Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My speech (that never got heard) at #uNDC14 on Motion 9, 'Ensuring Trade Union Studies remains part of Higher Education'

Max Watson, NEC, supporting Motion 9, 'Ensuring Trade Union Studies remains part of Higher Education'  

Education is the life blood of trade unions, and of a democratic society. Education should be free for all.

The imposition of fees for higher education has stopped many adults from going to university. 

Since fees were raised to around £9000 a year  the numbers of mature students has fallen dramatically. 

London Met (where I work) was one of the few universities that ran undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Trade Union Studies, aimed at trade unionists with few or no academic qualifications but who had been through their own union or TUC courses and wanted to go further. 

I myself did a Masters degree in Trade Union studies myself when Mary Davis was there. I know there will be many others here at conference, like me (I've never been called a 'mature' anything though ... ).

The introduction of high tuition fees has led to the closure of these courses and Ruskin College is now the only Higher Education college which provides anything similar.

Trade unions need well educated reps and officers and that is what these courses provide. 

I spoke to Frank Radcliffe (who moved the motion) earlier about his experiences getting an MA at London Met and also to Richard Ross about teaching out the final year of that course. 

Hearing Frank's story and his passion for continuous education to a post grad level was truly inspiring. 

His Dad used to work at PNL, before it became London Met - we're part of the same community that is being attacked, broken up and killed off. 

Talking to Frank or to Richard you can see why the Government want them killed off... 

There are two things we in UNISON can do about this.

Firstly we should call on all political parties to commit themselves to abolish tuition fees and properly fund universities. 

When I went to University I never paid fees - I was the last of my generation to get a grant too. By the time my younger brother went he never got a grant and he paid tuition fees. That was after New Labour got in...

Secondly we should discuss with London Met and Ruskin how we can support trade union studies in those institutions. 

And finally we can learn the lessons of Lambeth college - where they've had enough of the cuts and UNISON members have just announced three more days strike action next week to be out alongside their sisters and brothers in UCU who are on indefinite strike to stand up for themselves. 

Dave Esterson is the UCU Chair, who also went to Uni of North London, which became London Met. Lambeth college is a perfect example of not only why the government hates and fears well educated trade unionists, it is also a perfect example of what we should do to protect trade union courses in Higher Ed.

Last night I heard from a UCU rep who said their lives had been transformed by their strike and people who had never before spoken in a meeting were now going up and down the country giving speeches to rooms packed with 200 people as a matter of course. 

They're advertising for a new HR Director at Lambeth - essential criteria? "Must have experience of a heavily unionised workforce"!

I was born and brought up in Lambeth, and I studied there. I'm proud to say I was educated by a "heavily unionised workforce."

Solidarity with striking Lambeth college staff - keep on keeping on until you win!

Your fight is our fight, your win will be ours too!


Friday, 20 June 2014

Ros Hanmer's speech on Motion 53: 'Defending Trade Union Activists' UNISON NDC 2014

Good afternoon chair and conference, I'm Rosalind Hanmer, London Met Uni UNISON branch, LGBT officer, and first time speaker at this conference [you can now watch this speech here].

I move this motion pointing out journalist and activist Owen Jones who writes "the decline of the trade unions is what lies  at the heart of the problems of the working class" the fact that they don't have a voice , their stagnating wages , their lack of rights in the workplace and the anti-trade union laws legislation which is increasing, continues to restrict the ability of the unions to represent its people with dignity and pride.  

We the activists are fighting in another climate of greed, stupidly and ignorance that has been named as austerity. Francis O'Grady the TUC  secretary spoke out in March this year about David Cameron's plans to review the trade unions as nothing more than a headline grabbing stunt on behalf of this government. 
Stunt or not, London metropolitan university felt the weight of this attack and the effect of its full force used against trade union activists who were standing on the front line protecting their members from a society and it laws that are not based on the people's needs, but on private profit and the protection of the rich while demonising the trade union and working class movement in the process.

We must protect our members with the full support from the NEC' s team, it is imperative that as activists we are recognised being able to live vibrantly through all our struggles full of confidence that at the crucial moment we have complete unity to transform the victimisation or persecution of any of our comrades. 

Londonmet branch did this, we turned the "impossible into the possible".

Max Watson, who is our Branch Secretary, and also sits on the NEC, was suspended on 7th Feb 2013 alongside Steve Jefferys and Jawad Botmeh. After 2,500 names on a petition, over 500 letters of protest, and hundreds on lobbies, protests and rallies where we united our  community behind a common cause, after a five week campaign, - including with support of the UNISON President and the NEC - by 13th March, Max, Jawad and Steve were all back in work. 

At the time, Max said: "This is about privatisation and about our right to challenge the management rather than manage their challenges."

Mark Serwotka told a public meeting, to show his union's support: 

"What is at stake here is that an incompetent management, when everyone can see what a tissue of lies this is, can get away with victimising or ultimately sacking people on such a trumped up set of charges.

"I cannot think of a more important reason for trade unions everywhere to get behind this campaign. 

"Because if we can stop it here, it sends an equally powerful message to everybody on our side, which is – when we stand together we can win and stop them in their tracks."

That is what we did. We stood united, and management backed down! 

We turned their poison into our medicine and we are very proud of winning our campaign. 

This week, we've had five delegates at NDC, and we're a small branch - because we are very proud of our achievement. 

And by moving this motion we want every one of you to feel the same pride in winning like we did if your employers come for you.

I will finish on this statement made by  PCS's Mark Serwotka, NUT's Christine Blower and CWU's Billy Hayes, who suggest  "The trade union's customary right to strike and the right to protest are fundamental liberties that have already been significantly restricted by anti-union laws", and as this motion states: this will not happen on our watch!  

The late Bob Crow wrote to London Met to say the RMT refuses to engage with anti union employers and threatened to pull out funding of students at London Met. He stated  that the RMT union takes a very robust stance when RMT reps are victimized and he put his money where his mouth was! 

Thanks also to Paul Holmes, from the NEC, who spoke inspirationally at our Branch Committee the week after Max was suspended - this helped boost our confidence that we could win. And we did win.

So please support this motion which asks for protection for all trade unionists and activists fighting for cultural, economic and social justice.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Higher Ed members break pay freeze with a two percent deal

Activists continued to pressure employers during talks
Unison members in Higher Education have won a two percent pay rise for 2014 as a result of our long-running dispute. 

We rejected last year's offer of one per cent and took three days national strike action in coordination with our sister unions in the sector. 

As we examine the balance sheet of our dispute we need to remember the context: the government-imposed pay freeze across the public sector and Health workers are facing zero percent. 

Whilst two percent is below RPI (approx. 2.5% at time of the final offer) it is also above CPI, the employers' preferred measure (1.6%). The pay freeze was broken despite efforts of those who tried to undermine our dispute. 

There were those who did not believe we could win, who had not faith in our members' willingness to stand up and be counted, and they mistook their own feebleness for weakness across the sector. 

They repeatedly claimed we would lose members over these unpopular strikes. The truth is our sector grew faster than ever before during the dispute. 

There are those who do not believe we can take meaningful strike action because our density is too low, in a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and pessimism. We have shown we can still take action and have an impact even when our density leaves much to be desired in some areas. 

Those same pessimists argued to call off further action until we had consulted further with members, which weakened our side at a critical time when the UCU was about to start their marking boycott. We should have been threatening action of our own and supported them. The employers then made an offer calculated to be just enough to buy off the dispute when we were looking hesitant. 

Those of us on the left had argued for escalating the action earlier, coordinating with other unions beyond our sector, and for the UCU to begin action short of a strike earlier. 

The tactic of the 'broad left' in UCU, however, was to string the dispute out on a 'slow burner'. 

This had a demoralising effect with long gaps between strike days action - they even de-escalated the action with two hour strikes in the UCU - and support predictably started to wane. This tactic of delay scuppered the chance to win a greater pay rise earlier. 

The tussle within the leadership of UNISON and UCU over these differing positions shows the need not only to win seats on the executives for the left, but demand greater accountability of exec members. For example, some members of the HE SGE voted against strike action every time and yet were able to claim in their election manifestos that they supported the strikes.

We should ensure we on the left publish how we vote, explain and debate openly our strategies whenever possible and expose those who continue to hold us back. We should be less fearful of being accused of undermining 'collective responsibility' when our own positions were undermined repeatedly by undemocratic maneuvering on the right. 

And we need to build on the networks and strengthen the relationships between activists who are loosely on the left who have taken action together over the last year. We need better forums for debating these tactics.

In the end a two percent settlement falls well short of catching up with the cost of living over five years of frozen pay, and the tactic of delaying and then downplaying the strength of our actions has frustrated our attempts to win an outright victory. 

However at the same time we cannot underestimate the importance of what this dispute demonstrates: we were right to make a stand on pay and we have been vindicated taking a bold lead. In doing so we have broken the pay freeze, setting a marker down for next year and for other service groups to build on our modest success. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Left candidates re-elected to HE SGE

I'm delighted the left did very well in Higher Ed Service Gourp Elections elections again. Many congratulations to those who saw off right wing  (or less left wing, I suppose) challenges:

1. Sandy Nicoll: London General seat
2. Molly Cooper: London Female seat
3. Linda Holden: North West female

Left candidates elected unopposed were: 

4. Consuelo Morena: London low paid female seat
5. Kath Owen: Yorkshire and Humber female seat
6. Sarah Pickett: South east female seat
7. Andy Beech: North West general seat

They join the two left candidates on the NEC (who were elected last year) for the HE seats

8. Tomasa Bullen (NEC HE Female Seat)
9. Max Watson (NEC HE General Seat)

Unfortunately the two left candidates who were unsuccessful in their challenges to the incumbents were:

Mark Dee Smith: Eastern general
Ivan Bonsell: South East general

I will write an analysis of this when I get the chance. Until then, as someone who has been fighting hard to re-electing our London slate, all I will say is ... YES! :-)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Support London Met University union rep Max Watson (Socialist Worker)

Support London Met University union rep Max Watson

by Sadie Robinson

London Met university workers and students lobby
in support of Max and Jawad last year (Pic: 
Guy Smallman)
Max Watson, a Unison union rep at London Metropolitan University, has launched an appeal against a decision dismissing a complaint he had brought against bosses. Max said he had suffered detriment after bosses targeted him because of his union activities. An Employment Tribunal dismissed this claim.

Max became a research administrator at London Met in 2006. Bosses suspended him in 2013 saying they were investigating a “serious matter of concern”.

This related to the employment of Jawad Botmeh at the university in 2008.

Jawad had been found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions in 1996. Socialist Worker journalist Paul Foot and others campaigned for his release, arguing that he was wrongly convicted.

The judgement said there were concerns of “reputational risk” after Jawad was elected as a staff governor in 2013 and his conviction “came to light”. This conviction was listed on Jawad’s personnel file. The judgement also confirms that the panel that initially interviewed Jawad in 2008 “were aware of Mr Botmeh’s conviction”.

Bosses suspended Max for potential gross misconduct after discussing his “involvement in the recruitment of Mr Botmeh” in 2013.


The judgement made clear that management was “irritated” by union activity at the university.

One email from executive officer Jonathan Woodhead complained of Max ranting in “true SWP style” during a protest.

Another email, from university secretary and clerk to the board Alison Wells to a member of her team, said “there was no plague virulent enough” for Max.

The judgement described this as “banter”.

An email from deputy chief executive Paul Bowler to vice chancellor Malcolm Gilles said “they had the unions on the back foot, well done”. A further email from Bowler denounced “bully-boy tactics of the 1970s unions”.

The judgement said, “It was clear that the claimant was seen by at least some members of senior management as a thorn in the side”. It said Max “had been active and public and had increased the membership of his union”.

The UCU union passed an emergency motion last year that said the suspension of Max and Jawad “is a clear case of victimisation of trade union activists in Higher Education”.

It resolved to express “full solidarity and support” to the campaign to reinstate Max and Jawad and to support protests and industrial action as part of the campaign.

Max has been advised not to speak to the press while the appeal process is underway.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

London Met 'plague' email was only 'banter' (Time Higher Ed)

No victimisation, tribunal rules, in Unison official's case against the university
Max Watson, London Metropolitan University
Unbowed: Watson's tribunal claim is dismissed, but he may appeal
A senior manager at London Metropolitan University told a colleague that there was "no plague virulent enough" for the head of the institution's Unison branch – but it was only "banter".
Private emails between London Met management are disclosed in the judgment of an employment tribunal brought against the university by Max Watson, a research administrator and Unison branch secretary. Mr Watson alleged he was victimised for his union activities, a claim the tribunal dismissed.
London Met management have had a series of battles with the university's unions in recent years, including over the university's loss of its licence to recruit non-European Union students in 2012.
Paul Bowler, deputy chief executive, wrote to Malcolm Gillies, the vice-chancellor, in December 2012 saying that he felt "they had the unions on the back foot, well done". Another message sent by Mr Bowler to other senior colleagues described union activities as "bully-boy tactics of the 1970s unions".
The judgment adds that there was an email from Alison Wells, university secretary, "that whilst intended to be private 'banter' with a member of her own team, stated that 'there was no plague virulent enough' for the claimant [Mr Watson]".
Jonathan Woodhead, executive officer to the vice-chancellor and a former adviser to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, forwarded a video to Professor Gillies and Mr Bowler of a protest over the fate of the university's foreign students. The video "showed the claimant and others at a protest and that email referenced that the claimant and another were ranting in 'true SWP [Socialist Workers' Party] style'," the judgment says.
The root of the tribunal was the suspension of Mr Watson, a research administrator in London Met's Working Lives Research Institute, for his role in the appointment of Jawad Botmeh at the WLRI in 2008.
In 1996, Mr Botmeh had been convicted over the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London. He has always maintained his innocence.
When the university management investigated Mr Botmeh's prior conviction after he became a staff governor in 2013, Mr Watson was charged with serious misconduct and the two men were suspended. Both later had their suspensions lifted and returned to work.
Mr Watson is thought to be appealing the dismissal of his tribunal claim. 
Read the full article here: