UCU elections: vote, for a change

There are two overlapping sets of recommendations for a progressive, experienced and nationally-focussed candidates – UCU Unity Network and the slate on Engage. These people will represent us. They won’t hijack UCU to pursue, in our name, an aggressively exclusionary internationalist agenda dictated by their political party.

Fewer than 15% of members voted in UCU’s first elections last year. Consequently unrepresentative activists pushed through a resolution to pursue another boycott of Israel. This was in direct opposition to the interests of the union, obliging UCU’s own Strategy and Finance Committee to seek the legal advice which eventually ruled both boycott and campaign for a boycott unlawful. I’m still asking myself why boycott advocates needed to be told by Lord Lester – architect of the Race Relations Act – that it was discriminatory when even our own statutes say we won’t discriminate on grounds of nationality.

The fact is that there’s a lot of lethargy. The people who are organising are extremists. The most active people have until now been revolutionary socialists. I have nothing against revolutionary socialists – I remain to be persuaded (and have been pretty repelled by how wrong it’s gone in Britain over the past few years). But hose currently strong-arming UCU are not representative of the wider membership – they hope we’ll shut up and allow them to pursue the global anti-imperialist struggle dictate by their personal politics. They act as a faction and are accountable to their political parties, not the membership. They affiliate with the sickening Stop The War Coalition who in their opposition to Bush are all admiration for the virulently racist Hesbollah, and they pursue their boycott of Israel (in South Africa this mean majority rule; in Israels case it amounts to the cancellation of Israel as an independent country) year after year after year with a zeal which is fearsome to behold. What is also chilling is how silent they became on the subject of Palestine once the Socialist Workers Party which was driving it pulled the plug. Like ants at the end of a pheromone trail, to use an analogy, pro-Palestinian activism in UCU seemed to dissipate.

Meanwhile at UCU the boycott campaign has been very damaging – it sapped time, energy, goodwill and money. We gained little in our pay dispute, we’re heading for unknown territory if we unhitch ourselves from single table bargaining as it looks likely that we will, and there are hints that UCEA will launch an attack on national bargaining in the coming year. Diversity is crap at the higher levels of management, academic related staff are neglected, commercialisation and casualisation are a real threat. (I imagine that any pro-boycott activist reading this would probably want to tell me I was using our local interests as a smoke-screen to divert attention away from the Palestinians. They’d say I was fulsome in my concern for UCU members, or something. This is how topsy turvy UCU is getting.)

To stop UCU being hamstrung by the discriminatory post-colonial spasm it is currently best known for, vote to minimise the Socialist Workers Party and UCU Left presence on the National Executive Committee. UCU is getting organised and we now have proper options – the recommendations of the UCU Unity Network and the slate on Engage. They are progressive, experienced and nationally focussed candidates who will focus on our pay and conditions. I hope they will extend international solidarity where it does not divert from these priorities or involve discrimination. Most important, they will represent us rather than hoping we turn a blind eye and let them pursue the narrow, aggressive agenda of their political party in our name.

Jon Pike gave a post-mortem of the boycott campaign to Leeds activists:

On Wednesday – out comes Socialist Worker. Now, you might think that the antics of this small group are of no concern to academics and trade unionists in Britain – but you’d be wrong. Through UCU Left, the SWP has a very strong influence – for now – on the executive of our union. But on Wednesday, the SWP changed their line on the academic boycott. They conceded that they were heading for a massive defeat in a ballot – and admitted that they were desperate to avoid one. The momentum behind the call for ballot was growing – even some boycotters were backing it. Members of the Communist Party – also influential in our union – and lots of NEC members were on board.

So something very odd happened: the SWP tried to cut a deal. They tried to stop a ballot by promising not to propose a boycott at Congress in 2008. In doing so, they cut loose Sue Blackwell, Steven and Hilary Rose, for the sake of maintaining their political position on the NEC.

It was a weird and grotesque move.

Our union has been dominated by this issue since its inception, as the boycotters, with the SWP pushed and pushed to get it on the agenda. Then after marching the troops up to the top of the hill, last Wednesday, they marched them down again.

They pushed and pushed to open a debate on a proposal that, they then announced, they weren’t going to back.

People give the SWP too much respect in our union.

Sad to say there isn’t the big campaign to get people to fill in and post their ballot papers you might expect from UCU – if you visit the web site, nothing. No splash, no banner – not even a link to hook people in. Engage is promoting a number of candidates as is the UCU Unity Network – the two slates overlap.

It would also make sense to have an online version of the election address document which sets out the credentials of the candidates. Easier to search and compare candidates that way.

Anyway, just vote this time.

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5 thoughts on “UCU elections: vote, for a change

  1. AVPS, of course they organise. There have always been factions in unions (and sometimes they get kicked out, and that doesn’t seem very democratic to me). This particular faction have made it very clear what their organising means for UCU. It’s a good idea to describe their antics and try to get them replaced with people who will put union members first, not some trendy post-colonial, anti-Imperialist cause. And once again, I am happy (with some trepidation about who I will be working with) to add my efforts to any project which helps Palestinians in constructive resistance – to the occupation specifically, not the existence of Israel – and which, particularly, improves Palestinian students access to higher education. It’s not the will to support Palestinians that I oppose (although I probably would if it became a union obsession again) – it’s the anti-Zionism.

    Bring on the real left. Down with the SWP and UCU Left!

  2. This is what I wrote on my blog, via which AVPS found you:

    Phil, I re-read FiG’s piece on UCU and failed to find a “witch-hunting” tone, apart perhaps from a single instance of the word “extremist” to refer to the SWP. The so-called UCU Left does not represent the genuine left in the UCU: it is dominated by the SWP and organised around an “anti-imperialist” agenda which has nothing to do with either genuine anti-imperialism or the cause of labour solidarity.

    Those of us who argue against the UCU’s posturing around Middle East issues are accused of wanting to de-politicise the union. In fact, the UCU Left is not genuinely internationalist. While forcing the union to spend hours debating the futile and reactionary gesture politics of boycotting Israeli scholars, they have been silent on issues of academic freedom in countries where academics get slung in prison for voicing dissent. They have been silent on campaigns to bring free education to the parts of the world ravaged by neo-liberalism and parts of the world where girls and women are systematically excluded from schools and colleges. In short, their pose as internationalists would better be described as vicarious social patriotism or as alliance with far right forces in the Middle East.

    Those of us who see the Trot hacks who seek to hijack the union through the UCU Left are accused of witch-hunting and conservatism. In fact, while the UCU Left includes people who are hard-working branch activists, their agenda of empty, flamboyant gesture politics is threatening to derail the next round of industrial struggle on pay and conditions.

    Finally, the support of UCU Left academics for reactionary politics in the student body (e.g. the invitation from the staff/student Goldsmiths Respect to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier, to speak at the College) makes for a poisonous atmosphere on campuses, where Jewish students are victims of witch-hunting and portrayed as Zionist apartheid child-murderers.

    It is time the rank and file to halt UCU’s sectarian drift, before we lose our credibility altogether.

  3. Hmm, I had never thought of ‘extremist’ as a demonising term before. There are various groups I consider extremist, but I also find them committed to upholding the same kinds of values I hold (more progressively). I’ll think about striking that through and replacing it with something different…

    As well as what BfB has mentioned above, UCU Left / SWP uphold UCU’s affiliation to Stop The War, which is once again trying to give a prominent platform to the very very dodgy Ibrahim Mousawi of Hesbollah. I find this incredible in the light of Hesbollah’s unrepentant rhetorical and cultural war on Jews, part and parcel of its war on Israel. Just to clarify – I believe the War on Terror requires a critique but STW opposes the war without also opposing the terror.

    BfB: “their pose as internationalists would better be described as vicarious social patriotism or as alliance with far right forces in the Middle East.”

    That sounds about right to me. UCU Left supported the boycott campaign. They accepted its self-definition as a harmless debate. Even though it was against UCU’s own rules (2.5). Now there are whispers of a motion at Conference to change the rules so as to allow UCU to discriminate whenever it sees fit – for UCU to become the arbiter of what is or is not discriminatory. I have no confidence that UCU Left can, or even wants to, resist this.

  4. When I was ever so slightly more left-wing than I am now, I was very conscious of being an extremist, and I found it an uncomfortable thing to be. It always pained me to see other people revelling in the position. But most people find it offensive to be called an extremist, because by definition it is a designation from the mainstream, which is legitimate, while the fringes aren’t. Being extremist means you can be dismissed.

    However, in my view the SWP are extremist within UCU in the sense that they want to push the union into extreme positions which it can’t win (both in the industrial field and in the international sphere), in order to score petty points.

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