Put out the bunting – UCU voters elect Jon Pike and reject the boycotters

By way of background, UCU’s National Executive Committee includes 14 nationally-elected members from Higher Education (my sector) who serve two years each – each year there are elections to replace half. Of the seven the rules stipulate that at least two need to be from pre-92 institutions, at least three from post-92, at least one fixed-term or hourly paid, and at least one from an academic related post. There were also separate ballots for women’s reps, regional reps, FE reps, and a disabled rep. The election was run according to a single transferable vote (STV) system for which the Electoral Reform Society provides a fairly clear demonstration and explanation (the first page is all you need to look at – ignore the next one which is upside-down), and spreadsheets of the results are available.

The quota (minimum number of votes each candidate needed in order to get elected) for the national HE election was 930. From that you can gather that turnout was pitiful at 10% and several friends of mine didn’t bother which makes me rub my chin a bit. But it makes the loss of ground for the malfunctioning Socialist Worker Party and its UCU Left faction more significant because small turnouts tend to work in the favour of parties of minority appeal and there’s every indication that a higher turnout would have marginalised UCU Left / SWP further.

Also by way of background, the reason I consider UCU Left spurious is because it’s dominated by a particularist type of anti-Imperialism, anti-Zionism – see for example the end of this short piece from a participant at an early UCU Left conference, and from what I can gather they’ve only got worse since then. UCU Left continues to call for a debate of the boycott of Israel although the boycott itself was advised to be unlawful, because discriminatory, last year:

“It is therefore still possible to carry out motion 30, in terms of debating a boycott and as such we need to resist those that are suggesting it be used as a ‘gag’ to prevent those debates from taking place.”

The fact that they would even broach this is madness. For about three months ordinary activists forsook the list as it was taken over by an apallingly acriminious ‘debate’ which typically involved pro-boycotters composing or copying large tracts of invective into emails with the burden on anti-boycotters to respond to the smears – this inevitably led to anti-boycotters being cast as racists and what with most Jewish members being anti-boycott any responsible organisation should have dropped it immediately in favour of something more constructive, less divisive – less racist, thanks. The majority of the membership of that list failed to intervene but withdrew instead, weakly protesting about the volume of email. They didn’t distinguish between who started it and who was forced onto the defensive.

Looking at UCU Left’s site, a statement on the boycott, currently fourth on the list of links on its front page, demonstrates that it’s still a live issue for UCU Left. It appears above ‘FE manifesto’, above ‘End Casualtion’ and above ‘Defend National Bargaining’. Verdict: UCU Left remains a time-wasting organisation which above most other things espouses anti-Zionism and consequently renders itself useless and irrelevant to British education union. I’d also be suspicious of a group which allowed even a more general anti-Imperialist agenda than UCU Left’s anti-Zionist monomania to replace the proper concern for its members terms and conditions. I can’t see reference to a single achievement, and come away with the impression that their ‘fighting union’ strategy is a failure. I don’t mind being on the losing team if that’s where my convictions are – but considering their position on the boycott and what with there being other ways to skin those of their other cats I support, I was hoping that the influence of UCU Left in my union would decrease.

Of the Engage slate Jon Pike has a seat on UCU’s NEC. David Miller narrowly missed out at the last stage of the North East election, and Stephen Soskin was in the running until the penultimate stage of the HE. The ERS, which was counting the votes, managed to mis-configure its counting software and for a while it looked as if Jon Pike hadn’t been elected and UCU Left’s Angela Shann had. This went up on the UCU site and was taken down a day and a half later. Quite symbolic, if you’re that way inclined.

Academic Friends of Israel published a review of the candidates and their views during the ballot, and Engage and UCU Unity also recommended slates. The outcome is that things aren’t bad at all – there’s an analysis on Engage.

It goes without saying that the Engage and UCU Unity candidates’ anti-boycottness isn’t a central part of their politics. It’s occasional, if you like, and will cease to be any concern as soon as UCU Left / SWP stop dicking around with the boycott – a central part of their politics and therefore a menace to UCU. May that day soon come. Casualisation, commercialisation, under-funding, overwork, academic freedom and unfair pay, not necessarily in that order, are what we need to concentrate on.

Well done Engage and UCU Unity, particularly Jon Pike from the Open University, who will be campaigning this year for life-long learning and against the cut in funding for second or equivalent degrees.

The SWP are muted. They took about half of the 33 positions up for election but a large proportion of these gains were in uncontested seats – for example they what they refer to as Alan Whitaker ‘winning’ the Vice Presidency (this year an FE post) was actually reported by UCU as “elected unopposed”. This confirms what people have been saying and thinking about them for years, that they can only do well in a political vacuum.


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