Goodbye marking boycott

In insisting that poverty is an absolute threshold and that there is no need to concentrate on equality, trickle-down Tories are fond of telling us that a rising tide floats all boats. Trade unions tacitly accept this reasoning when they campaign for a pay rise for high paid staff along with lower paid ones. And in the context of global warming, a rising tide floods all fields.

A relatively high turnout of University and College Union members have voted in an indicative ballot to abandon the pay dispute and and marking boycott. I wish UCU approached things differently. I wish we genuinely and universally supported fair pay. Whether or not we asked for a larger share of public expenditure, what fair pay should involve is action on reducing inequality by campaigning to redistribute overpay to end underpay. It’s not just Vice Chancellors who are overpaid, it’s professors, consultants and senior professional staff. UCU in its second, less-known claim (the inspiring one that it somehow neglected to publish on its own website and decided not to take action about) observes that 25% of higher education staff get paid above the top of the single pay spine. That’s staggering given that amounts to more than £63,358. A quarter of staff! It is hard to turn round to the public – the shop workers, barristas, secretaries and administrators – and say that they should have more. But this is what campaigning for a pay rise across the entire spine amounts to, because paying above the spine is a matter of market forces. And yet those jobs are wonderful jobs which are their own reward. And yet many of the other 75% struggle on their wage and conditions. I want wages based on principles that find the middle ground between the evils of ‘psychic wages‘ and the evils of the market for public institutions.

Yes to Piketty and his plan to tax the rich. And yes to the New Economics Foundation who point out that overpay leads to the pollutants of over-consumption including greenhouse gases and landfill fodder. I wish the labour movement would face up to these things and stop trying to convince us that underpay is the only cause of inequality. I wish trade union leaders would stop acting like New Labour, “supremely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. Or like Tory philanthropists who think it best for wealth, and therefore influence and decision-making, to be concentrated among a few individuals to bestow on deserving others as they see fit. I wish the labour movement would put its own house in order before trying to start a revolution elsewhere. And I wish that a marking boycott, with its drastic effects on job seeking end-of-programme students, had never been considered. Better an admissions boycott (though there are plenty of reasons why this is risky, including the fact that the Conservatives are seeking to shrink higher education and we don’t want to do that for them).

And I think this shame is why the UCU hardliners have just lost the vote to escalate the dispute.

If I weren’t such a slow, easily-disorientated thinker, diffident public speaker, over-vulnerable to attacks from the hard left and the hard managers, I would try to win an official role myself. Meanwhile I wring my hands on this blog.


Vote in the UCU elections or kiss your Ts&Cs goodbye. But not for UCU Left.

I figure that if you are a UCU member who hasn’t posted their ballot papers yet, you may be somebody who is considering not voting at all. The deadline is February 28th – if you want to use your 2nd class freepost envelope you need to move fast.

Here is the case for voting at all, followed by a caution against voting for UCU Left. This is far from the best case that could be made, because it relies on my assertions as a long-time member, observer at first hand, but ultimately a common or garden member far from the inner circles of the union. As such I have a few very simple principles: this union is weak; it is weak because it is small; more and more active members will not mean a worse union; the most important thing UCU can do is grow an active membership; UCU Left is antithetical to this.

First, why vote?

Basically it’s about whether you think higher education should belong to its citizens or to a few wealthy owners of corporations. Are we going to collectively give it away and then as individuals buy it back, or is it ours to apportion according to principles other than whether or not you are rich and confident or hard-up and debt-averse?

I’d say that just a few recent issues of the Times Higher Education Supplement – a solidly establishment publication – contain all the indications necessary to convince you that a trade union is a necessity for a healthy sector. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has just appointed Peter Houillon from the for-profit provider Kaplan to the board. Nick Hillman, the new director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and special advisor to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovations and Skills, explicitly acknowledges that the proportion of student loans will never be repaid is larger than the government estimated. HEPI always said that privatisation of undergraduate education was more likely to cost the state money than save it. The implication was that its largest change would be to reposition higher education from a public good to a private investment.

If you’re still feeling lucky, and therefore grateful to be working in higher education (and maybe slightly guilty about your good fortune?) then look a bit further into the future. It’s not about you, so much as it’s about the wellbeing of a workforce and a sector. It’s likely that there will be an attack on terms and conditions for all UK employees – we need to understand this erosion on our own behalves and campaign against it jointly. The privatisation of higher education doesn’t end at allowing commercial ventures like Kaplan to compete for students. Those like the outsourced cleaners of the 3cosas campaign will know that privatisation brings an intensified downward pressure on wages and conditions towards the statutory minimum. The statutory minimum itself is increasingly meagre, a victim of the social cuts agenda. Holidays, sick pay, flexible working, pensions, paid annual leave, hours worked – in fact all the things the labour movement won for all workers over the past 100 years or so – are likely to be strategically scaled back by university managers who, impossible to forget, awarded themselves up to 12% in pay rises this year.

Trade unionism shouldn’t be taken as an attempt to gain exemptions from austerity for one group of employees – it needs to be understood as a defence against austerity itself. What belonged to us all collectively has been, and continues to be, taken from us and given to private citizens with money already. Creeping privatisation looks just like this: funding university teaching through the highest fees of any public university system; outsourcing university services such as cleaning, back office functions, language teaching; performance related pay; the sale of student loans, startling inequality of pay within a workforce. And all this in the context of a massive, status-quo-sustaining bank bailout. I am very angry and if I could only understand this technocracy, I think I’d only be angrier.

Second, how to vote

Firstly stay alert. UCU Left candidates dominate the ballot papers. Who are UCU Left? The first thing to say is that the political right does not exist in any meaningful way in UCU. I cannot confirm this, but I’m fairly sure that Labour supporters are by far the majority in UCU. At any rate all the candidates are progressive. For this reason I think we should consider UCU Left as UCU far Left.

Think twice about UCU Left for the following reasons.

UCU Left passes union cash to Socialist Worker Party front organisations. UCU Left’s website doesn’t say who they are but we know they were initiated by the SWP, a small ferociously well-organised revolutionary group with a very poor reputation for democracy and minority rights, along with Respect, an alliance with SWP and Islamist origins fronted (if not actually led) by the End Violence Against Women’s Sexist of the Year, George Galloway MP. Look back through your branch minutes. If your branch resolved to donate your subs to Unite Against Fascism or the Stop the War Coaltion, then that’s where the money has gone. The SWP is murky about the overlap between its own membership and that of UCU Left, but it’s widely thought to be high. As I have tried to explain in an earlier post, Unite Against Fascism is not what it says on the tin. Stop the War Coalition is not anti-war but – invariablypartisan and its alliance with Islamist groups has made it tolerate homophobia, misogyny and antisemitism.  This organisation is a disgrace – but UCU Left tables and votes for motions to affiliate with it. How much have they stripped from our already meagre funds for this? I am not sure but I’ve witnessed motions for £250 or more. It may stretch to many thousands.

UCU Left is not transparent. I take for granted close political party involvement in trade unions. What I object to is that  Socialist Worker Party and Respect candidates don’t declare their interests – they aren’t open about their affiliations. It’s not that I want or expect unaffiliated officers or committee members – on the contrary, the expertise and encouragement that outside groups can give trade union reps is very sustaining. The trouble is that the SWP is so famously authoritarian that I assume (in the absence of the aforementioned transparency it has to be an assumption) that any of its candidates are firmly briefed and disciplined to represent the SWP, and if representing the SWP conflicts with the interests of UCU members I have no confidence that those UCU members’ interests would win out. This should be recognised as a conflict of interest – though I can’t see the SWP acknowledging any such thing.

UCU Left is scared of a strong active UCU membership. Why is turnout so low? Why are meetings so rarely quorate? And how come so many motions are passed anyway? Once they gain officer positions, they tend towards a highly didactic, polemic, rhetorical, top-table style of engagement with other members. You get the impression they are frightened of democracy. They seem to think the main job of members is to vote in a strong leadership and after that shut up and do what you’re told. Themselves comfortable in authoritarian settings, they more or less mirror management – if anything they are less enlightened. Non-officer members mutter that they feel talked down to, not consulted, uninvolved. Sometimes it seems as if the worst threat for UCU Left is that members might come together under their own steam, unsupervised. UCU Left goes to some lengths to disrupt these egalitarian gatherings. If they can’t disrupt them, they join in and gradually crowd out other members with their own contributions. This leaves a membership used to being fed propaganda, but unused to actual debates with other colleagues. Quite simply, UCU Left ideas are left untested in a distinctly unacademic way.

UCU Left repels potential and actual members. If you go to a meeting where UCU Left assume they are in a majority, it soon becomes apparent that they operate in a bubble. In their bubble non-left members don’t exist or are discouraged. So if you are not on the left, you’re probably at the bottom of the UCU Left priorities – solidarity will only be extended to you if UCU Left decides it is useful to do so. If you try to get involved to change their balance of power you will have to work all the harder. You are only welcome insofar as you pipe down, keep still, cough up, and let UCU Left objectify you into a member they can turn into a statistic, and count on to do what they say. They do not care about your kind – they want to occupy your union and enlist it, bodies and monies, into their political movement, and they aren’t keen to hear your opinion about it..

UCU Left gives us a “fighting union” in the wrong sense of the word. To the aforementioned authoritarianism, add aggression. The bizarre and singular campaign to boycott Israel – which affected me deeply – was national news and extremely divisive. This is very much a modus operandi for the SWP, which is notorious for splits and have legions of disaffected former members. Although it’s quiet on that front now, UCU Left members still create a nasty atmosphere. At a recent meeting an SWP member called fellow UCU NEC members whose views he opposes ‘bastards’. I didn’t like the aggressive language in several of the candidate statements. It is not taken seriously by the employers and it tips hatred of social stratification into hatred of individuals. My supposition that those were UCU Left candidates was correct.

To sum up

I don’t want to be in a sect and I don’t want to occupy an officer position in order to keep a UCU Left candidate out. I am grateful to individual UCU Left candidates for their hard work and dedication – particularly their casework. But this does not entitle them to rope their branches into campaigns which are not in UCU’s interests, or to suppose that they know better what is good for their members than the members themselves. I do want an inclusive, active trade union and that starts with representatives whose message to their members is “You can make a difference” rather than “Hear me and do as I say”.

So, in this Single Transferable Vote election who gets your votes? All the other candidates are progressive, so look at the descriptions and vote for people who say they are interested in recruiting, engaging, representing all members. Think twice or more about these candidates.

On striking and loyalty

Tweets about the strike

People get confused about industrial action.

A few non-union members in a support department in an academic institution have remarked to me that as a workforce we should feel lucky to have jobs, and thankful for our relatively generous pay and conditions – and then almost in the same breath that they themselves would be better off in the private sector and if pay and conditions were to fall too far for their comfort they would simply leave the sector and get a job somewhere better.

This brain drain phenomenon is actively exploited by trade unions in making the case for better pay and conditions. So, being a disorganised labour movement –  not being a trade union member, not participating in industrial action, but voting with one’s feet – ultimately strengthens the organised, trade unionised labour movement?

Unfortunately not. Non-union members commenting on the ingratitude and disloyalty of their striking colleagues while they themselves are poised to leave and work somewhere more lucrative on the jobs market are the uncommitted, conditional ones, the ones who don’t view the sector as something they should be involved in shaping, the ones who don’t view market forces as a threat to academic work.

So, trade unionists are the committed, loyal ones after all. They don’t dumbly and passively claim their salary and then suddenly leave. They care about retention and the conditions in which a workforce can reach its potential. They articulate a position, they negotiate and bargain, they feed back to employers. They sacrifice pay, opportunities and short-term goodwill for the health of their workplace.

Trade unions, flawed as the are, are the better partners.

Why I’m going on strike

In the national consciousness is a great big maxed out credit card. Here I try to relate that to the industrial action I’m about to take.

Some background – in March 2013 several HE trade unions submit two joint claims – one about pay and one about equality and pay-related matters. The pay claim restricts itself to redressing the real-term pay cut – that is, a decline in spending power as cumulative inflation outstrips pay rises – and does not ask for a real-term pay rise. It also addresses low pay by demanding at least the London Living Wage of £8.55, and seeks an increase in London Weighting to £4000 to offset capital price hikes. The second claim among other things is for  transparency about the pay of 25% of staff who have higher earnings than the top of the pay spine, national guidelines on workload allocation to address higher-than-average stress and overwork, better provision for disabled employees, assimilating all hourly paid staff onto the pay spine, agreements on job security, and addressing the staggering gender pay gap of over 17% across all roles.

In May 2013 at the the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) the trade unions managed to extract a 0.2% improvement on a Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) pay offer of 0.8%. There was no settlement on any aspect of the second claim – in some cases UCEA responded that they were unwilling to negotiate on a national level, and in others they deferred pending further investigation.

I voted neither for nor against the October 31st higher education strike called by Unite, Unison, UCU and others, nor for or against the action short of a strike which follows it. I felt that the justification for the pay claim was glossed, although the second claim was well made.

Turnout for the ballot on industrial action, though proportionally low, was relatively high at 35% – more than double the 13 or 14% that union elections usually get. The scrutineers’ report (PDF) for my union sets out the results:

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?

  • Number of ballot papers returned: 20,741
  • Number voting YES: 12,754 (61.5%)
  • Number voting NO: 7,985 (38.5%)
  • Number of papers found to be invalid: 2

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of a strike?

  • Number of ballot papers returned: 20,741
  • Number voting YES: 15,967 (77.0%)
  • Number voting NO: 4,772 (23.0%)
  • Number of papers found to be invalid:: 2

Yesterday I had a conversation with somebody. This person asked me if I was striking I replied “I don’t have to tell you that” followed by “Yes”. Then I told them what my departmental rep told us last meeting, which was that most people who aren’t members have never been asked to join. I asked them to join. They responded “No thanks – if they get rid of my job I’ll just go and work in the private sector for loads more money”. This person is not callous – far from it – but trade unionism isn’t really on the radar in my department.

I thought that it might be a good idea to get my thoughts in order.

The first thing to draw attention to is conditions. Many of us work longer hours, basically, to fill the gap left by colleagues who were made redundant or who left and were not replaced, or because of endemic under-resource. In my own case (support staff) I often work 10 hour days including skipping lunch break. I sometimes work at weekends. I don’t feel I get to think through or properly plan what I do, and I’m too reactive. My health and outlook will definitely benefit from working to contract.

Next is pay. In line with the public sector real-term pay cuts (cost of living rising faster than the pay rise cap in George Osborne’s 2013 budget) university employers have offered 1%. According to UCU HE staff have experienced a real-term pay cut of 13% since 2009 (cumulative pay rise substracted from cumulative inflation over the same period). Given the financial situation since 2008, the main question to ask about the pay cut is the one the Daily Mail tends to ask.

We’re going down. We know we’re going down. But we’re all in this together – the private sector has frozen pay too. Why should HE staff be better paid than other people?

Or to paraphrase, “Why do you want more than everyone else?” Two things about that. One is that this appeal to solidarity in decline is a particularly galling distraction from university managers’ pay – approaching a quarter of a million for half UK Vice Chancellors. Simply put, there can be no expectation of solidarity in decreasing living standards.

The other thing is that trades unionists rarely want more than everybody else – this is collective action by a number of unions. They don’t think of themselves as wanting more than their fair share of the pie. They challenge the size of the pie because they understand that unless there is an organised, collective, fairly impolite demand for at least the same level of pay for everybody, in real terms i.e. in line with inflation, then the pie will swiftly shrink as employers and the Conservative-led coalition exploit an opportunity to manage a decline in pay and welfare at work. One one level this doesn’t overly worry me – I am not sure that this is a bad thing unless you already have a low standard of living – that is, unless you are low paid. So I might support pay rises for low paid staff and tolerate pay freezes for the higher paid ones – or something a bit more sophisticated along those lines. But on the other hand, not only does this outlook risk a race to the bottom, but the sector is currently being prodded to compete nationally and globally. If you are competitively inclined (I’m not, I think everybody should want to be paid the same as everybody else) then depressing pay this is obviously a bad thing for the sector. Trades unionists recognise that privatising forces in successive governments are trying to chip away at the collective bargaining that is really all they have. So all they can do is try to counter the downwards pressure by aiming at the opposite situation – setting a higher standard of pay and conditions at work to which other workforces can then appeal in their own pay claims.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this upward pressure could no less potentially lead to a race to the top. What’s wrong with that? We just through billions of pounds at the banks, after all. Well. The danger there is that, since public sector pay comes from taxes, this leads to a steep growth in inflation which in turn destabilises the economy as well as effectively cancelling out the pay rise. As somebody worried about the environment, I should also point out that more pay leads to more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and more waste – so of course there’s a balance to be struck. My own view is that material security and a bit extra for living a good life is all we should ever ask of pay – and yet this modest aspiration is something few people have if you take into consideration the state’s secession from providing adequately for us in poor health and old age. The more the welfare state shrinks, the stronger the individualising pressures to squirrel and set by. This, as the great reb pointed out, is a tension – “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”.

So for those of us who are not revolutionaries (and I find I am not) the next question is, what public-sector pay rise can be achieved without leading to dangerous levels of inflation?

The pay claim points to a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England which indicates a financial surplus in the sector and a fall in the spend on staff as a proportion of total expenditure. The unions have not worked out the cost to the sector of a higher pay rise or made any suggestions about funding sources. This may be tactical, but it is a little bit irritating and entirely unconvincing to be simply told “The money’s there”.  Many commentators are convinced that because of the 2008 financial crash we can expect far reaching decline in material wealth. Is this fair? Well, are high levels on the prosperous part of the pay spine fair? What are the principles at work here? I note a post at the TUC’s Touchstone blog which indicates that the public broadly supports cuts. And I don’t accept the automatic link between spending power and standards of living – that’s way too materialistic for me.

So in short I’m confused, short on trust, and struggling to find out what I need to know without trying to interpret some very difficult financial reports. Can anybody help? Sarah?  Pursuing a different tack, I read a report by Carys Afoko and Daniel Vockins of the New Economics Foundation titled Framing the Economy – The Austerity Story. In proposing some alternative stories to the austerity story, they echo the TUC in observing that the tax-don’t-cut stance “ignores where public opinion currently is and doesn’t provide a bridge between its arguments and people’s perceptions of the economy”.

So I support the second claim but am ambivalent about the blanket pay claim. As things stand I will strike but won’t picket unless or until I can comfortably get behind the one thing that will make it into the news, which is the pay claim.

UCU’s boycott of Israel blinds it to antisemitism. Is this solidarity?

In a post on Engage, David Hirsh gives context to the invitation UCU, the main British trade union for academics, extended to Bongani Masuku to speak against Israel. Last week, Bongani Masuku was found to have incited hatred against Jews by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Self-righteously, UCU rubbishes the SAHRC and the blogs which have tried to raise the alarm about Masuku. What is the word for an organisation so self-regarding that it considers the actions or decisions of its activists sufficient benchmark of goodness, regardless of any other objective criteria? UCU is like that. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so serious.

David Hirsh points out:

“The Human Rights Commission is a national institution of post apartheid South Africa. Part of the antidote to the old racist system, and independent of government, this institution functions as the linchpin of the new constitution which endows the rainbow nation with a set of legal and democratic guarantees.

The Human Rights Commission ruled last week that the statements of Bongani Masuku on the subject of Israel amounted to antisemitic hate speech. He is a senior official in the South African trade union movement and is currently in the UK on a trip paid for by the University and College Union to promote the exclusion of Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community.

The Human Rights Commission does not makes its judgments frivolously. The Human Rights Commission is aware of the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. The Human Rights Commission is not pro-Israel and is not concerned with defending the reputation of Israel. It is concerned with racism.”

He then summarises the history of the anti-boycott campaign in UCU, which warned against precisely this welcoming of antisemitism.

To quote a comment which once caught my eye on Engage, UCU’s insistence that its anti-Zionism cannot be antisemitism is “A bit like the commercial for a car where the would-be buyer asks “Do you have any colour but black?” and the salesman replies “Yes, we have noir””.

What kind of trade union would allow law to become the only thing standing between a group of people and the enactment of another trade union’s prejudice against them? Is this what solidarity has come to mean?

UCU Congress delirium

David Hirsh has live-blogged discussion and voting on the international business of UCU Congress 2009.

Aung San Suu Kyi? You must be joking. Israel and the Socialist Worker Party’s cherished boycott. There were 4 late motions, which breezed through undiscussed and unopposed in a derisory 10 minutes.

The Israel business took well over an hour.

Consider for a moment everything that is going on in the world, and then think about how shocking and dysfunctional that is.

The Union’s own legal advisors ruled motions on Israel which campaigned for boycott discriminatory and ultra vires. Two other legal teams working for anti-boycott groups confirmed this. The majority of the membership is against a boycott, no branch has ever managed to carry a boycott motion, and yet the SWP persists (read Jon Pike’s periodical updates on Engage for this). A group of members threatened litigation. These threats sent the SWP into a frenzy of defiance against groups they identified as Zionist, and now they will, they will, have their way and to hell with democracy and governance, obliging the union President to tag on ridiculous additions like this to the motion 28 in the agenda:

“The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the motion is amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this motion. If the motion is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.”

When that was mentioned, there was a point of order which went something like:

“If this motion if passed is void – what is the point of continuing?  do we debate it or not?  we need some guidance.  it is avalid point of order to know what we’re doing with it and what will happen to it.

Sally Hunt [UCU President]:  If it is passed amended we will be able to act on it.  if unamended we will not be able to act on it.”

Then it gets difficult to tell what happened, because the records and agenda don’t show which amendment got voted for (there were several). I guess they decided to test the law. But what does this mean? The union leadership won’t allow them to test the law – what they’ll end up doing is boycotting as individuals, in which case the union won’t be liable. I can’t really claim to understand. And the reason I don’t understand is that this isn’t pro-Palestinian activism, it’s a bunch of people masturbating each other.

I think boycotters in my union are in the grip of a collective delusion. They seem to be in a bubble where they confirm and reassure each other. This is what the SWP is famous for, hollowing out the organisations they colonise. They’re well on the way with UCU. Engagement is terrible unless there’s a pay and conditions crisis on.

I reproduce some of the most illustrative parts of David Hirsh’s write-up, and be aware that the quotes are from his transcript, which he notes is rough.


Jon Pike (important anti-boycotter and campaigner for both Palestinian and our own academic freedom):

“I would like to take this proposal to the membership of the union.

we have been refused the ability to have a ballot.

This is because the membership of this union strongly oppose an academic boycott of israel.

all the votes in branches have indicated 80 or 90 percent of members oppose this call.

Find out.  have a full ballot of the members of the union.”

Somebody who shouldn’t be representing members:

“We cannot rely on votes.  Lets not make this a bureaucratic procedure.

What we have seen is a fundamental abuse of human rights.

the world stands by allowing israel to get away with virtual impunity.”

Tom Hickey, SWP inner circle:

“We make no apology in relation to the legal opinion.

it is only opinion.  has not yet been tested.

it is about time that this union tested this opinion in court.

we have been as a union extraordinarily careful.

it is not an easy decision to boycott other academics.”

[Too easy, I’d say]

“we have an obligation to go further in relation to BDS.

that is what Motion 29 called for originally.

But more.  What was rerquired as a union is to continue the process of debate that we have started and that we have an obligation to continue.”

“…if we lose an argument here then it is back to here that we should bring the argument because if we don’t do that then we rubbish this union and we rubbish democracy.

we should not walk away, whether threatened by the law or by anything else.

Test the law.”


Haim Bresheeth, chronic Jewish anti-Zionist and boycott campaigner (huh? Iis he now a union rep? Are they desperately short at UEL?)

“i am speaking as an Israeli and as a Jew.”

“it wasn’t just black workers struggle.

It was us – millions of people everywhere that brought apartheid down.”

Camilla Bassi, Sheffield Hallam (she’s not a self-aggrandiser, I excerpt her for purposes of comparison) had just noted that the end of apartheid was brought about by black worker militancy.

“We need to do something to help Palestinians but a boyoctt campaign writes off the role of the Israeli working class.  We need solidarity not boycott.  2 state solution.  solidarity between israeli and palestinian workers.”

Somebody giving the wrong end of the stick:

“If the law says we are not allowed to express our solidarity then the law is wrong.  (applause)”

[If the limit of your solidarity is entrenching divisions, then your solidarity is wrong.]


Steve Wilkinson isn’t gripped by topsy-turviness:

“I beg you read the report produced by Amnesty about Hamas.

Discover what Hamas did to supporters of Fatah.  hamas went round and machined gunned in their hospital bed supporters of Fatah.

That point needs to be made.

Apart from that I support the resolution.”

He didn’t convince them.


Laura Miles:

“British government is complicit with repression against Gaza.

Western leaders failure to denounce by shared silence – to endorse attacks and war crimes.”

Somebody from the Scottish TUC:

“Constructive engagement would be the worst thing.  The only constructive engagement we can have with the Israeli authorities is one  backed up by the idea that they face isolation.

All that matters is the political campaign to end the occupation.  Nothing else matters.”

“Indiscriminate bombing of civilian population in Gaza.  unlawful us e of white phosphorous.  1400 civilians killed, many of whom children.

Not counting those who were severely traumatized.”

That was Motion 25 – Disabled people and conflict – but turned out it was only about disabled Palestinians.

So there we are.

I’m for constructive engagement. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be ostracised out of existence, and what we are doing surely strengthens the most virulent elements. I’m for academic freedom – I’m certainly against academic boycotting – it doesn’t even work, it’s just a gesture. And I’m for Jews.

Jon Pike:

“Dr Barham wants us to rank rights, so that “loftier” ones, such as academic freedom, are sacrificed for basic ones. This is deeply problematic. It completely undermines the idea of academic freedom, making it conditional on a wider political project. We are asked to suspend the academic freedom of Israeli colleagues because of our opposition to the actions of their government, but this is not a test applied anywhere else in the world. The proposal to boycott Israel exhibits an unwarranted exceptionalism.

And that is why the proposal is discriminatory. It discriminates against a group of people; applies hard treatment to them. It does so in the absence of a morally relevant property that the group – and no other group – possesses. This makes it unjust.

The group harmed consists almost entirely – and not by coincidence – of Jews. Whatever the intentions of the boycotters, this discrimination against Jews is undoubtedly one effect of the exceptionalism of their proposal.

The proposal is discriminatory, and the union has been told as much by its lawyers. It also takes us beyond the bounds of our proper purposes, which will come as no surprise to lecturers fighting to hang on to their jobs and keep their courses open, frustrated by our obsessive annual slanging match over Israel and Palestine.

We should offer support and solidarity to Palestinian academics. But we cannot and should not exclude Israeli universities from the international academic interchange that benefits us all.”

We mustn’t mistake a campaign of exclusion for a campaign of solidarity.

UCU election results

Ringing the changes at UCU. Cautious optimism that the SWP deathgrip is weakening and with it the Israel fixation. See Engage. I asked some friends to change a habit and vote. Thanks a lot those who did. Those who didn’t, thanks a lot in a different tone. Under 10% turnout benefited for example Tom Hickey and Malcolm Povey of the SWP, who survived. Engage:

“From looking at the figures, it is clear what that something else has happened. The Socialist Workers’ Party have concentrated their vote on their own members, and withdrawn some of their vote from Sue and others standing on the UCULeft slate, such as Marion Hersh and Jeff Fowler. The SWP may try to spin this as a miscalculation, but people will see through such claims. The SWP itself is continuing to distance itself from calls for an academic boycott and is sticking the knife into non-SWP members of UCULeft.”

Next to nobody on the web is talking about this except Engage and their readers. Strange tumbleweed union. So! Join UCU, turn up to your meetings and shape it. Don’t think of activists as a bunch of robots who negotiate your pay and conditions – they are not that. They are elected representatives, and without an agenda from the membership, they will pursue or make up their own.

UCU Members – vote UCU Unity by 5th March

Via Engage, UCU Unity are getting my vote.

Dear Friends,

Please find below a list of recommendations for the current round of UCU elections. The list is a recommendation, designed to maximise the number of seats these candidates can win: if you have your own preferences please follow them but continue preferences for these candidates. The candidates listed below all strongly support the position that the priorities for UCU must be to put workplace and industrial issues to the forefront of the agenda. Unlike others in the election, all of the candidates below were free to write their own manifestoes and set out their priorities directly to you, the members. All are free to vote on their own platform and will vote in the NEC according to the arguments made on issues, not according to policy decisions determined in external bodies to stifle debate in the NEC.

While voting may seem a laborious process, we would strongly encourage you to vote this year, as the NEC more than any other body sets the direction which the Union takes. Please exercise the preferences to cover all those in the list: the first two years have proven that transfers and fractions of votes are vital in the election. In addition, please resist the urge to only vote in sector-specific elections.

Also please forward this list to as many colleagues and UCU members as possible encouraging them to vote through unofficial e-mail lists, research lists etc (NB: UNLESS IT HAS BEEN SANCTIONED THROUGH COMMITTEES OR GENERAL MEETINGS, PLEASE DO NOT USE BRANCH MEMBER LISTS AS CANDIDATES HAVE BEEN WARNED ABOUT THIS). Voting does make a difference in this election as there are vast differences between candidates as to what the union’s priorities and directions should be.

Vice-president from the higher education sector

  • Terry Hoad (University of Oxford) # 1
  • Stephen Desmond (Thames Valley University)# 2

Honorary Treasurer

  • Alan Carr (Open University) #1
  • Fawzi Ibrahim (College of North West London) # 2

North West, higher education sector (2 seats)

Recommend that those in University of Manchester, Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University vote Dobson(1), Brooks (2), Other NW members vote Brooks (1) Dobson (2)

  • Roger Brooks (University of Liverpool)
  • John Dobson (University of Salford)

South, higher education sector (3 seats)

Recommend that those in the University of Kent post-92 institutions (except Portsmouth) and vote Hayes (1); Sussex, Southampton, Exeter, Bath, Bristol and Portsmouth vote Guild (1); Open, Oxford, Surrey and Reading vote Kane (1). After that vote the remaining two candidates #2 and #3

  • Jim Guild (University of Sussex)
  • Dennis Hayes (Canterbury Christ Church University)
  • Lesley Kane (Open University)

Scotland (HE): Honorary Secretary

  • Angela Roger (University of Dundee)

Scotland (HE): President

  • Lesley McIntosh (Robert Gordon University)

UK-elected members, further education (5 seats, at least one in land-based education, at least two women)

  • Monica Goligher (Belfast Metropolitan College) woman
  • Tricia Gott (Bradford College) woman
  • Kathy Taylor (Northumberland College) woman

UK-elected members, higher education (7 seats, at least one post-92, at least two women)

  • Dave Anderson (University of Glasgow)
  • Philip Burgess (University of Dundee)
  • John Dobson (University of Salford)
  • Jimmy Donaghey (Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Joe Gluza (University of Cambridge)
  • Anne-marie Greene (University of Warwick) woman
  • Bob Langridge (Oxford Brookes University) post-92
  • Bethan Norfor (Open University) woman

Representative of disabled members

  • Roger Walters (Open University) HE

Representative of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members

  • Stephen Desmond (Thames Valley University) HE

What people talk about when they talk about Zionists

It looks as if Muslim member states of the U.N. (these days the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) will try to pass a resolution determining that Zionism is a type of racism again. As well as being an act of solidarity with Palestinians under occupation and a gesture of protest at the way Israel militarises its relations with them, this is also calculated to make a pariah of Israel. Israel is a state at war, and while the extent to which failure to reach a peace settlement it its own responsibility is a legitimate topic for debate, vilifying Zionism is the same as saying that Israel shouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t say that about any other state.

I’m with Muffin – the University and College Union kept telling me I was a Zionist when I objected to antisemitism and whaddaya know, for the first time in my life I started seriously regarding Jewish nationalism as a sensible and relevant precaution. Particularly for Israelis.

Two good, snappy bits of analysis from Norm.

Are Jews a people?

I don’t go out of my way to think about my (irreligious, outside a community and without strong social ties) Jewish identity because when I do it gives me a bit of a headache. I have this headache in common with many secular Jews. After an early induction to Judaism against considerable odds (I come from a part of my home town where everybody was from somewhere different but where there were hardly two Jews to rub together) failed to ‘take’, I was content to let my Jewish background slip into exactly that – the background. Before the campaign for a total boycott against Israel began to interfere with my sense of security in Britain, the only thing that would have induced me to try to pin it down would have been finding out that I was pregnant.

The reason I have to think about it now is because the boycott campaign is playing havoc in my trade union and also in Britain’s fourth political party. Now I want to stick up for Jews. The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is, whether boycotters realise or not, a call for Israel’s end because the criteria it imposes for lifting the boycott are criteria Israel cannot meet while remaining the Jewish state approved by a majority of countries, for good reasons, in the United Nations partition plan of 1947.

The thing is, the connection Jews have with the Jewish state are complicated and the difficulties I have locating myself in Jewishness are related to the anomalies with Jewishness that the boycott theorists are exploiting and relating to the existence of a Jewish state. To tackle boycotters, it is necessary to tackle this question of Jewishness and what it comprehends.

To gain an overview of the anomalies and make a dent in the ignorance, listen to this highly engrossing MP3 of a lecture by Michael Walzer, titled “Are We A People?” (direct link to MP3 – right-click or apple-click if you want to download to your filespace rather than listening in a browser). If you want to see him delivering the lecture, there is also a video on the site of the Institute for Jewish Research, the organisation which hosted it.

I have always been comfortable with the idea of anomalies and after listening to Walzer I still am. I credit the BDS boycotters in the organisations of which I’m a part for making me feel more Jewish already – although I doubt it is in any way they would approve of. Oona King had the same kind of experience after being politically molested by Galloway supporters.

Philip Weiss, who is a critic of Zionism, has an overview and some reservations about the Walzer presentation. Weiss, as is common among Jewish anti-Zionists, is a compassionate person who seems to assume responsibility for Israel’s conduct as a Jew and, as is also so common, fails to acknowledge responsibility for peace on the part of the Palestinians. I would speculate that he, as a Jew, considers Israel to be a stain on his conscience. My response – which I hope does not sound too glib – would be to support political process and the anti-occupation movement, support human rights for all, and also support an Israeli Arab advocacy organisation of the calibre of The Abraham Fund.