Monday, 28 November 2011

Birkbeck UNISON lead by example, will not cross UCU picket lines on N30

Good luck to all the UNISON branches in HE that will be out on Wednesday on a very historic day for our union movement. Almost 30 unions will all be out - nearly 2.6 Million workers will be out in a magnificent display of unity, of defiance, of solidarity and resistance.

As identified at the start of the balloting period, for HE one of the main issues is that many UNISON branches aren't in a scheme that is being balloted (eg SAUL, USS or specific employer scheme). In that case we discussed at the time the options before those branches, including writing to employers asking that UNISON members would not be discplined for refusing to cross UCU picket lines. Once we knew that those branches couldn't get balloted in time by engineering a dispute, this was really the only option left.

Birkbeck UNISON have lead the way, as today they announced that:

"Although our branch hasn't been balloted we have now had it confirmed that any Birkbeck UNISON members who say they don't want to come to work when UCU are on strike will not have any action taken against them other than losing a day's pay."
For those other UNISON branches that still wish to take action but haven't secured an agreement yet, they could also now use this precedent as an example their management might wish to follow. Well done to Naomi Bain (Chair) and Simon Deville (Secretary) who must have negotiated hard for this agreement.

Solidarity forever - see you on the streets on November 30th and beyond!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Violence at London Met Uni Picket lines?

UNISON members at London Met were annoyed at a recent email from our Vice Chancellor, Malcolm Gillies, who has (once again) requested that we are peaceful when we go on demonstrations or on our picket lines next week.

Why is this necessary? When challenged by UNISON recently management recognised that we have never been violent before on picket lines (see one of our scary pickets on left). So why do we need to be treated like children? Management argues that they are simply iterating the legal position: picket lines must be 'peaceful' and not 'intimidatory'. Yes that’s true, but – correct me if I’m wrong – there is also a law against being violent to people already, in your day to day lives but we don't need reminding of it.

Is this worse than just ill-judged and patronising? Is it also playing the politics of fear? Creating a climate of fear: as if going on a demonstration is a dangerous affair, or standing on a picket line could be perceived as an act of aggression. The myth of the 'angry mob' is deliberately playing up to people's fears and making people hesitant about exercising their right to protest. It works, too - it’s a proven method. A local steward has never been on a demo, and didn’t come on the demo of 26th March because of this fear of violence. Another rep recently came on their first demo and was clearly anxious due to all the press reports of potential 'riots'.

Others have made it clear to me they didn't come on the recent student demo because of the danger of 'rubber bullets' that the police deliberately put out to scare people off. I’ve been on too many demonstrations than is probably healthy for one person – and indeed I have on occasion seen real police violence, and seen mounted police charging peaceful protesters in London. So I’m not impressed by the tactics of a university management who have asked us to ‘be peaceful’ or keep within the law when our picket lines are simply a justified stance against the great Pensions Robbery.

We are peaceful in our day to day activity, as of course we would be on our picket lines.

The real violence is the slamming the door of education in the faces of ordinary young people. Violence is making people unemployed when there is no need for job cuts, or cutting counselling services for students who are on suicide watch. Violence is withholding wages or holiday pay from cleaners or caterers, from the most vulnerable workers in university. Enforced poverty is violence.

Meanwhile we are the ones who are expected to keep quiet about the mugging of public sector workers - or we're portrayed as potentially dangerous.

We are peaceful: but we are also determined, and we will not be intimidated by veiled threats.

Whenever there is a strike there is division and you are asked: ‘whose side are you on’? To be tarnished with the ‘potentially violent’ brush is all part of the battle for public opinion. Despite repeated requests for a retraction and apology, to their shame they have failed to take this chance.

I've asked around and sadly this has apparently only happened at London Met so far as I can tell but I've not asked far and wide: who else in a UNISON HE branch has been asked by their VC not to be violent on their picket lines without reason?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The truth about the unions - Redpepper's Mythbuster

As the Tories and their pals in the press ratchet up the anti-strike rhetoric, Red Pepper knocks down some of the myths they throw at the unions

MYTH: Unions strike at the first opportunity, without a thought for the consequences
Nobody takes the decision to strike lightly. Strikes are very expensive – the cost to the unions of 30 November, including ballots, will be millions of pounds. Union members will sacrifice up to £100 million in pay altogether.
The unions are taking action because other options have been blocked by the government. It effectively froze negotiations. It is only the threat of strikes that has led to any change in the government's position.
When the unions do eventually decide they have to resort to strikes, they discuss with employers to organise emergency cover and ensure that no one is in danger and vulnerable people are not harmed.
Home care for the elderly, urgent operations and accident and emergency departments all continue to function. Unions agree with employers that enough people are exempt from the strike to make sure this is the case.
MYTH: Unions are just a 'lobby group' for workers' selfish interests
Public sector workers are less motivated by their own pay and conditions than by a strong public service ethos. 53 per cent of NHS staff regularly work additional unpaid hours over and above their contract (Annual NHS Staff Survey). The most common reason for working unpaid hours was 'because I want to provide the best care I can'.
Public sector unions play a key social justice role, campaigning for decent public services for all. They would like to be striking to this end, but that is illegal. They are only allowed to take action over their own pay and conditions.
But good conditions are part of ensuring quality public services – after all, services will be better if the workers providing them are secure about their futures, rather than anxious.
Unions can hardly be accused of representing 'sectional interests' when they do so much campaigning on wider issues such as anti-racism and freedom for Palestine.
MYTH: Unions are a thing of the past – a declining minority of the workforce
The unions are constantly renewing themselves. Many trade unions are in fact growing as they reach out to new groups. For example, Unison signed up 160,000 new members last year – 27,000 of them aged under 30. Unions are also on the rise internationally as more of the world is industrialised and workers start to fight for their rights.
Deindustrialisation and legal attacks have reduced the number in unions in the UK since the 1970s. But with nearly seven million members (National Statistics), trade unions are still the largest voluntary organisations in the country.
And another estimated 3.3 million non-union workers are covered by collective agreements negotiated by a union.
MYTH: Unions are a drag on the economy
Government-commissioned research shows that unions bring an identifiable range of benefits to the economy, and the taxpayer, worth up to £1.1 billion every year ('Workplace representatives: a review of their facilities and facility time', BERR). This is through their contribution to dispute resolution, reductions in workplace injuries and work-related illnesses, and improved take-up of training.
There are also productivity gains worth up to £12 billion ('The Facts About Facility Time', TUC) thanks to improved morale and employee engagement, among other factors.
Even the International Monetary Fund has published research ('Inequality, Leverage and Crises', IMF) suggesting that union bargaining helps maintain economic stability, by keeping a lid on inequalities and putting a brake on runaway expansions of household debt.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says: 'If we want a society of broadly shared prosperity … we need to restore the bargaining power that labour has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages.'
MYTH: Unions only care about the public sector, where most of their members work
The government talks a lot about how 'unfair' unions are for private sector workers – but workers in the private sector won't benefit one jot from an attack on the public sector.
The public sector's conditions are better because unions have fought to maintain standards in the face of a race to the bottom. Union members' hourly earnings are around 17 per cent higher than those of non-union members.
Unions face enormous challenges recruiting and organising in the private sector because of the nature of much employment. But millions of private sector workers are in unions – and millions more who are not in a union would like to join one. Unions want to level up, not race to the bottom.
According to the British Workplace Representation and Participation Survey, 46 per cent of employees in non-unionised workplaces say they would become members if unions were enabled to recruit and organise there. That alone would easily take total union membership above 50 per cent nationally.
MYTH: Unions are pale, male and stale
In fact, unions have been working continually to address inequalities and secure greater participation and representation of women, black and ethnic minorities, disabled and young people ever since the social movements of the 1970s transformed understandings of inequality and work.
Unison, for example, has over a million women members – more than two thirds of the union. Women's representation is growing across the unions, and many now actively encourage women to get involved and become reps.
It's taken time and struggle, and there's still a lot to be done, but unions score higher than most institutions on diversity and equalities – including not just businesses but also political parties. Young people today are far more likely to join a union than a political party.
MYTH: Unions are undemocratic, with 'union barons' ordering members to strike
The very role of a trade union is to provide democratic representation of its members in the workplace. The right to form and join trade unions is generally considered to be a fundamental part of any democratic society, and is specifically mentioned in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 23).
Unions spread a culture of democracy. Research suggests high levels of union membership are linked to democratic participation more generally, such as voting in elections and campaigning in the community ('The Everyday Democracy Index', Demos).
Union leaders are elected democratically by a ballot of every member. Policy is made through the unions' democratic structures, such as annual delegate conferences. As with any democratic institution there are flaws, and improvements must be fought for, but in few organisations are the leaders as accountable as they are in the unions.
No strike can take place without the support of at least 50 per cent of those voting by postal ballot. Two out of every three MPs didn't get 50 per cent of the vote at the last general election.
MYTH: Unions are unpopular
Trade unions' portrayal in the media could make you think that they are universally despised. But surveys show that this is far from the case.
Even at the height of the attack on the unions, when MORI opinion polls found a majority of people agreeing that unions were 'run by militants', 73 per cent still agreed that unions are essential to protect workers' interests'. Today 76 per cent say they are essential.
A ComRes opinion poll at the time of the smaller pensions strikes in June this year found that a majority of the public thought 'public sector workers are right to take strike action'. With up to three million set to strike on 30 November, these arguments are ones we can win.
We have piles of this Mythbuster, printed as a full-colour leaflet, ready to send out. Would you like some for your union branch, trades council, anti-cuts or campaign group? Or even just a few to give out yourself? Email your postal address to

London Metropolitan University unions prepare for an ‘all out’ strike on 30th November

Members of the trade union UNISON at London Metropolitan University met last week and declared their intention to join the huge one day public sector strike over pensions on 30th November 2011.

The support staff at the university, based in Islington, the City of London and Tower Hamlets, met on 16th and 17th November, following the national ballots for action returned a 78% yes vote for industrial action. They declared their intention to shut down the University for the day alongside with their sister unions, the UCU and GMB.

The Students Union have also declared their support for the strike.

Dozens of UNISON members gathered to express their outrage at the government's 'pensions robbery', and lined up to show support to be photographed with a placard which reads 'I'm taking action on 30th November.

Susan Lloyd, an administrative officer, said she'd be striking on Nov 30th, because: "I haven't had a decent pay rise in years so simply can't afford to pay a further 50% more into my pension."

Jonathan McCree, added he would also be withdrawing his labour because: "Only by doing so will I protect my pension and send a message that everyone deserves one."

Eddie Rowley, who works with the student union, said: "I shouldn't have to pay 50% more in pension contributions to fund the bank bailouts!"

All the unions at the University will be on strike on 30th November, with support from the students' union, leading to a likely shut down of the two campuses. Management have promised to deduct a day's pay from striking staff but Max Watson, Chair of the UNISON Branch, said:

"The threat of losing a day's pay doesn't really compare when you look at the long term pensions robbery the government has in mind. I'll be paying over £500 a year extra for a pension that will be cut by 23 percent according to the government's proposals, and I won't get it until I'm too old to enjoy it! There's no way I'm putting up with that, and our members have made it clear they're behind this strike all the way."

For more info:

Call Branch Chair: Max Watson 0207 320 3010

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Let's Work Together to get public service workers to No1!

going to Work logo

Let's Work Together to get public service workers to No1!

Let's Get Together by The Workers

Dear  Max,

The Workers are a group of 14 public service staff from around the country, who've come together to record the classic song 'Let's Work Together'. Please help get some solidarity into the charts ahead of the day of action on 30 November by watching the video, buying the song, and spreading the word.

Watch the video now and find out more

Public service workers are under a lot of strain - Job losses are happening at an even higher rate than in the private sector, and government cuts mean more people are needing to fall back on our public services in a time of need - putting more strain on fewer staff. Added to this, the government are planning to drastically cut their pensions, and make people work much longer and pay much more into the bargain. This will mean many low paid staff unable to afford to contribute to any pensions provision at all - a race to the bottom that will do nothing to help pensions under attack in the private sector too.
Public sector unions are staging a day of action on 30 November, to highlight the problem, with events happening all over the country. It would really set the mood music for the day to have a song in the charts when it happens, so we're backing The Workers to raise awareness and solidarity ahead of the 30th. Please help us to get them as high up the charts as we can.

Watch the video now and find out more

Going To Work is a project of the Trades Union Congress (TUC)

This email was sent to:

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Why I'm supporting Mark Campbell for UCU Gen Sec

I'm supporting Mark Campbell for UCU Gen Sec, for unity in action. At London Met Uni we've had to take robust stand against job cuts and privatisation - including coordinated strike action in 2009 and again in June 2011.

Watch short clip below from our most recent strike - Mark Campbell lead his union branch out on strike against job cuts at London Met that were predominantly support staff jobs represented by us in UNISON. As a result of our united action we doubled the redundancy pay, and significantly reduced the number of compulsory redundancies.

I fully back Mark's campaign and look forward to working with him as General Secretary of a fighting, democratic UCU. United we stand, divided we fall.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sparks national day of action - REEL NEWS footage


Banner-drop at the end of the student demo against privatisation of education on Wed 9th Nov.

Well done to the students who managed to get through the overkill police and security operation to get this message out, to NCAFC, EAN and all activists who organised a very successful day.

Shame no official unions built this at all, but now it's all out to build for Nov 30th.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


The full timetable for the UNITE the RESISTANCE convention is published here. See you there?
Add Image

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Students at the heart of the system? 'Profit' would be more apt

The higher education white paper is an ideological attack on vulnerable students. We must stand united in opposition
  • Article history
  • Students protest over funding cuts for arts education at London Metropolitan University
    Students protest over funding cuts for arts education at London Metropolitan University. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

    Thousands of students from all over the country will be marching through London this Wednesday against the government's plans for universities. The governments's white paper for higher education calls itself "Students at the heart of the system". As the president of the students' union at London Metropolitan University, I have been on the frontline facing the attacks against students and education. I know how contradictory this title is, and how vital it is that we stand up and fight for the opportunities that have been won over generations.

    The higher education white paper is in fact an attempt to turn the learning environment into a marketplace and learners into customers. "Profit at the heart of the system" would be far more accurate. The government seeks to justify cuts and fee increases in higher education by saying that students are a burden on the taxpayer – but the new funding regime will actually require students to borrow more money from the taxpayer at a time of economic crisis. Is this a logical move or an ideological one?

    Allowing private companies to take over public resources has historically had an adverse affect on our communities. This year energy companies have made record profits by raising prices through the roof, leaving vulnerable people to suffer the cold – and in extreme case die – because they cannot afford their heating bills. The privatisation of education and healthcare is like selling off our children to the highest bidder.

    London Met has a diverse student body. Many of our students come from widening participation backgrounds, with high proportions of working class and black and ethnic-minority students. The very ethos of London Met is to enable students who would not previously had the chance to enter into higher education the opportunity to have the same life choices that were previously only provided for a privileged few.
    We now face the worst cuts out of any university in Britain. These include a 70% cut to the undergraduate course portfolio, which has resulted in the loss of subjects such as philosophy, history and performing arts. These courses were financially viable, had high student satisfaction and retention, and some scored higher in the league tables than any other course at London Met. To cut these courses was not logical. This was a move to vocationalise the course offering.

    The rationale behind such a move is highly flawed, as there is no data to suggest that students who leave London Met go into employment in the field of which they studied. In fact, the data collected for the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey shows that the faculty of computing, which is made up of vocational courses, has the lowest graduate employment rating.

    The result of offering mainly vocational courses at institutions like London Met is that the majority of working-class and black and ethnic-minority students who enter into higher education will have their choices limited to what is deemed to be of value by the decision-makers at the institution. This will limit social mobility and is a step backwards for post-1992 universities. Meanwhile, at Russell Group institutions, the sons and daughters of Middle England will be allowed to continue to study arts and humanities.

    Along with the reshaping of the course offering at London Met, student services, a department that provides support for our most vulnerable students, has received a 30% cut. Students now have to wait eight weeks for an appointment with the disability and dyslexia service. This is an unacceptable attack on our most vulnerable students and it has already caused some disabled students to drop out of London Met altogether.

    I am forced to conclude that the changes to higher education are an ideological attack on vulnerable students. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds will either be excluded form higher education altogether or have very limited choices and support. Taxpayers will be forced to pay more in the short term, with their money ending up in the pockets of large corporations who will be primarily focused on profit-making rather than education.

    My great granddad once said to my dad when he was a child, that one day the rich and powerful would try to take away all the rights, freedoms and opportunities that we have fought for for generations. This is now a reality, and if we do not stand up and fight we will lose them. It is much easier to keep something than it is to get it back once it's gone. Education affects everyone. It is vital that we stand united to save education on 9 November, because history repeatedly shows us that united, we can actually win.


Monday, 7 November 2011

HE UNISON Branch wesbite directory

Has your branch got its own website? I'm making a directory of branch websites, so it's easier for us to contact each other on-line. Let me know, send me your link and I'll add you to the list of HE UNISON Branches I've started here on the side of this blog.


It's time to take to the streets again ... #N9

On Wednesday 9th November, thousands of students from all over the country will march through London against the government’s plans for universities.

Student demo November 9th 2011 from Jon Cheetham on Vimeo.

Assemble: 12 noon at the University of London Union (ULU) on Malet Street

See the Facebook event here:


On 18th October, QMUL UNISON Branch Secretary Vikhas Chechi was suspended from his post at the Centre of the Cell, Queen Mary University of London.

We believe this suspension is linked to Mr Chechi’s vocal opposition to the cuts and restructuring being imposed at Queen Mary and his tireless efforts to organise campus workers and reinvigorate the local UNISON branch.

Having the trade union decapitated during a period of restructuring and redundancies would be detrimental to staff and students.

This petition calls:

1.For Mr. Chechi's reinstatement.

2.To oppose any efforts to victimise trade unionists at Queen Mary and elsewhere.

3.To send letters of protest immediately to Mr Chechi's employers demanding his immediate reinstatement and letters of support to


QMUL UNISON are also organising a public meeting and a lobby in order to campaign demanding his immediate reinstatement. ALL WELCOME. FORWARD THIS EMAIL WIDELY AS POSSIBLE.


Thursday 10th November


Francis Bancroft Room 1.13a

Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University, E1 4NS


Tuesday 15th November


Garrod Building entrance, Queen Mary University, Whitechapel Campus

(Behind Royal London Hospital, Turner Street, Whitechapel, E1 2AD)

In solidarity,


Friday, 4 November 2011

UNISON members vote Yes to action - Higher Ed unanimously support #N30

UNISON News | The public service union | UNISON members vote Yes to action

We're on the last stretch of the road to nationally coordinated strike action. Finally the results came in on Thursday last week, after a long campaign for a yes vote (though one more week might have helped?).

The Higher Ed service Group then ratified the decision to go ahead with November 30th, (unanimously voting in favour), following the overwhelming yes vote.

Firstly, a common query: there won't be a breakdown for our sector - all of LGPS members have one aggregated result. We do not have a breakdown of the results for the HE Service group, nor for individual branches.

Secondly we should not be defensive about the turn-out: nearly thirty percent isn't bad at all. How many MEPs are elected on higher percentage? And if the government want trade unions to deliver an increased turnout to make our ballots legitimate, they should allow us to have workplace ballots (after all we're based in the workplace). And why can't we use secure on-line voting systems like professional associations do . Student unions often have on-line voting too. ... but not trade unions, oh no.

And due to the Tory anti-union laws we have to strike with in 28days of a ballot result in order to keep our ballot 'live'. So it's definitely going ahead on 30th Nov.

As Dave Prentis promised: 'there will be no deals behind closed doors', and members will be consulted on any 'final offer (in what format we are yet to decide).

We emphasised the need to defend pensions for everyone - not just public sector workers, and certainly not just those public sector works close to retirement age. So as far as we're concerned, the strike is on because we're defending decent pensions for all. To that end, we're agreed on the need to engage with young workers and students and we're all for building stronger alliances with the NUS. As I said already, 'today's students are tomorrow's pensioners'...

I think we should congratulate ourselves on an excellent 'Yes campaign'. The materials produced were excellent, the support and training for Pensions Champions has been clear and concise, making complex arguments simple. Activists up and down the country have been slogging their guts out talking to members, and altogether we delivered a convincing result.

Now the task is to keep the momentum up whilst the wind is in our sails.

We won the yes vote in our union, now we need to win over public opinion. The media bias against unions means they will instinctively oppose any strike action, so we need to get letters into local papers in favour, vote in on-line polls etc.. UNISON mobilised well for the Guardian and the Telegraph polls taken last week - we need to keep this up over the next few weeks.

Most of all we need to be recruiting and organising new members and activists. Public sector workers are joining UNISON at a speed not seen an many years, due to our high-profile and principled stand in defence of decent pensions for all.

So hopefully I'll see many of you on the demo on 9th November: whilst we're supporting the struggle for free education, we will also be recruiting more advocates for our strike action on 30th.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Today's students are tomorrow's pensioners - let's stick together

The government has apparently tried to buy off older workers (within ten years of retirement) with some minimal concessions.

It's very welcome that UNISON has told the rich-list cabinet to get stuffed and declared 30th Nov is still on (see analysis here and here).

The government think they've spotted a chink in our armour - the average age of trade unionists is, sadly, above 50 - so they're trying to exploit that.

As a public sector worker who is nowhere near retirement age, (and I won't even be covered by a promise that the offer would be binding for the next 25 years), I don't see anything in this for me or my generation.

As I argued last year we in the labour movement need to be arm in arm with the next generation if we're to turn around our decline. We cannot allow our movement to be divided by age. We'd be selling out a future generation of public sector workers, who share zero blame for the current financial crisis.

Solidarity with the next generation. If we sell them out, we haven't got a hope. Instead, we must congratulate the TUC for rejecting this offer and not only throw our weight behind building for the 30th November, but also get involved in building the demo next week.

Today's students are tomorrow's pensioners - let's stick together. See you next week.

UNISON News | The public service union | Action on 30 November still on

UNISON News | The public service union | Action on 30 November still on