country: other campaigns to save Philosophy (eg at Greenwich) are already networking with London Met's.

Industrial action is inevitable - we're already in dispute over compulsory redundancies before these cuts were announced. We're well placed for it, though, as we have a strong tradition of solidarity between UNISON, UCU and a blossoming student activist base in the Met Student Union.

So, come to London Met on 7th May and take part in our event - it'll be a launch pad for our new campaign to save the soul of London Met, an inclusive space for activists to come together to discuss the vision of what we wish to see at university; a place for all to discuss how to resist the cuts effectively.

We've a great line up of speakers, Spanish speaking translations, a film showing, and there are practical sessions and workshops to ensure it will not only be a good networking opprtuinity and rallying point, but - more importantly - an active, organising event to prepare our next steps
(and by the way it’s not ‘owned’ by any one of the various anti-cuts groups: it’s 100 percent non-sectarian and open to all who support our cause).

Finally, we'll be celebrating a recent union victory too - winning a commitment to the London Living Wage at London Met - so come down early and stay late. We've booked the Rocket Bar all night and music will be provided by peeps from the student union. See you there?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

All trade unionists should support UK Uncut

I proposed today at the NEC that UNISON should also lend our names to supporting UK Uncut and in particular send a message of solidarity to the 'F145'. Watch this film of their peaceful protest and you wouldn't question why protesters feel they were misled when you see the police telling them they will not be arrested or 'kettled'.

And remember the arrests of UK Uncut activists: "...gives us some really important intelligence opportunities."

My proposal, I'm sorry to report, was voted down, despite two of the other 'big three' unions signing this letter (plus more).

Since that letter, a campaign has been set up and you can find out how you can help (in a personal capacity, of course) support by going here: http://fortnum145.org/how-you-can-help/

Protest has been a means for progressive change throughout human history - and it continues to play that role across the world today.

Through protest, people have won and defended their rights to a decent standard of living as well as control over their lives and the societies in which they live.

It should come as no surprise that in a world of vast and growing inequalities in wealth and power, protest is growing in this country as in many other parts of the world.

Protest is the legitimate right of everyone – and we believe it is right that people are protesting against some of the richest in the world failing to pay their taxes while others suffer serious and increasing levels of poverty and deprivation.

UK Uncut have played a significant part in changing the terms of debate around economic policy in the UK and have been praised by politicians and the media for doing so.

Indeed UK Uncut played a key role in ensuring that more people were at the march on Saturday than otherwise would have been. At all times they acted in a way which complemented and supported the TUC march.

However, in taking the type of peaceful action which UK Uncut routinely undertake on Saturday, targeting Fortnum and Mason on this occasion, they were treated in a political and deceptive manner by the police which sends an ominous message about the right to protest.

It would appear activists were misled by the police about not being arrested when asked to leave the Fortnum and Mason building, after which they were held for a significant length of time, their clothing was confiscated and they have been denied the right to protest in the near future.

This situation has now been seized on by the media and politicians to further threaten the right to protest. UK Uncut activists have been blamed for damage they did not cause and this story has become a substitute for discussion of the real issues raised by UK Uncut and the TUC march in general.

This does not represent a consistent approach to policing legitimate protest. Neither does it represent the sort of consistent approach to freedom of protest which the Government led us to believe they supported on entering office. We support the right to protest for a fairer and more equal world. As part of this, we condemn any politically motivated policing which provokes, intimidates or criminalises protestors. We will continue to support UK Uncut, alongside thousands of others, until tax justice is secured so the poorest do not have to pay the price of a financial crisis caused by the richest.

Neal Lawson, Compass
Mark Serwotka, PCS
Len McCluskey, Unite
Paul Kenny, GMB
Jeremy Dear, NUJ
Liz Nelson, Tax Justice Network
John, Hilary, War on Want
Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign
Andy Egan, People and Planet

Sunday, 10 April 2011

UNISON left slate - website launched

UNISON left has launched a new website for the NEC elections, 2011.

We are angry at the Con Dem attacks on the Welfare State and public services. They are trying to make ordinary people like us pay for the economic crisis created by bankers’ greed.

While our jobs, pay and services are cut, millionaires dodge taxes and bankers get billions in bonuses. Thousands of us marched against cuts on the 26th of March – but what next? With fighting leadership UNISON can unite public sector unions and users and organise real resistance. The present leadership have failed to lead action to stop the Tory assault.

  • Resistance to all cuts and privatisation
  • United industrial action to defend our pensions & a coordinated fight against the Tory pay freeze
  • Opposition to all attempts to divide us – like Cameron’s attack on multiculturalism
  • Only funding and supporting politicians who will join us in the fight against cuts. Labour councils should refuse to carry out Tory cuts and set needs budgets.
  • Ending the waste of members’ money on witchhunting of left wing activists

We are experienced activists from many backgrounds. Unlike the present leadership – who are quick with words but slow to lead action – we don’t just say it, we do it. Vote for us and build the fight against cuts and to protect jobs, pay, pensions and services. Elect a team for the battle to come.

Read the rest here, and share this with all your contacts in UNISON. The left will only win seats if all our activists get engaged in these elections - not just the usual suspects. I'll be getting leaflets out to several London HE branches this week, so get in touch if you can help an hour or so here or there.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Tower Hamlets coordinated strike action - March 30th 2011

Excellent 'Reel News' footage of Tower Hamlets UNISON / NUT coordinated strike action on March 30th 2011.

We managed to get our banner out to join the demo as it came past London Met and then go into the lunchtime rally, which was really inspiring. It really felt like they'd really mobilized the community to support this day of action in the east end.

And shows that we can build for coordinated strike action. Watch this, and imagine if we did this nationally:

The quality of my (hand-held) footage is not great, but you get a good feel for the size and mood of the rally on the inside:

Second part of the speech is here:

Other speeches (PCS, NUT), also called for nationally coordinated strike action, and I hope Keith Sonnet, who spoke for UNISON, will take that message back to the presidential team...

There is a mood to fight, and Tower Hamlets have shown it can be done.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Vote for a fighting, democractic union

This short film was made for my election campaign for a 'Fighting, democratic union', and then I found out that no other candidate is standing for the post. It seems a waste to bin it, so here it is. It was in January when the students movement was leading the way in the fight against the cuts.

I was invited to speak at the rally on behalf of UNISON's HE sector. At the time there was an argument within the unions that we should only be supporting the TUC march in Manchester, not the demo on London too, but we won the argument to build for both, and the turn out was good in two cities. Seems like a long time ago now:

As I reported at the time, I was speaking as the march was leaving so cut it very short and the audience was left dwindling and wanting to leave, so the crowd looks tiny!

The elections are coming up, so I'll be out and about campaigning for those other candidates like me, who are calling for a new direction for our union and a fighting leadership. Let me know if you want leaflets.