Friday, 24 December 2010

Students Xmas Carol and Xmas solidarity greetings

I sent this round to our branch recently and found it also on Jon Roger's blog here. Good luck, comrade, in your branch's fight against cuts in the new year. Good luck also to Paul Holmes with the five day strike at Kirklees council, also against job cuts, in the new year. I hope everyone has a well deserved break: Eat, drink, be merry, and I'll see you all in the new year fresh and ready to take on the yellow-Tory government.

Call for nominations to National Executive Council (NEC), Higher Education General Seat

Membership number: 5260154

Branch No. 20055

24th December 2010

Dear colleague,

RE: Nominate Max Watson - Chair of London Metropolitan University Branch, and NEC Higher Ed General Seat – for a fighting, democratic union!

Thank you to all those branches that nominated me in the recent by election – I am pleased to report that I successfully contested the election and have attended my first NEC meeting. I am writing (again) to seek nominations to the Higher Education General Seat of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC).

We are in the middle of an enormous struggle against cuts and the wholesale privatisation of Higher Education: our students have been showing the way in the fight against fees and the scrapping of EMA. Winning the by-election in November confirmed that our members want to see their union at the forefront of the resistance to these cuts. As Chair of London Met University Branch, members and activists are well aware of my history as an energetic campaigner – a fighting, militant union activist. Being elected was a vindication of our campaign’s central message: we need to step up a gear in the fight against the cuts and in defending education.

In our 2009 dispute my branch took action against cuts and won significant concessions: we stopped the outsourcing of IT and saved 200 jobs. Our branch continues to be dynamic and responsive to our members needs, engaging new activists and growing in membership: we have a full compliment of officers, our members are confident of our own strength and voice. We rejected the pay offer by 81% and our members have again shown a willingness to take further industrial action – at packed branch meetings recently, 100 members voted unanimously for taking action over compulsory redundancies.

I believe members of UNISON are willing to take action – whether over pensions, pay or against cuts – if the union is willing to show real leadership. Our time is now: this is a crucial year to coordinate action against the cuts. As well as build for the 26th March demo, we must also prepare for coordinated industrial action with our sister unions in the public sector.

I’m an independent, unaligned socialist; I’m not a member of any party. I am a supporter of UNISON United Left and believe in a democratic, lay member led union. I believe the establishment inside UNISON must end the sectarian witch-hunt against left activists so we can focus on building unity in the fight against the neo liberal Con-Dem government.

Unity with students’ movement
In November, I was also elected as a representative of education workers onto the steering committee of the Education Activist Network (EAN), which has been central to mobilising the recent protests against the cuts and increase in fees. I believe the key to winning in the fight against cuts is building strong alliances with the students’ movement and our communities as well as with our sister unions.

Locally, our branch showed genuine support for our students went they went into occupation, buying them food, donating money and collecting money in our workplaces; helping organise lectures; providing advice and moral support when needed. Our members have been cheering on the students and joining them on demonstrations and when we will take action next year, which we’re bound to need to, we can expect full support from the students in return. Our fight is their fight.

On 9th December, the day of the vote on fees, our members took to the streets to march to Parliament alongside the students’ just as we did with pride on the 10th November.

These cuts are a challenge, but I genuinely believe we should see this new era as an organising opportunity – a chance to make ourselves relevant to a whole new generation; to be attractive to young workers and students, to show them that we too have vast experience and they should naturally gravitate towards us. Our union could be increasing our membership and lowering our average age in the next period if we put ourselves at the centre of the resistance to the cuts – but only if we show courage and determination, be bolder, more radical, as the students have been.

Living Wage and outsourced workers
We’ve also begun a Living Wage campaign at London Met. I believe the union must throw its full weight behind organising outsourced workers in the public sector. Contracted out staff, sometimes called the ‘Hidden Workforce’, are the most vulnerable and have the most to gain from union membership. The best way to win back in-house is by organising the workers themselves. I’ve met cleaners who have won the Living Wage and are speaking confidently and with pride as UNISON activists, and am proud to say our campaign at London Met is showing real potential to win – just as they won at UCL, SOAS, Birkbeck, UEL and 10 other London Universities.

Unite Against Fascism
I recently chaired a meeting at London Met, to launch the beginning of a ‘Unite Against Fascism’ student society and our branch actively, successfully opposed the racist BNP in nearby Barking and Dagenham in the elections last year.

Solid activist track record
Since joining in 2006, on my first day at work, I’ve gone on to serve our branch as Young Members officer, a steward, Assistant Secretary, and for the last 18 months as Chair. I’m proud our branch had a strong record of resistance and our members are keenly engaged in what we do: whether it’s with our widely praised campaign against stress or fighting job cuts, or talking to one another in discussion forums online, our branch is healthy and dynamic and has well attended branch meetings and socials. I believe good communication is a fundamental part of our union organising: my branch has a lively ‘Facebook group’, a great website, with our own ‘Youtube channel’ and I write a weekly email to all members with news, events and activities to get involved with:

In between leading another local campaign against job cuts at London Met, getting involved with the EAN and local anti-cuts networks, I also managed to win the election to the NEC in November. Since then, I attended my first NEC in December, and my first committee meetings will be after I send out this letter. I cannot report back too much yet, but read reports and find out a bit more about me, by visiting my website:

You can also contact me via:

Please also feel free to invite me to speak to you branch committee if you wish to meet me or hear for me in person. If you would prefer to write me a letter the good old fashioned way, please get in touch and I will send you my address.

Please note the nomination period opens on 11th January and closes on the 18th February 2011, so you can only nominate during that period. Please also nominate Carole Hanson, from Brighton University, who is standing for the Female Higher Education seat.

Nominate Max Watson to re-elect a dynamic, fighting candidate with a strong track record of activism. It’s time for a change in direction, with ‘new blood’ on the NEC. And contact me to find out how else you can get involved in our growing campaign for a fighting, democratic union.

In solidarity,

Max Watson

Thanks for taking the time to read this – I know how busy you all are. If you haven’t received a nomination form by 11th January, 2011, please call: 0845 355 0845 or visit:

Friday, 10 December 2010

Is Aaron Porter dead in the water?

Last night, we were being crushed in a kettle so badly, at one point many people – mostly young working class, black, white and Asian teenagers – were shouting to back off and leave us alone. And some began to think the worst: “it’s going to be another Hillsborough, here”. “They’re going to kill us in this crush.”

To our backs; a large brick wall, impassable. To our left; parked police vans with engines running, impassable. In front, riot police baton charging protesters – don’t even try going that way. Turn the other way and there are police mounted on horseback pushing into the young crowd yelling their catch phrase, without irony: "Get back."

"Where can we go?" The police can see, from their mounted horses, that we’re being badly crushed, and the only way out is into the swinging batons of rioting police. Why are they crushing us? They’re ‘just following orders’, as they say (but not in a German accent, you understand).

Whose orders? The political elite, who have given the go ahead to punish protesters who have no vote because they’re too young and yet dared to speak out. Those so-called ‘liberals’ who have said that they would not vote against fees because that would be a capitulation to the student demonstrations.

Instead they would rather we are beaten, crushed and charged at with frightened horses.

I’ve seen terrified young girls crying to be let free. Pregnant young women being charged by horses. I’ve seen bloody heads, and police smirking and even laughing at us as we beg to be let out. I’ve seen teenagers punched in the face by ‘thugs’ – as Sir Paul Stevenson called us this morning – wearing balaclavas but no badges and their numbers covered up.

Ian Tomlinson is the other name the protesters shout at the police as they call for justice. Remember him? I’d be unsurprised if we don’t soon hear the worst, as we nearly have already.

The attack on such a large body of youth has confirmed to us what many already know – that the police are not here for our safety at all. They’re here to protect their safety – the elite, the politicians, the monarchy and their property… They call the shots, and we get repeatedly horse-charged.

And it also has to be said – although I am firmly on the side of organised labour – that some of our trade union ‘leaders’ should be embarrassed about their pathetic ‘rally’ fifteen minutes away, on the Embankment, starring Peter Hain (!), Brendan Barber and Sally Hunt. They spoke to a shrinking crowd of embarrassed trade unionists. Our crew from London Met only lasted ten minutes it was so cringe-worthy. Not to mention the music - described as 'like being at an Uncle's wedding'.

In the words of one disgusted colleague as she left: “What’s this, the middle class protest?!” The speakers continued, meanwhile ignoring the fact their sons and daughters around the corner were being kettled again. What were they thinking? It was only a fifteen minute walk but felt like a million miles from the energy and enthusiasm of the protests - more like a carnival at that point (essential viewing - Paul Mason's 'Dubstep rebellion') - in Parliament square.

Why wasn’t Aaron Porter, the ‘leader’ of the NUS in amongst those students who were demonstrating and celebrating their own movement? Why did Sally Hunt and Aaron Porter turn their backs on those brave youth who entered Parliament Square knowing full well that the police would kettle them as punishment?

If the trade union movement wants to revive itself at this crucial time it should not be writing letters of support to the President of the NUS, it should be on the streets with the youth – who could be our next generation of union leaders. We must get out there and win them over to the ideas that made us strong in the first place: we must educate, agitate and organise those youth. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we are going to simply die out if we don’t make ourselves relevant to the next generation.

We must go to where the fight is, not rally where there are more speakers than listeners. Shame on those police who crush us and even tried to bruise us – but those trade union leaders who turned their back on us as we cried out for justice in Parliament square should also be embarrassed.

As we were held in place in the kettle and looking out for each other, I’ll never forget the sense of solidarity those young students showed to each other: holding each other up, urging each other not to panic as the crush go tighter; lifting those who were struggling up onto a wall where it was slightly safer and making room where there seemed to be none.

A few pockets of exemplary union banners from UNISON showed the way – Manchester Met, SOAS, Birkbeck and London Met were all present alongside dozen or so UCU banners of course, but we’re the ‘usual suspects’. Imagine if UNISON had brought their huge balloon into Parliament square, those youth will go on to instinctively support us when we go into dispute and out on strike as we’re surely going to next year. Where was UNITE and the GMB? These youth will need to join unions in their jobs and they could quickly become stewards and get organised in the workplace as they have done in their schools and colleges. They'd be much more likely to if our support was more tangible, more visible.

As a Naomi Bain, from Birkbeck UNISON, laughed: "While I was kettled (briefly) with a UNISON banner last night, two teenage girls walked past, one pointed at the banner and said "It's SO weird that that's your DAD's union!"."

Let's hope we didn't completely miss a trick and we can show maximum support to this movement. The youth are all saying, ‘this isn’t over’ and talking about their own 1968 - they're expecting us to get involved in the fight back. We have to, it's urgent.

A final word of warning: the rank and file students movement are again talking about a vote of no confidence in Porter as he's abandoned them time and again. Aaron Porter could soon be politically dead in the water. And this is what could happen to union leaders who also fail to deliver in the months and years ahead.
See also an account from a good friend Matthew Cassel, whose photo I nicked, and from 'United Against Police Violence'. Also read this account of a journalist being pulled from his wheelchair.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Smells like teen spirit

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!”


In under a month the political landscape has completely changed. Before 1oth November, trade unionists could look you in the eye and grumble 'we can't take action now, we still need to win the arguments first.'

Just try telling young people to be patient... Us activists in Education unions have been watching with total admiration as occupations spread around the country, and school, college and university students have walked out of classes to attend inspirational days of action, bringing cities to a standstill.

These actions were mainly called from the bottom up, since the 10th November demo, by activist groups and spontaneous movements, whilst the leadership of the NUS has been trying to play catch-up to the mood.

Students have organised their own weekly assemblies and all occupations are democratically run. Many journalists have noted the level of democracy at the occupied universities, and listened in awe of their debates, and hoping to see their action catch on. As Paul Holmes, fellow UNISON NEC member rightly says:

"All trade union branches should be inviting students to a branch meeting and trade union activists should visit University demonstrations and 'sit-ins'. We should show mutual support."

One of the things we're doing successfully at London Met is building on the unity between staff and students (see our 'Save London Met' banner with all three union logos and our continued support for their occupation). Rather than remembering 1979, the student occupations I've been to have been discussing 1968, and slogans like 'Students of the world, ignite!'

And whilst us trade unionists are constantly reminded of the anti-union laws to keep us from taking 'wildcat' action, tens of thousands of students have been walking out of classes, risking suspension from school or college.

Some students had to break open gates to join demonstrations in recent weeks. Others had to climb over gates and face down threats from head teachers. They've been 'kettled' and charged by police, beaten and then vilified by the media. And still they march in their thousands, defying authority in a way that is so natural to young people.

Today I attended my first Higher Education Service Group Exec meeting, and tomorrow is my first National Executive Council... I wonder if the inspiring students movement will stir our 'labour leaders' into action.

Whatever happens, I'll see you on 'Day X'.