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.

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 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)
PLEASE GIVE PREFERENCES TO ALL THESE CANDIDATES

  • 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)
PLEASE GIVE PREFERENCES TO ALL THESE CANDIDATES

  • 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

Harry’s Place locked out after UCU intervention; forced to camp at Blogger and WordPress

This post is about Harry’s Place having its plug pulled, why I think Harry’s Place was right to publish from the University and College Union Activist List, and what other people are saying. I write this because it could be me and my blog – you and your blog – next. Watch this space – I’m excerpting support posts below (most recently on 27th Aug, 17:09). Harry’s Place is slumming it on Blogger for now

Update Aug 27th: Jenna Delich has been suspended from the UCU Activist List. This is welcome, although I doubt that anybody has taken pains to explain why and what she can do to get reinstated. It took the union a week to communicate this course of action. The union accepts no responsibility, even though it has cleared Delich of two complaints against her and taken no action to address the phenomenon in which she feels comfortable posting Duke and others feel comfortable with her mistake.

Update Aug 27th – Harry’s Place is back up, with a domain name from a more spirited ISP – London-based –  called Positive Internet. At 5.15pm we see Positive Internet testing in the comments of the original offending post:

“Test post after editing /etc/resolv.conf to another DNS server. Will it get through…? Yep, I think it will.

Seems to be back. Now let’s await the NXDOMAIN cacheing to time-out and all shall be back. Then let Ms Delich come and try it on with us and see how far she gets ;-)”

Cute. No, heroic.

After Harry’s Place exposed Sheffield UCU member Jenna Delich who referred other members to the work of a conspiracy theorist hosted on ultra racist David Duke’s site, its webhost, daily.co.uk, received correspondence which induced it to pull the plug on HP.

Another activist, Mike “we will not be intimidated” Cushman of the LSE, member of the identity politics group Independent Jewish Voices and a great enthusiast for boycotting Israel, encouraged the David Duke linker to contact Harry’s Place’s internet service provider making noises about libel (but Jenna said what Harry’s Place directly quoted her as saying, no?). Somebody did this. ISPs are notoriously risk-averse when it comes to – by all accounts atrocious – UK libel law – they are trying to sell a service not sacrifice money and time on a court case they are not confident about winning. Update Aug 27th: I think that David Hirsh and Bob From Brockley are right to emphasise experienced socialist Mike Cushman’s more important role in this act of suppression and point out the glaring contrast between his outrage that anti-boycotters would decide to avail themselves of anti-racist law to be rid of a presistent boycott campaign, and his willingness to advise making libel noises to notoriously squeamish ISPs. Anti-racist law is pro-union law but he wants to exempt his boycott and boycott campaign from it.

But like a bit of a hydra-headed monster Harry’s Place rides again in two Places – Blogger and WordPress (address any comments to the Blogger one – Modernity says that he created the WordPress one as a mirror). I wonder whether they wiill be forced to catch swans for dinner out there in the blog marsh. It’s good to see that jolly red banner again anyway.

This is why I think Harry’s Place’s decision to publish from the Activist List was for the best. 

UCU hasn’t done anything relevant to address the antisemitism within it. It has washed its hands of the formal complaints about antisemitism. It keeps assuring itself that criticism of Israel isn’t antisemitic” and telling itself that raising the alarm about antisemitism is just a tactic (“Our experience shows that, unfortunately, defenders of the Israeli government’s actions have used a charge of anti-Semitism as a tactic in order to smother democratic debate”). Activists like Jenna Delich, who insist and insist and insist that they are personally incapable of antisemitism but then reveal an astoundingly abject level of ignorance about what antisemitism today actually is, have a glass ear when it comes to antisemitism. The UCU inner circle has a glass ear, a glass eye, glass nose, everything – tok tok – completely impervious. And at the same time so unfeasibly self-regarding. What else is to be done other than go beyond them?

What is public enough to be communicated via the Internet to however many hundreds of UCU members, in an online discussion system which suffers from frequent leaks, should be considered potentially public.

At the same time anybody can see that the interest Harry’s Place and other leakers like Boycotted British Academic have in the Activists List is specific and bounded. They are not interested in ruining confidentiality of people who want to talk about their employers – they are interested in preventing otherwise unfettered antisemitism. This publishing of antisemitic incidents is not a slippery slope or thin end of the wedge to publishing all sensitive UCU business.

Holding individuals accountable for what they say behind closed doors might work. Engage is an organisation which for some time has been posting the contributions of anti-boycotters to the Activist list and replacing names with XXXXXX. However, this wider airing of depersonalised opinions has not brought about any improvement in UCU moderation or the opinions some activists who are trying to make a pariah state of Israel see fit to air.

A lot of awful stuff – untruths, inaccuracies, polemic, exaggeration, and vilification – is written by UCU activists on that list to persuade members to boycott Israel out of existence. It’s pretty abusive. Dragging it out into daylight takes some of the burden off the harassed anti-racists (Jews, mostly) who feel obliged to remain involved in the front line fight.

Jenna Delich didn’t really take responsibility for what she had done – she seemed to think that if she hadn’t read the site and just linked to the piece she had found with her search, that would be alright. I shudder to think what keywords she used. The author of the piece she linked to, Joe Quinn, is a conspiracy theorist who quotes the Holocaust denier David Irving approvingly and ends the piece she linked to by saying, of the “Israeli oligarchs” (?) “either someone does something about these sick pyschopaths, or they, and their kind in Washington and around the world, will destroy us all”. I don’t buy the Jade Goody act – this woman is a lecturer or something not far off. If the people who push racist texts from racist sites and then hold up their hands and refuse to take responsibility for the sources they use, are in charge of assessing students and pastoral care, then the question should maybe be why should their identities or their sordid contributions be withheld?

What other people have said (update Aug 27th – particular hat-tip to Bob From Brockley for hunting out the views of the bloggers whose support for Harry’s Place under threat is qualified by their dislike of Harry’s Place politics):

Modernity:

“Harry’s Place blog has been attacked, for publishing a true story about the shenanigans on the UCU activist list.

HP posted a fairly simple, factually accurate post on Jenna Delich and her incredibly stupid mistake of reading David Duke’s web site and posting a link to it.

As any competent antifascist would know David Duke is an ex-grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had a love of dressing up like a Nazi and disseminates racist filth from his web site.

Strangely, rather than admit this mistake, apologise profusely and move on, Jenna Delich and her supporters chose to attack HP.”

Max Dunbar

“Unlike the Hamas versus Harry’s Place libel threat, there is no formal legal action here – so I think some reticence is called for. But I have to stress that Britain’s libel laws are not the answer. They are heavily biased in favour of the plaintiff and badly in need of reform. Recently we have seen cases of libel tourism in which wealthy non-British citizens have used English courts to pull off acts of censorship that they would never get away with in America or Europe. There is a growing climate of censorship affecting writers, academics and bloggers.

It may turn out that David T was wrong – but surely the answer in that case is argument and debate, not legal action.”

Bob from Brockley:

It is worth noting that the article to which Jenna Delich linked is not by David Duke. It is by one Joe Quinn and originally appeared on a 9/11 Truth Cult site called sott.net. It would not have reflected well on Jenna D if she had found the article there, but she didn’t; she found it on a Ku Klux Klan site, which reflects on her rather worse.

A Very Public Sociologist:

“Personally, I have very little time for the politics peddled on HP. Warmed over social democracy plus humanitarian imperialism plus trenchant Zionism do not suit my radical palate. But they have as much right to push their rubbish politics as any other blogger, regardless of how distasteful they can be at times. So down with the complaints, the writs and the threats of court action, and away with those of censorious intent. If you’re stupid enough to make the kind of mistake Jenna Delich did, then you should take the blowback on the chin, not scrabble around for a lawyer’s letter.”

Boycotted British Academic:

“For it would seem that people at UCU are not content merely to silence the majority of the most effective and trenchant of the anti-boycotters who have been forced to respond to the vile bile which passes for solidarity in this union, silenced for nothing other than trying to do something about the virulent antisemitism which has been allowed to become rife in UCU. No, now it would apear that UCU, or at the very least people most active within it, have set the net far wider still and are presently engaging in their usual threats and intimidation only this time it’s out there in public, in full view, for all to see, and not merely behind closed academic doors, as has happened to date, in the deepest and most frightening secrecy imaginable, courtesy of UCU HQ, apparently adamant to protect none but the racists.”

David Hirsh:

“I would add this: if you agree with what is written on a fascist website then you should stop and wonder why that might be.”

10 Percent:

“As far as I can see Ms. Delich used/passed on a link to David Duke’s site, his name was in the url! I am not a fan of the Israel right or wrong position but if your opposition to the policies of the state of Israel encompass neo-Nazi scumbag retards then you need to ask yourself some very hard questions about personal anti-Semitism. Even as a simple mistake it really doesn’t pass muster, to even bother reading those sites suggests a lack of awareness of the white supremacist movement and that really is dreadful ignorance at best, at worst, well that kind of opposition is worthless as it is based in prejudice. Principled opposition to Israel’s policies involve in part opposition to racism and that anti-racism applies just as equally to racists who hate Jews but clothe it in objections to Israel. Every person who is critical of Israel has to be keenly aware that others might base that criticism in bigotry and so a due diligence is necessary to make sure those racists have absolutely no part in your politics. You can’t fight one kind of racism with another.”

Duke of Chaos:

“When this boob was pointed out, her responses have included that she didn’t know who he was (will she now link to one Kenny Smith [5] on immigration issues, or is it only Israel she takes the BNP line on?) or, my favourite, that because it was on Google, it was alright!

Had Nuremberg been an academic senate, Goring would have said of von Rippentrop, he deserved to be dismissed if only for his stupidity.

No, here’s a tip Doctor Delich… sorry… Ms. Delich… I habitually call academics, Doctor… try Googling your name. In the top ten, you will find *six* references to your disseminating Nazi literature! Got to be true!

Ah, but fortunately the anti Daddy Warbucks of the UCU list, LSE-based research fellow Mike Cushman, came like St. George to her rescue and fought the Zionist worm, and accepted her apology on behalf of the whole list. Mr. Cushman, with study in correct web-usage, was able to assure the lesser mortals that web-searching can be fraught with difficulties and it there is just a cigarette-paper of difference between appropriate resources and promoting, with government and staff funded services, hate material. Ah, bless. Maybe he should point her in the direction of the correct web-usage guides every first year student has to pass”

Ignoblus:

“…it is imperative that minority voices not be silenced or ignored. If you want to avoid antisemitism (and for some people that seems to be a big if), it is absolutely necessary to pay attention when Jews tell you something is antisemitic. That doesn’t mean agreeing uncritically, but it does mean listening carefully and ensuring that representative (an important point – Tony Greenstein doesn’t count) Jewish voices are part of the conversation. Even if you disagree with the views Jews are expressing – especially if, and everyone knows this is true in the present case, it’s plainly the view of the majority of Jews – it’s still important not to exclude them from political debate…”

El Nuevo Pantano:

“Isn’t it kind of funny that the likes of Delich, always ready to wank on about the power of the Jews and the Zionists to stifle criticsm and about the influence of Jews in the formation of public opinion , turn out to be able to to close down a web site that published an entirely justified critcism of Delich for citing a neo-nazi website?”

Mushkush:

Cunts.

Authoritarian, ass backwards, dumb fucking cunts.

Renegade Eye:

I have off and on, for a few years visited a blog called Harry’s Place. It is one of the most popular political blogs from the UK. Its politics can be termed B-52 left. They argue that the US/UK military interventions are progressive, and should be supported by the left. I have been involved in good debates there. They are under serious attack, and now is the time to put aside differences “por ahora.”

Eric Lee (he knows – he’s been shut down by the Fremantle Trust for defending workers’ rights):

“Apparently, another cowardly British ISP has shut down a political website for fear that it might be sued for libel. Harry’s Place – formerly here — made the mistake of writing about a Sheffield based academic who in the course of discussing the academic boycott of Israel on a trade union mailing list linked to the website of American KKK leader, neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denier David Duke. Harry’s Place ran the person’s name and photo, and apparently their ISP was threatened.

The name of the academic is Jenna Delich. The “offensive” photo appears to the left.

There, I’ve published it too. Sue me.”

More David Hirsh:

“How could it have happened? Mike Cushman works at the London School of Economics, is an experienced socialist, an antiracist and a Jew – a Jew, moreover, who never tires of speaking “as a Jew”. How did it happen that he turned his anger on those who opposed and exposed antisemitism and he tried to protect the person who spread it? When Delich posted the antisemitic article it was accompanied by the simple words:

“No comment necessary. The facts are speaking for themselves.”

“It is difficult to escape the impression that Cushman, a leader of the boycott campaign, seemed to be taking sides with the conspiracy theorists against the antiracists and the opponents of antisemitism.”

Socialist Unity’s Phil BC:

“Personally, I have very little time for the politics peddled on HP. Warmed over social democracy plus humanitarian imperialism plus trenchant Zionism do not suit my radical palate. But they have as much right to push their rubbish politics as any other blogger, regardless of how distasteful they can be at times. So down with the complaints, the writs and the threats of court action, and away with those of censorious intent. If you’re stupid enough to make the kind of mistake Jenna Delich did, then you should take the blowback on the chin, not scrabble around for a lawyer’s letter.”

Jonny Paul in the Jerusalem Post:

“Dr. Jon Pike, a member of the UCU national executive but speaking in a personal capacity, said: “I’m not surprised that anti-Semitic material has again dropped into my inbox from the union activists’ list. What is shocking is the failure of the union’s internal procedures to do anything about this. UCU prides itself on being an anti-racist union. In fact, it is probably the most complacent public institution in Britain in relation to increasing anti-Semitism and the leadership turns a blind eye, or worse, to the racism in the union. Behind all this is the campaign of discrimination against Israeli academics which is fostered by some in the union and encouraged by the leadership.”

Eve Garrard, senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Keele University in Staffordshire, said: “This is precisely the kind of thing which drove me recently to resign from the UCU. It has become a union which is complacent about anti-Semitism: It regards prejudicial hostility toward Jews, from within the union itself, as something too unimportant for it to bother with. I didn’t feel able to remain in an institution which treats anti-Semitism indulgently, as a special exception to a generally anti-racist stance.”

Shiraz Socialist:

“Note to self and others:- if you do inadvertently link to a neo-Nazi site or any other dodgy site for information and this is pointed out to you, apologise and say that you are totally mortified.  In fact, it would be excellent if you felt totally mortified.  Then the whole business will go away.  But don’t sound huffy and annoyed like Jenna Delich – how were you supposed to know what a neo-Nazi site looks like?  (Same thing applies if you produce leaflets talking about the Holocaust and omit to mention its main and best known victims.  See comments to post here).

Also, if you have been found out, don’t resort to defamation laws or apply pressure through service providers.  Many bloggers might dislike the site you are attacking, but there is some solidarity among bloggers – first of all they came for Harry’s Place, next they came for me – and they will flash this story around the blogosphere.  From there it may be taken up by the mainstream media and you will look very bad trying to shut up critics, and especially bad if you are a union for academics.”

Cafe Turco:

“I don’t like it when I am prevented to access a blog, or to read a book, or to watch a film just because someone didn’t like that his/her actions were uncovered. Why should my freedom to read what I want be diminished by such people?”

Francis Sedgemore:

“This is gross violation of free speech, and a most disgraceful thing that the UCU activists concerned have done. It reflects very badly on the union as a whole, whether or not the action has official sanction. As a trades unionist I have made a formal complaint to the Trades Union Congress and UCU, and urge you to do likewise.

Brendan Barber
General Secretary
Trades Union Congress
telephone: 020 7636 4030
email: bbarber@tuc.org.uk

Dr Sally Hunt
General Secretary
Universities and Colleges Union
telephone: 020 7670 9729
email: shunt@ucu.org.uk

If an activist in a union that espouses anti-racism takes her information on world affairs from a known white supremacist, then it is in the public interest that this be made public knowledge.”

Harry’s Place Satellite:

“If those in British Unions who flirt with the far-right can weasel out
of this, then they can weasel out of anything. A line must be drawn
here. A line must be drawn now.

If this is acceptable and accepted – indeed, if this is even mere
tolerated – then a line is crossed. What could possibly still remain
unacceptable? What taboos remain? Violence against Jewish students
‘explained’ by left-wing academics? Desecration of Jewish graveyards
celebrated on Indymedia? Would that still shock? And if so, for how
long?

What can we imagine that is worse than someone on the anti-Israel Left
using neo-Nazi hate polemic as propaganda?

If they can ‘teflon’ it away, then there is nothing they can’t and
won’t do. Apologists for antisemitism are ludicrously inventive, but
if they can get away with using neo-Nazi material, there is no limit,
no boundaries, nothing beyond taste and decency.”

Richard “Lenin” Seymour:

“I am not standing in “solidarity with Harry’s Place”, no. I believe they can fight their own battles. I am not masochistic enough to suck up to these fools when they get in a bit of trouble. Particularly since they don’t give a damn about free speech (unless it’s their own ‘right to tell people what they don’t want to hear, and then inform on them to their bosses’). No, you can save this particular ’cause celebre’ for someone who has no self-respect. It will not be me.” [I’d be surprised if he could find an instance of HP trying to suppress anybody’s free speech with anything other than robust argument (and in Richard Seymour’s particular case, ridicule) – FiG]

Complex System of Pipes:

“Harry’s Place is a cesspool of rightwing nastiness. It’s wrong for it to be closed down, but that doesn’t mean we should join its witchhunt.

“The thing is, you have to be really careful, really strict with anti-Zionism, to avoid being co-opted by the very nasty and insidious traditions of anti-semitism. In particular, it is undeniably true – and highly pertinent – to say that there is a lobby of wealthy Zionists, many of whom are Jewish (but, it’s worth underlining, some of the most aggressive of whom are Christian fundamentalists with more than a touch of anti-semitism about themselves), which exercises enormous influence over the policy towards Israel of the US and UK. It is also undeniably true – and highly pertinent – that there are plenty of racists scumbags out there who would love to tell you that “the” Jews rule the world.” [I am warey of this writer – s/he apportions blame for the collective failure to respond to antisemitism to people who raise the alarm about antisemitism saying that they are doing it wrong or in bad faith – FiG]

The Exile:

“There are a series of interlinked issues that are at stake in all of this. The first is that Jenna Denich (sic) has every right to be outraged at the Harry’s Place treatment of her. She should have demanded a right of reply, and pointed out the nature of the smear. Had she done that we would all have cheered her to the rafters, and then fought each other for the right to be the father of her babies.

The problem is that she didn’t, with the result that we have a freedom of speech issue, and on that basis alone we have to support Harry’s Place and its rancid crew.”

Ben Cohen:

“I see that one boycotter has been excusing Jenna Delich and pontificating thus: “I have taught sessions on web searching, web use and how to establish the provence and authenticity of information. This has made me crucially aware of how difficult it is to set out rules, or even guidelines, for avoiding errors.” Indeed. Because it’s a major challenge to work out that a site which carries links entitled “Facts About Black Crime in America” and “Innate Intellectual and Psychological Differences” is racist.”

Jim Jepps:

“Jenna states here that she “support[s] the idea that we should all stand united against all forms of racism against all people and religions (with no double-standards or selectiveness). All people are born equal, and deserve an euqal right to live, and an equal right to respect.” If that’s the case then she should really take stock about this whole affair. David Duke is not your ally.

It’s one thing to link to abhorrent material (after all I’ve even done so in this post, it can be impossible to avoid if you’re to allow the reader to judge for themselves) but it’s quite another to kick up a fuss when someone highlights the fact that you did so. It’s alright to make a mistake, it really is, who’s perfect after all? But if you react to that mistake by refusing to correct what you’ve done and instead closing down the opposition – well, don’t expect to feel the love.”

Ministry of Truth:

“The facts certainly do speak for themselves here. Delich’s ‘interesting reading’ was sourced from the website of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and is, itself, merely a repost of an article which orginally appeared at ‘Signs of the Times‘, which is your classic ‘alternative news’ website, i.e. run by bunch of conspiraloons and chock full of laughable articles.

Quite obviously, the provenance of Delich’s recommended reading is a little dubious, although given her sources we should, perhaps, be grateful that she hasn’t hit upon another of SOTT’s ’special reports’ which claims that Israeli researchers are developing ‘ethnic specific bioweapons‘ that would harm Arabs but not Jews – even though this was roundly debunked almost ten years ago.”

Index on Censorship:

“Webhosts Daily.co.uk subsequently received a complaint that the post was ’slanderous’, and informed Harry’s Place that it would not continue to host the blog’s domain name, saying the bloggers had breached terms of use.

Harry’s Place blogger David T told Index: ‘We have done nothing wrong. We did not breach Daily’s terms and conditions. They have put us out of business, without warning and without an opportunity to make alternative provision.’

Currently in the UK Internet service providers are liable for material posted on websites they host. ‘There should be statutory and blanket immunity for ISPs, as exists in the US,’ said David T.

Daily.co.uk declined to speak to Index, claiming that discussing the issue would breach data protection laws.”

I’m going to stop now. There’s Gypsies, conspiracy theorists and vegans to be thinking about.