Saturday, 26 February 2011

Fighting spirit at Unison's higher education conference

by a Unison union member

Over 150 delegates from universities across Britain met in Harrogate last week at the Unison union’s higher education conference.

They met to the backdrop of the student protests and the biggest attack ever on higher education in the form of rising fees and mass privatisation.

Read the full report here.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Tory Scum, Here We Come! Student Protests: The Story So Far

The rise of the incredible student movement, in a short version for trade union and other meetings. This and the full 65 minute version are on the latest Reel News DVD (No 26), along with films of protests in Ireland and the London firefighters strike. Order your copy at

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Coordinate strike aciton agaisnt all the cuts

Typical bad luck! The second NEC meeting since I got elected clashed with by my Branch AGM, and so I missed a discussion on coordinated strike action in defence of our pensions.

Our pensions are now pegged to CPI instead of RPI, which means our they'll be worth 15 percent less when we get them. We're likely to be made to pay more, work longer and get less in return. We might well see an attack on the 'final salary' aspect, and see an 'average salary' pension instead. Great. So what do we do about it?

"We need to make sure our members know about these threats," said Mr Prentis, warning that the attacks could be the issue which sees co-ordinated national industrial action. And if action is necessary, he warned, it will need to be on a scale greater than in 2007.
I argued at Higher Ed conference we need to prepare for coordinated industrial action in defence of our public services. And as I rushed back to Holloway Road for our AGM, we heard about these attacks in greater detail from Glynn Jenkins, Head of Pensions at UNISON.

A good turn out again at our AGM, means most of our members are well aware of these attacks and the need to fight them (and just one member was not in a pension).

We're continuing to build our branch and get ready for action in defence of job cuts, pay cuts and pension cuts - they're all part of the same package. And as I said before: give them an inch, and they'll take a mile. We shouldn't be weak on pay because we're fighting or pensions or jobs.

I'll post some more on the NEC later, as well as our my report to our branch AGM, specifically on the Rule Changes (and disciplinary action), on organising and on Palestine. Until then, read these reports:


UNISON Active (Bob Oram)

And from NEC member for London, Jon Rogers, who is good at reporting in detail from these meetings:

Kingsley Abrams - good old Lambeth

I no longer live in Lambeth but I was born and brought up in that borough, so I'm delighted to hear about the resistance to the cuts there. Firstly a lone brave councillor who voted against the cuts, Kingsley Abrams. Hear why he took this stance here:

Then there was an occupation of the Town Hall. Good old Lambeth (read more here from Jon Rogers).

At the NEC yesterday I had to leave early to Chair my own branch AGM, but the issue of defying the Tory cuts in Labour councils by setting 'needs budgets' was raised (obviously there are wildly differing views on this). I hope we hear of many more courageous councillors like Kingsley.

I'll report back from the little I did get to discuss at the NEC shortly.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Higher Education Conference: a Personal report

It was strange to be sitting on the top table this year, my second year at HE conference, and it was great to hear (at times) a good debate and see new members and new faces, especially younger members. There were three contentious issues, (you can download all the motions from the UNISON website). Firstly, the Privatisation of Higher Ed, secondly Standing Orders' refusal to back down, and thirdly, our Pay Claim. There was also a Q&A over the FE/ HE merger, which I won't go into here.

1) A 'defeatist' motion defeated
A motion on Privatisation of education was defeated because it was deemed 'defeatist' (e.g it said private education is 'here to stay'). When an amendment that tried to changed its emphasis fell, the motion was defeated.

2) Standing Orders: referred back and back and back again!
They were like a Jury walking into a court room to deliver their verdict: all heads turned and you almost expected the Chair to call for silence in court. The verdict: 'not an emergency' on two counts, and 'not competent' on one other. knowing looks as the council conferred, and requested to approach the bench were turned down.

The persistent Manchester Metro Branch, lead admirably by Linda Holden, and Birmingham Uni Branch, who had both submitted alternative claims on pay, insisted that for the sake of democracy their motions were 'referred back'. Conference agreed each time, sent them packing only to hear back two more times the same 'verdict'. This went on until the end of conference and the President, in the Chair, had to declare the conference over! That's not what democracy looks like!

3) Pay, in all it's forms
This meant there was only one motion on pay. The debate was essentially about whether we link pay claims to the rest of the cuts. Do we separate pensions, pay and job cuts, or do we fight the cuts as a package, and resist on all fronts? Several speakers lined up to call for the latter, and castigated a motion for a flat rate, as it was deemed a 'capitulation'. Those calling for a 'realistic' claim lost the debate, and the motion for a flat rate claim fell.

So our secretariat has just circulated a consultation to all branch secretaries:
"At the UNISON Higher Education Conference on 16 February 2011 no valid resolution was carried in respect of the content of the 2011/12 pay claim. The Higher Education Service Group has therefore agreed to undertake a brief consultation with branches on what they believe the key aims of the claim should be..."

Make sure your branch secretary discusses this in your committee and gets a return in on time.

The UCU are currently balloting on national action over cuts to pay, jobs and pensions. Do we want to be in the same position next year, with the UCU in dispute whilst our members keep their head down, hoping it'll go away?

The branches that won a 'reject' vote this year owe it to the rest of the sector to give confidence that we can fight back and win (such as Birmingham, who fought and won an increased offer). We must learn from their experiences and try to inculcate the same sort of fighting spirit in the rest of our sector.

Let's win this argument and develop a fighting strategy against the cuts to our sector.

I made the usual (attempted) rabble-rousing speech in support of a motion to fight the cuts, about the need for coordinated industrial action, and concluded:

"We're often told, as lay reps that we're the back-bone of the union. So let's show some back-bone; stand up tall, with our heads held high. Take this motion back to our branches and prepare for battle..."

Unlike last year, when I was quoted in three articles in the Morning Star, I could only speak on a couple of items and none were picked up in the labour-friendly press this year.

Sometimes when left activists get elected onto committees, there is a fear that there won't be enough 'good speakers' from the floor.

This year's HE conference showed there are plenty to take our places, and our fighting branches were well represented.

Gail Cameron and Allan Pike did a sterling job representing London Met, and Birmingham had two new speakers stepping up to the mark too. Antonia Bright from SOAS spoke plenty of times - also articulately and with passion - telling it like it is, pegging the cuts agenda to a racist agenda.

Carole Hanson is no stranger to the podium, and also got stuck in: hopefully her leadership skills, which helped to win a rejection of the pay claim this year, will also be felt on the executive committee after June. There are plenty in her branch to take the floor if she does, too.

Other militant trade unionists did an excellent job - especially the new comer Andy Cunningham from Manchester Met who apologised for speaking too much (but shouldn't have felt the need to).

I was also impressed by the number of LGBT motions to HE and in particular David Cosgrave from Imperial, who gave an articulate speech on the new legislation about Single Equalities and the apparent contradiction between protecting religious groups from discrimination and at the same time protecting members against homophobia. It's a shame this year the Morning Star covered the UCU's press release on Imperial instead.

Us active HE branches must get our act together on writing good, competent motions and getting them accepted so it doesn't become a 'Standing Orders-Fest'. E.G. when calling for strike action, always insert "lawful" before industrial action, and include "within UNISON's rules" too, this seems to help sometimes... And maybe next year we'll have a full day's debate?

For more, the reports on the UNISON website on the debates are pretty good:

So, we've had our conference in Harrogate (the irony that the conference centre staff are facing job cuts did not go unnoticed, so sent a message of support to the local UNISON branch who leafleted us at lunchtime), and now the ongoing discussion about our strategy and our pay claim for next year continues.

I've got my second NEC tomorrow, and the Defend the Four campaign are going to be meeting us in the morning as we go into Mabledon Place ... I'll let you know what happens!

Tax Justice

Tax Justice from PCS Union TV on Vimeo.

Friday, 18 February 2011

19 branch nominations!

ALMOST hit target of 20...

1. Birkbeck
2. Imperial College*
3. London South Bank University
4. Middlesex
5. University of East London (UEL)*
6. University of Cambridge and Colleges
7. London Metropolitan University
8. University of Bedfordshire*
9. Liverpool John-Moores University*
10. Manchester Metropolitan University*
11. Southampton District*
12. Westminster*
13. UWE*
14. Bristol*
15. Brighton University
16. Senate house, Uni of London*
17. SOAS
18. Birmingham University
19. Anglia Ruskin*

*new nominations. Great stuff - well done folks.

And well done for getting so organised and with great speechs at conference - which sent us on the Executive 'back to the drawing board' for a better pay claim in Harrogate... :)

I'll see you in March, at the demo on 26th to pick up election leaflets...

Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile!

We must stand up to this government’s despicable attacks on our education and our welfare state, public services, jobs and pensions. It’s not too late to win this battle if we act now, but we desperately need a fighting leadership to win.

I’ve got experience successfully fighting job cuts and outsourcing London Met University Branch, proven willing and able to lead a campaign of action and since November 2010 I’ve taken this experience onto the NEC and the HE Executive – thanks to you all who voted.

We need to take escalate our response to defeat these cuts – we must stand up to all the attacks we face: we mustn’t accept a pay freeze, job cuts or attacks on our pensions.

Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile!

We should take inspiration from our students, who shook the government to the core, and smashed all illusions these cuts could get through without a fight. The union movement can finish what the students started.

The government want an elite-based education system, for the rich, privileged few, rather than education for all. Our members have joined the students on the streets and in the campuses: we must also join with the UCU and other education unions to coordinate strike action, and throw everything we’ve got into defending ourselves

We must believe we can win this.

We must rediscover our self-confidence as an organised union in which all of us take part. Many members have never been on picket lines before, and even more don’t vote in elections.

Many Universities have never had compulsory redundancies: but those times are over.

We need members with experience leading action against cuts and getting new members involved in the union. Our branch, through our struggle against cuts, has recruited many new activists along the way.

Actions speak louder than words – that means more than stunts for the press in front of Downing Street.

We lay activists and members are often told we are ‘the backbone of the union’ – so let’s show some backbone, stand up strong, with our heads held high.

The March 26th TUC Demonstration is a good start – we should now launch a summer of resistance to the cuts.

Members must make key decisions, not unaccountable officials. Local branches should have more say over their own disputes: when members want to take action, officials should fully support them, not delay and tip-toe around legal hurdles until the momentum is lost.

I’m an independent socialist, non-aligned to any party, a supporter of the ‘United Left’, with a strong track record of organising members and inspiring new activists.

Please also vote for Carole Hanson, for the female HE seat and for all candidates for a fighting democratic union and encourage your workmates to do so too.

See you in the streets! Get in touch, get involved, visit:

Vote Max Watson - a fighting candidate, standing up for you!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Four more nominations, makes twelve

Four more nominations have been confirmed as received, all of them *new and three more from outside London. Total nominations now twelve:

  1. Birkbeck
  2. Imperial College*
  3. London South Bank University
  4. Middlesex
  5. University of East London (UEL)*
  6. University of Cambridge and Colleges
  7. London Metropolitan University
  8. University of Bedfordshire*
  9. Liverpool John-Moores University*
  10. Manchester Metropolitan University*
  11. Southampton District*
  12. Westminster*
So that's seven new nominations (branches that didn't nominate me in the recent by-election), and five from outside London. So far, so good - thanks folks. Let me know if your branch is still thinking of nominating, it's not too late!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Islington Strikes Back!

Some lively local anti-cuts groups are emerging and mobilising in our communities - like IHOOPS, who organised this excellent demo last Saturday, 5th Feb, of over 1,000 people marching against the cuts. Power to the People!

Some selected speeches from the rally at the end, starting with George Binette, of Camden UNISON branch:

... Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Islington North, Labour:

And finally, my favourite, Billie Tomlinson, student occupier from London Met:

Monday, 7 February 2011

Nominations rise to eight branches

Updated list - I now have eight branch nominations:

  1. Birkbeck
  2. Imperial College*
  3. London South Bank University
  4. Middlesex
  5. University of East London (UEL)*
  6. University of Cambridge and Colleges
  7. London Metropolitan Uni
  8. University of Bedfordshire*
So that's three *new nominations, (that didn't nominate in by-election), and two from outside London, so far. Thanks folks - keep them coming ...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

First five branch nominations

The first five branch nominations have come through confirmed as received by UNISON:

  1. Birkbeck
  2. Imperial College
  3. London South Bank
  4. Middlesex
  5. University of East London

That's already two new nominations from last time, (UEL and Imperial), and lots more have pledged to support this time round. So keep 'em coming ... Cheers