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?