Wednesday, 11 December 2013

NEC congratulates UNISON Higher Education members for two days strike for fair pay

"The NEC was meeting the day after a successful UK-wide strike of higher education workers organised jointly by UNISON, Unite, UCU and the EIS, the second day of action against a 1% pay offer from university employers.
The meeting thanked and congratulated members involved in the sector-wide action and also sent a message of support and solidarity to workers at the University of Liverpool who are taking separate action today against attacks on their terms and conditions."
Full NEC report here from UNISON's website:

And from Jon Rogers' blog (NEC rep for Greater London) here:

I will write a longer report about the second day when I get a chance. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Police and the stifling of legitimate protest

Police and the stifling of legitimate protest

Your front-page story that the police spied on the political activities ofstudents at Cambridge University (Undercover police target students, 15 November) fits in with the way the police have prosecuted students protesting over the last few years. Following the 2010 demonstrations against tuition fees, counter terrorism police were used to process cautions in the police station. The police went on to charge more than 60 students of good character with violent disorder, the second most serious public order charge, which carries with it an almost inevitable prison sentence on conviction. Thankfully, Alfie Meadows's acquittal earlier this year and the acquittal of the large majority of those who went to trial, have gone some way to undermine the use of excessive charging by the police and prosecution.
Matt Foot
Solicitor, Birnberg Peirce & Partners
• We the undersigned unreservedly condemn the arrest of University of London union president, Michael Chessum, for allegedly organising a demonstration apparently contrary to the Public Order Act (G2, 19 November). This arrest coincides with the revelations that Cambridge police have been attempting to pay students to inform on fellow student "activists", and follows the arrest of a student activist in the 3Cosas campaign in the ULU building itself. We believe it is time to reiterate the basic position that universities are centres of learning and we condemn the increasing role of the police on university campuses to stifle legitimate protest.
All names in a personal capacity
Molly Cooper Unison Greater London women's rep service group executive Max Watson Unison NEC and London Met Uni Unison branch secretarySandy Nicoll SOAS Unison branch secretary and London region general seatUnison higher education service group executive,Simon Deville Branch secretary, Birkbeck Unison, Sean WallisPresident, University College London UCU, Secretary London HE UCU, UCU NEC, Louise Lambe Unison HE memberYassin BenserghinUCL Unison vice-chairGyta Nicola Branch secretary IOE Unison, Des Freedman Secretary, Goldsmiths UCUUlrike Sommer UCU departmental rep for the Institute of ArchaeologyTom Hickey Chair, UCU co-ordinating committee, David Hardman London Met UCU membership secretary, Jacqueline Sheehan Branch chair UCL Unison,Dr Laurie Stras Southampton University UCU exec committee member,Marian Mayer Vice chair BU UCUDr John Fry Department of physics, University of LiverpoolMark Campbell London Met UCU (chair), UCU NEC, Daragh O'Reilly Manager, marketing and cultural industries division, Management School, University of Sheffield, Sophie Hope UCU Birkbeck branch secretary, Mike Lammiman VP University of Hull UCU,Dr Karen F Evans Senior lecturer, department of sociology, social policy and criminology, University of Liverpool, John Baxter UCU co-ordinating committee member, Sheffield College, Mark O'BrienMembership secretary, University of Liverpool UCU, Marian Mayer Vice-chair, BU UCU, Javed Khanzada Unison HE member, Lesley McGorrigan UCU, NEC member and Yorkshire and the Humber regional secretary, Ciara Doyle UCUKath Owen Yorkshire & Humberside Unison service group executive, Dr James Chiriyankandath Senior research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Dr Geoff Williams UCL UCU Immediate past (joint) president, Dr Andy Higginbottom Principal lecturer, international politics and human rights,Kevin MoloneyCliff Snaith UCU London Met secretary & UCU London region secretary, Louis Bayman Department of film studies, Oxford Brookes University, Richard McEwan UCU NEC, Dr Sue McPherson Sheffield Hallam University UCU branch officer, Pauline Croft Professor of early modern history, Royal Holloway, University of London, Professor John NewsingerAndy Coles UCU study coach at University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University,Graham Mustin Joint branch secretary, Barnsley College UCU, Dr Julie Hearn Department of politics, philosophy and religion, Lancaster University, Dr Jennifer Fraser UCU Birkbeck branch, joint president,Linda Milbourne Birkbeck UCUDr Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormickSenior lecturer, department of management, Leo ZeiligHewal SoresUCU equality officer, Bradford College, Dr Mark Abel UCU University of Brighton, Allister Mactaggart UCU branch chair, Chesterfield College,Laura Miles Chair, Yorkshire and Humberside regional council UCU and UCU NEC, Anthony Leaker Lecturer in humanities, University of Brighton, Matthew Raine Birmingham University Unison branch secretary, West Midlands region general seat, Unison higher education service group executive, Dr Chris Cocking Senior lecturer, Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia Vice-president, UCL UCU, David GraeberJonathan Gilhooly Lecturer, Brighton University, Professor David Oswell Head of department, department of sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Alex Colas Birkbeck UCUProfessor Raphael Salkie School of humanities, University of Brighton, Louise Purbrick UCU member, University of Brighton, Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya UELAlberto Toscano Department of sociology, Goldsmiths, Patrick ConnellanBranch secretary, Nottingham Trent UCU, Helena Reckitt Senior lecturer in curating, department of art, Goldsmiths, University of London,Kalbir Shukra Goldsmiths UCU

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

“Strikes at the drop of a hat”: struggle for justice not over

Today is the TUC Day of action against blacklisting. Thousands of workers were condemned to unemployment by being put on a blacklist in an ongoing travesty of justice. We observed the similarities of their struggle when I was suspended from work this year with two of my colleagues

The LRD have an interesting article giving some background to the Blacklist. 

Struggle for justice is far from over 
On the second anniversary of legislation intended to control blacklisting, Labour Research finds that the law is failing to deliver proper redress to those whose lives have been devastated by the practice — which, campaigners say, continues. 
Electrician Alan Keyes had not been able to get work in the London construction industry since working on London Underground’s Jubilee Line extension in 2000. In 2009 he found out why — an 18-page file kept by the infamous blacklisting service The Consulting Association (TCA). 
Entries on his file included “do not employ”; “militant” and “strikes at the drop of a hat”. 
TCA’s blacklist of more than 3,200 construction workers — overwhelmingly trade unionists — was uncovered following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in February 2009. 

UNISON (and other affiliated union) members can read the full article online if signed in. And make sure you affiliate to the LRD if your branch hasn't already done so - we need them now more than ever. The article has a copyright to the LRD so do not reproduce it without their permission. 

Good luck to the Blacklist support group - their fight is our fight. 

Crucial information

Monday, 18 November 2013

Higher Education Strike: Interviews with striking staff

'Raw interviews with striking staff at LSHTM, Senate House, UCL, SOAS and LSE' by Adrian Cousins See here for more.

Higher Education Strike October 31, 2013 - UNISON TV

Go here for more.

Universities Halloween pay strike - 'UnionNews' FILM

UnionNews reports from Glasgow as university staff take strike action against the imposition of a sub-inflation 1% pay rise. It comes after the value of take-home pay among university workers across the UK has fallen by nearly 15% in four years.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Saturday 9th November: UCU Left National Conference

I was invited to speak at the UCU Left National Conference and immediately agreed as I firmly believe we need to build stronger links with academics at such an important time for our sector. UCU Left have now opened their event out to UNISON left activists in Higher Ed as well.

This is very welcome, as we've had real unity in action lately and taken successful nationally coordinated strike action together only last week, so it's crucial we are well organised and we build stronger ties for the future. I think this is also a good opportunity to share experiences and learn lessons from each other about how we have worked as a left in our different unions. 

So maybe I'll see you there? Book your place here:

Monday, 28 October 2013

FILM: UNISON Higher Education Strike for Fair Pay, 31 October. #FairPayinHE



London Region HE pre-strike rally 29 October

London Region HE pre-strike rally 29 October

Posted on  by 

Time to strike for fair pay in HE

All out this Halloween!

Pre-strike Public Meeting:

Tuesday 29 October, 6:30pm

Speakers including Paul Bridge (UCU), Andrew Murray (UNITE), Max Watson (UNISON NEC), Lorraine Monk (UCU NEC, FE), Ciara Doyle (DPAC) + more tbc
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Vernon Square Campus, Hall V211
Penton Rise, Kings Cross, London WC1X 9EW
Called by London Region UCU, supported by UNITE and UNISON


31st October Strike for fair pay (letter to all UNISON members in HE from Dave Prentis)

Dear Mr Watson

Higher education strike - 31 October 2013

You should now be aware that UNISON higher education (HE) members have voted by a clear majority to take strike action. Members in UCU and Unite have also voted to strike. 

This is in response to an inadequate 1% pay offer from the national HE employers. It falls well short of addressing years of below inflation increases, which have seen HE staff pay fall behind in real terms by over 13%. 

In comparison, pay awards are higher in other sectors of the economy: the average pay settlement in the UK is currently between 2-2.5% in not-for-profit and private sector organisations. Yet the HE employers refuse to negotiate a better national offer, despite our continued best efforts to persuade them. 

Universities are reporting record surpluses and are investing heavily in new buildings. Meanwhile, expenditure on staff pay has been falling, while vice-chancellors and other senior managers have shown little pay restraint, with over half of V-Cs now earning more than £242,000 a year. 

Yet many universities hold down the pay for their lowest paid workers. More than 4,000 HE staff are paid less than the Living Wage while heating and food bills rise rapidly. 

In addition HE jobs are being privatised, and there is a growing use of zero hour contracts, increasing the sense of job insecurity. 

Taking part in strike action on 31 October will send a message to the employers that they must stop their attempts to act like the worst private sector employers. Universities couldn't run without you and your colleagues and they rely on your dedication, flexibility and goodwill. 

I know that you have pride in the work you do and that for many of you the idea of taking action is a difficult one. However, unless we take a strong stand they will continue to take advantage of you and your colleagues. 

You deserve a better standard of living for your hard work and the contribution that you make to the success of UK universities. To achieve this you need to speak up and show the depth of feeling among staff that it is time for a fair pay settlement in higher education. 

I urge you to take action on 31 October and join with your fellow union members in UNISON, UCU and Unite to stand up to the employers and make clear what you are really worth. 

Yours sincerely

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary

Friday, 25 October 2013

Harrogate appeal for unity in action - UNISON Higher Ed left statement

UNISON members in Higher Education are on the verge of launching national industrial action on 31st October - the only service group in all of our union to do so - and the following left activists are making an Appeal for Solidarity:

We call on all trade unionists to throw their weight behind our upcoming strike. We've won a yes vote for strike action because we have pushed hard for it in our branches and at a national level; we've won elections to the HE SGE because we fought for a left voice to represent our members' needs; we were the only Service Group to oppose the Pensions sell out in 2012 because we worked together; we've won a yes vote because we've built an inclusive, non-sectarian, and vibrant left that talks openly with each other regardless of different political affiliations; we've got a vote for action because we've built a strong network of activists who are serious about standing up for our members and put that ahead of all other considerations.

We are left wing trade unionists of various stripes, currently on the front line in the struggle against neoliberalism, calling for a united fightback and for social justice - we are calling for unity in action now.

Without unity in action right now, we are doomed.  Please join our call, sign below, and attend our picket lines on 31st Oct and beyond: Solidarity forever!

Signed (in a personal capacity):

Linda Holden, HE SGE
Sarah Pickett, HE SGE
Molly Cooper, HE SGE

Kath Owen, HE SGE
Tomasa Bullen, NEC (HE)
Max Watson, NEC (HE)
Matt Raine, HE SGE
Andy Beech, HE SGE
Sandy Nicoll, HE SGE
Carole Hanson, Brighton Uni
Ivan Bonsell, Brighton Uni
Domenico Hill, Bristol Uni
Linda Myers, Manchester Met Uni
Sue Howarth, Manchester Met Uni
Rosina Morrison, Manchester Met. Uni
Andy Cunningham, Manchester Met Uni
Lucinda Wakefield, Sheffield Hallam Uni

Alex Tarry, London Met Uni
Eddie Rowley, London Met Uni
Claire Locke, London Met Uni
Kevin Ward, Middlesex Uni
Shona McCulloch, Leeds Met Uni
Angelique Bueler, Manchester Met Uni
Bernie Gallagher, (acting Branch Secretary) Bolton Uni and NEC
Simon Deville, Birkbeck 
Gyta Nicola, Institute of Education

To add your name use the comments facility below or email

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Three unions announce nationwide universities strike date

Three unions announce nationwide universities strike date

by  - 16th October 2013, 12.19 BST
strike_report1Universities across the UK will be brought to a standstill by strike action later this month unless a row over pay can be resolved in the next two weeks.
UCU, UNISON and Unite today announced their members working in higher education will walk out on Thursday 31 October in an increasingly bitter row over pay.
Staff have been offered a pay rise of just 1% this year, which means they have suffered a pay cut of 13% in real terms since October 2008. The squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when pay and benefits for university leaders increased, on average, by more than £5,000 in 2011-12, with the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors hitting almost £250,000.
UCU head of higher education Michael MacNeil, said: "Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay. Quite simply, enough is enough. We urge the employers to reflect on the fact that they are about to face their first ever strike by three unions at the same time and come to the negotiating table to resolve this dispute.
"The suppression of academic pay is one of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War and, while strike action is always a last resort, the fact that staff are prepared to take this step demonstrates just how angry they are."
UNISON head of higher education Jon Richards, said: "Our members are upset and angry – this measly 1% offer is simply not good enough. The work of support staff is essential for the smooth running of universities and they play a vital role supporting students, but many are struggling to survive on low pay.
"The gap between prices and pay has widened since this government came to power and trying to feed a family and heat a home is a daily worry. The fact that staff are willing to take strike action shows how desperate they feel. The employers should take note and come back with a more realistic offer."
Unite national officer for education Mike McCartney said: "Our members have had enough of the poverty pay increases of recent years. They have suffered a 13 per cent real terms pay cut since 2008 and have been left with no option but to fight for what's fair.  There is still time for the employers to step back from the brink in this dispute. We urge them to get back around the negotiating table with the three unions to resolve it once and for all."

Monday, 14 October 2013

Why you should join us on the picket line – an open letter to university students (Mark Campbell, UCU)

Why you should join us on the picket line – an open letter to university students

Dear student,
It's increasingly likely that university staff (UCU, Unison, and hopefully Unite and EIS in Scotland) across the UK, will be out on strike in the next few weeks.
The headline issue of dispute between us and our employers is fair pay in HE. However, this is ultimately about an awful lot more than just a fair pay rise. It's also about ending the disgusting use of zero-hour contracts – rife at many universities, it's about ensuring a national Living Wage for all staff (in-house or sub-contracted), it's about challenging the gender pay gap in higher education. It's about fighting excessive workloads and bullying. And it's about stoping the increasing privatisation and commodification of UK higher education.
It's about saying it is outrageous that the average pay packet of a vice-chancellor is some £250,000 per year plus benefits whilst many workers in higher education struggle on less than a basic living wage of £8.55 per hour in London or £7.45 per hour outside of London.
It's about demanding that students have classes that are properly resourced with adequately paid, qualified, and motivated staff.
It's about ensuring students have enough fully resourced dedicated in-house support staff to sort out their needs in as timely and hassle-free manner as possible.
It's about students and education workers uniting together and saying it's time the bosses that benefit so much from a highly educated workforce are made to pay for it.
It's about saying – enough is enough. No more pay cuts, job cuts and course closures.
It's about saying these are public universities that belong to the staff that work in them, the students that study in them, and the community within which they are based. They don't belong to the vice-chancellors and executive groups that manage them.
It's about saying education should be free from the cradle to the grave and education staff need to be paid a decent wage – it's not an either/or!
It's about insisting that the money is there to enable Higher Education to be free for all students – paying for it by increasing Corporation Tax to at least the OECD average for large corporations.
It's essentially about saying universities are a public good and that students shouldn't be hit with huge fees and then pitted against overworked and underpaid staff.
We have stood with you against the increase in fees and the cutting of EMA and education provision and we will continue to do so.
We have marched with you in defence of education and against its privatisation and we will continue to do so.
We stand with you now against the threat to privatise the student loan book and we will always stand with you in solidarity when you are attacked for resisting government cutbacks.
Now we need you to stand with us in this fight for all of our futures.
Please join with us in solidarity.

You will be very much welcomed at our meetings and on our picket lines.
In solidarity,
Mark Campbell
London Metropolitan University UCU (Chair)
UCU National Executive Committee (pc)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Higher education ballot result

UNISON has announced the result of its industrial action ballot in higher education.
The union, which represents support staff in higher education, balloted members on whether they were prepared to take strike action against the national employers' pay offer of just 1% for 2013-14.
UNISON had also asked the employers to guarantee that no worker in the sector would be paid below the living wage ( currently £8.55 in London and £7.55 outside London), but the employers failed to meet this demand.
The results of the ballot are:
  • 54.4% of those voting were in favour of taking strike action;
  • 45.6% of those voting were against taking strike action.
The higher education service group committee, the union's national committee for members in the sector, will consider next steps at a meeting on 14 October.
UNISON continues to work closely with the other unions in higher education, and those unions' ballot results will be taken into account when reaching any decision.

Monday, 23 September 2013

'Cop who went under-the-covers' (Private Eye)

Buy the Private Eye in your local shop and then subscribe, as this is on page 35. Speechless? Me too.

Friday, 20 September 2013


Frequently Asked Questions on the UNISON 2013 Pay ballot

I've been to three meetings this week on the pay ballot and few ideas and debates came up so I thought I'd type them up here in the form of a FAQ:

Q: Will the ballot only be sent to my home address?
A: Yes - so you need to update your details now - check that UNISON have your correct address by calling 0845 355 0845

Q: So I can't just vote on-line?
A: No, the Tory anti-union laws forbid making it easy to ballot members and the current government want to make it even harder...

Q: The UCU are balloting too - that's good news, but shouldn't you update your film so you can circulate it to them too?
A: What a good idea! An updated version of the film including the UCU info is now live:

Q: That film is great to show at a meeting but it's a little bit long for emailing round - is there a a shorter version of the film we can use to send round to our members in an email?
A: Yes, we thought that would be helpful too, so here it is:

Q: Can you publish a list of lay-rep speakers to invite to meetings?
A: Here is an incomplete list of UNISON HESGE reps who have indicated to me they are happy for me to share their email details so you can invite them to speak about the pay ballot in addition to full time officials:

Sandy Nicholl:
Molly Cooper:

North West:
Linda Holden:
Andy Beech:

West Mids:
Matt Raine:

South East:
Sarah Pickett:

Yorkshire and Humber:
Kath Owen:

Tomasa Bullen
Max Watson

I'm more than happy to speak at any meeting about this if I can get travel expenses paid and I can arrange the time off. You can also call my UNISON Blackberry if you want to talk about the pay campaign: 07949 039 187

Q: Will all members, including outsourced staff, be balloted?
A: No, only those employed directly by your institutions will be balloted. We did talk to some outsourced workers in the film about the positive difference the Living Wage makes to their lives, but they won't be balloted as they aren't covered by collective bargaining (which is another reason why we need to get them all back in house);

Q: I'll lose a days pay if I go on strike, is that really a price worth paying?
A: Yes: whilst you will lose pay when you go on strike on the other hand you will likely lose more if we don't fight the pay freeze, as the employer will just keep coming back for more...

Q: Is it right that UCU are balloting for Action Short of a Strike as well as strike action, but UNISON aren't. Why not?
A: UNISON HE SGE believe, for a number of reasons, that focusing on strike action is the best option to break the pay freeze, so we are only asking the one question in our ballot. UCU members decided to ask both because many believe they can take effective, sustainable action such as refusing to do marking... but we in UNISON don't mark exams.

Q: If we get a yes vote, and the union takes strike action and decides to take further action in the future, will we need to ballot again?
A: No, we will not have to ballot again - if we take action based on the results of the ballot within 28 days of the result, we can take further action again as long as the original dispute is running. We may well consult members, however, on any improved offer if we get one from the employer.

Q: Do you really think we should vote for strike action, when members are so worried about their jobs, privatisation or other threats?
A: We can only win an improved pay rise - and show that we mean business in resisting other attacks - if we take robust action on pay now. We will be seen to be weak if we accept pay cuts year on year, and the employers will simply come back for more - be it job cuts, privatisation or other attacks on our terms and conditions.

Q: Can't we have a demo on a Saturday which will get media attention and we won't lose pay - then more people will join in the action?
A: The employer will not suffer any disruption if we march in central London on one of our precious days off, but they will have a problem on their hands if we don't turn up for work when they need their phones answering, their libraries opened and their computers working...

Q: If the vote is yes and we name a day of strike action, can we still talk to the employers? 
A: Yes we would hope to get a better offer from employers in order to avert the threat of strike action but we cannot be sure they would do so until they see how well the strike action is supported ... it will depend on the strength of the yes vote.

Q: What about in the 'poorer' Universities - do you really think the e,employers will pay up? 
A: Fact: there is £1billion in reserves in the HE sector.The truth is they are awash with cash. Even the 'poor Universities' pay their senior staff enormous salaries and have reserves.

Q: I couldn't make the meetings this week - how can I help?
A: Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Put up posters in your workplace - you can print them off yourself or order some from UNISON
  • Give out leaflets in your workplace
  • Talk to your local members and colleagues - set up shop floor meetings
  • Organise a 'bring your ballot into work day' with your workmates
  • Organise other imaginative stunts and spread the word - tell other activists what you've done and what worked well
  • Leaflet at lunch times, and as people are coming in to work, or try after work at the end of the day - when people are going home (which is where their ballot papers will be after all);
  • Give non-members membership forms and ask them to join, it affects their pay too - use the pay campaign as a recruitment and organising tool;
  • Prioritise winning the ballot - a high turn out will make all the difference. As activists we all have a dozen things to try to do each day and something always falls off the list because you don't have enough hours in the day, so make sure talking to people about the pay ballot is a standing item high on your 'to do' list ...
  • Share the film and (if you like it) this blog-post on  Facebook, Twitter, and email it to your friends at work with a personalised note to say why you're voting 'yes'.
  • And if you're on Facebook or twitter, why not make this your 'Profile picture' during the ballot:
Q: Can student activists help?
A: Yes: some activists in ULU are going to organise a 'support our staff' website, for example; students should contact their local UNISON, UCU or Unite branches to ask when and where they're leafleting and if they can help out. There is also going to be a model student union motion to circulate too, so watch this space...

Q: Is it true the film cost London Met branch quite a few quid? How can I donate?
A: I'm glad you asked! In fact it cost £1,000 to put together, so do please send cheques payable to 'UNISON London Metropolitan University' to the following address (if we get more than enough we will send the cheque back, so email for more info):

Chris Manna, UNISON Treasurer
London Metropolitan University
166-220 Holloway Rd, London, N7 8DB

Monday, 16 September 2013

FILM: UNISON Higher Education ballot: Vote YES to strike action

Workers in higher education have had a pay freeze for 5 years now, which amounts to a 13% pay cut in real terms. In the same period, university vice-chancellors' pay has gone up by an average of £83,000. This year the offer is 1%, well below the cost of living again. 4,000 HE workers don't even earn the living wage. Enough is enough. Vote yes to strike action and smash the public sector pay freeze. See here fore more:

Monday, 9 September 2013

Organising to win a yes vote for strike action to break the pay freeze in Higher Education

What? A meeting for activists in Higher Education who are building for a yes vote in national industrial action ballot(s) to break the pay freeze in our sector. 

Where? SOAS: Brunei Gallery, B102 (opposite main entrance, first floor).

When? Monday 16th September: 6pm (UNISON Ballot opens 18th September).

WhyA five-year pay freeze has meant a 13% cut in real terms pay for staff in Higher Ed. All nationally recognised unions in Higher Education have rejected the current 1% final offer this year and UNISON are moving to ballot for strike action (other unions are very likely to as well). It is essential we get a strong yes vote to take meaningful, coordinated industrial action. Let's get organised to win a resounding 'yes' and move to the next steps. Campaign materials will be available at the meeting. 

Who? Any activists in a union in Higher Education who can help build for national industrial action. Student activists who can help are welcome. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

IWGB: Two small unions?

Why on earth would a small union with a few cleaners split to form an ever smaller union when their slogan is 'One Big Union'? One day it is the IWW, next they’re called the ‘IWGB’ (yes, really). 
Why would that union, which had built a reputation of 'organising the unorganised', suddenly become focused on recruiting members of other unions such as UNISON? In TUC affiliated unions we call it 'poaching' of workers who are already in a union, and it's generally agreed it's not on.  

Recently the Senate House branch of UNISON have lost a number of members to their union in a sorry story which only made the employers and the apparatchiks happy. I got in a discussion about it and some people suggested I write up my own experience of the IWGB and their forerunners in the IWW. I've decided, a year after the events to publish the short and the long version here.

To summarise, the IWW (as they were then) had a London-based cleaners section; some of them lost their jobs at a contractor, got themselves transferred to London Met Uni (where we had already won the Living Wage); they claimed this has a 'victory' of their own; as activists I approached them, invited them to a meeting, and welcomed them, offering to work together but things didn't work out. Instead they split and tried to bring cleaners with them, but failed. Their leading activist made some pernicious accusations against me and the London Met branch - of racism, and management opportunism and all the rest – in the process and even claimed credit for organising the cleaners at London Met.

In the IWW they had something called 'dual carders' which meant you could be a member of the IWW and join another union (eg the UCU) and operate in both. Sounds like a kind of faction within a union which is fair enough on paper. In my experience though - and I complained about this to both Chris Ford and to Alberto Durango at the time - all this meant, in reality at London Met, was the IWW were on a permanent recruitment drive (giving out membership forms to all our cleaners in UNISON, even in our own offices!) – amongst unionised workers.

When their rep joined UNISON we were delighted - we thought: an active trade unionist who will have experience she can share and help to build the cleaners organisation. She then left the day before her subs were due to be deducted. She had by then already attended a Branch Committee meeting by invitation, and was subscribed to an email discussion list for all activists of our branch.  

She then made some wild claims about us, denounced us as this and that and declared she was leaving UNISON. Her attempt to bring others with her failed though as it was badly misjudged. Our reputation had already been secured after a demo we called to save one of our cleaners successfully saw him reinstated with full back-pay.  I get ahead of myself – start at the beginning…

Same goals? 
I tried to work with some of the people who went on to split from the IWW to form the IWGB ('two small unions') – it was a total nightmare. Of all the things that happened at London Met Uni in 2012, the attack on our branch from another ‘union’ was the most spiteful I had to put up with. As fighting trade unionists, you have to expect - to some extent - the union to be attacked by the employer (asI found out recently to my cost), by the Government, and to be held back and tied down by officialdom... but being attacked by another 'union' at the same time? FFS.

I tried working with what became the IWGB with good intentions, hoping to build bridges of solidarity because I mistakenly thought we had the same goals. In response I got insults from their reps; wasted time attempting to resolve ‘misunderstandings’ as a result of their reps spreading lies; had to cancel 'joint' meetings due to their reps being completely unreliable; members of our union were then sent text messages denouncing me and our reps, spreading lies and misinformation about the way our branch operates; we politely requested for their persistent attempts to poach our members to stop; deliberate undermining of our work and constant wasting of our time; slurs against me personally that amount to calling me a xenophobic management stooge; and to top it all off they absurdly claimed credit for organising the cleaners at London Met telling workers in UNISON we had made no efforts to organise them until the IWW came along (when the reverse is true). 

The (behind our) back story
The only reason the IWW had a small handful of members at London Met Uni was because we'd won the Living Wage and they transferred from another site; they accepted a deal at a different site by the same cleaning contractor, who offered them redeployment to London Met (behind our backs, so in effect in collusion with the employer). They claimed this at the time as a total 'victory' without going into the uncomfortable details here:

Did you notice they forgot to mention the transfer to London Met Uni (the ‘single site’)? I noticed that too.
We found about this after the event not from the IWW but from our own research and management blew their cover – they knew exactly how many members they had because they’d transferred them over. Chris Ford - who I introduced myself to when I attended one of their demos and even spoke on their platform in support of their action about London Met winning the Living wage at one of their rallies - forgot to mention it. Instead we found this out in a meeting with management who asked, surprised that Alberto Durango turned up (late, btw) – almost as surprised as we were: ‘Why is he here?! They’ve only got five members!’ Talk about wasting time and talk about embarrassing too.

‘Almost unheard of’ … don’t believe the hype
Chris Ford, alongside the now infamous Alberto Durgano soon fell out with the IWW, as they had done with Unite years before (see here for some lengthy discussion about the origins of this split - let me know if you can get to the end). When I emailed him to try to resolve our conflict at London Met he was way too busy leading a strike for the Living Wage at John Lewis (they settled for much less than the Living Wage). In his founding statement of the IWGB, Ford refers to that partial success after a day or two on strike with the classic line:

“These achievements are not minor – they are almost unheard of in the current period of austerity."

If that is not hyper-bollocks then my name is Jim Larkin. At the same time of the John Lewis cleaners’ 9% pay rise (not to be sniffed at, but well short of the LW), a dispute up the road which Camden Local Govt UNISON Branch-organised, parking inspectors won a commitment to the Living Wage, staggered over two years. This followed several days of strike action and a ballot for indefinite action... The workers stood firm on all fronts and won a result. Yet a modest announcement from Branch Secretary, George Binette read:

“The long-running dispute between some 170 Camden UNISON members working on the local authority's parking enforcement contract with the privateer NSL finally end late last week. While the outcome was hardly a decisive victory and the balance sheet is decidedly mixed, the workers concerned have at least secured a 10% rise over the course of the next two and a half years on their very low basic rates of pay and will be earning more than the London Living Wage with effect from 01 September this year.”

Another UNISON Branch nearby at the time – er, Senate House, to be precise – had recently secured a Living Wage commitment (not to mention back pay for unpaid over time and a recognition agreement to boot). If you talk to those who lead the split from Senate House though this was all won simply by ‘the workers’, completely re-writing history to hide the fact that in the right circumstances, on occasion UNISON can and does deliver. And for the record, I supported their unofficial action by putting my neck on the line here.

So much for the laughable ‘almost unheard of’ claim: others had been winning the Living Wage elsewhere and to be quite honest, with an employer like John Lewis? Talk about open goal missed.

London Met UNISON win the Living Wage
London Met also won the Living Wage in early 2011 following a campaign in 2010, despite the cuts we faced then. Anyway, at the time of one of their ‘almost unheard of’, ‘total victories’ for the cleaners in Dynamiq, Chris Ford was a lecturer at London Met (an Hourly Paid Lecturer). Back in those days (2010-11), anyone who was around at the time will assure you he played no positive role in our campaign to win the Living Wage at all (fair enough – we’re all busy dong own thing). The local UCU, the Students Union and even London Citizens supported our campaign. Even Maurice Glasman, when he was about to become a ‘Lord’ and was also a lecturer at London Met at the time - as well as a leading Citizens’ big wig – played his role (the subject of another blog post, maybe).

The IWW cleaners branch on the other hand just appeared on our campus on the back of our success. Soon enough they tried to split our members away from UNISON to the ‘IWW’ after we'd spent two years of hard graft building relationships of trust and slowly getting organised, in very difficult conditions. Incidentally one of their members who didn't get the message that the IWW had split only found out months later that the IWGB was her new union and she had been unaware that in effect she was not protected at work, so she joined UNISON. I wonder how many other IWW-organised workplaces cleaners who thought they were in a union later found out, too late, that their leaders had abandoned them for a new project?


Their strategy was to find already organised workers and split them from their union, at least that is what they tried at London Met; so what has happened at Senate House for me looks like they've developed their strategy, learnt lessons from failure at London Met. I realise I’m not in the majority and most lefties blame UNISON local/regional bureaucracy for what went wrong. It is not my place to slag off other branch leaderships for any mistakes they may have made, just as I would not make this blog a place to attack other campaign strategies if I broadly agreed with the campaign. If I think workers are being totally mislead then I reserve the right to say so - to their faces and in public if I think what is being done is to the detriment of those workers. In my view the IWGB deliberately looked for trouble and developed a split.

And after all UNISON is fair game because it’s such a right-wing union, which has "abandoned the cleaners" who have "left en masse", according to this reportfrom around the time of our fall out.

I won’t bore you with the details any further (unless prompted and you buy me a drink at the next event), but in a nutshell I did what our (shocked) Branch Secretaries at the time suggested: contact them and their full time officers, make a complaint if need be. I tried several times to get this sorted through a few channels, but not being in the TUC doesn’t help. As some of my best friends are anarchists, so to speak, I tried them too. No luck, just emails from Ford saying they were too busy to deal with 'gossip' and some links to Red Pepper about their strike at John Lewis.

TUC or not to be
Here is the rub: is this about ‘industrial unionism’? Clearly not if you are breaking workers away from a larger union that organises all support staff. An industrial union would be merging UCU and UNISON in HE. Is it really about Syndicalism? Or is it about the uniqueness of the UK’s unitary trade union federation? The IWGB might be recognised by the Government but they’re not affiliated to the TUC - unlike almost all trade unions in the UK worth their salt. Their view is basically: UNISON is a Labour-affiliated, sell-out union full of right wing officials so there is no way we should join them. My view is things are more complex and dynamic than that.

All of this stuff may be important to those thinking about the wider issues of red unionism or whatever. I’m no historian, and I’m not a dialectical materialist who likes to hypothesize with my pen all night and day. I do follow my instincts though, and when I see what is good or bad for organised labour and I call it for what it is when I see it: The IWGB is either a sectarian personality cult or I’ve been blinded by a one-off bad experience.   

When the IWGB split to almost everyone’s amusement, I suddenly got an apology from some good folk still in the IWW who heard about what happened at London Met - fair play to them for that (my efforts to get through via left channels paid off in the end). Some of the stuff they shared with me was laughable, over the top stuff which made my experience look pretty tame too. Here is another blog post trying to make sense of the politics behind the split. Yes, I’m so sad I actually looked this up.

We then had a bit of a debate sharing our experiences about organising cleaners in the open.

Elsewhere, eg at Sussex, since this was kicking off, another claim about an exciting new opportunity in the guise of a pop-up union was hailed by Mark Bergfeld here.

The more level headed (and frankly much more experienced) Sandy Nicoll sets out why this is not as helpful as it might seem

I got into a Facebook discussion about all this, (I know, I know, despite what I said elsewhere, this is NEVER a good idea). I was one of the ‘many’ people referred to in Mark’s foot note to correct the (massively incorrect) figures he had quoted. I pointed out some other consistently inaccurate numbers decline the chance to amend or clarify these, so I questioned the ‘trusted sources’ who fed his info and suggested therefore his analysis was also flawed.

The IWGB defend their decision
You have a problem the the branch/ region, so you decide (spontaneously of course), to leave and join the IWGB? Disaster.

The secretary of the IWGB at Senate House (a PhD student at SOAS) who wrote this article sets out lots of reasons why they left UNISON on the AWL website here. Jason lists lots of things they have done since to build a coalition but none of those them cannot be done whilst actively inside UNISON (which represents 50,000 Higher ed workers, the largest section by occupation are cleaners). For example, I remember using Labourstart for a campaign we had in 2009. 

Having an office in the RMT sounds really fab unless you consider that they gave up access to an office on the site of the workers they seek to represent.

Anyway, for the record, I fully support the aims of the cleaners' 3-Cosas campaign at Senate House, I have been to support their branch a few times in the last two years just as I've been to show support for SOAS's campaign for justice for cleaners and the LSBU campaign or the UEL branch and so on. Good luck to them, but they've made the wrong choice. 

They left a union with a recognition agreement with not only the University itself but the employer directly, Balfour Beaty. So having a majority won't matter - if the employer already recognise UNISON they're not legally obliged to talk to anyone else, no matter how maddening that might be for the cleaners. 

I do realise UNISON have handled this badly, to put it mildly. I also supported the occupation by students against outsourcing at Sussex and supported the rallies and demos when I could, even traveled down to Brighton three or four times to visit. I also get on well with Mark Bergfeld and others involved in the fight against privatisation at Sussex, and I am sure was can talk in a friendly way about our differences. He did make attempts to distance himself from the IWGB and their ilk.  I fear that bridges with the leaders of the 3 Cosas campaign will be burned, though: after all, it's not easy to work with folk who go around encouraging workers to leave the same union you are busy telling people to join.

Talk about deserting the rest of us too - how many people on the left have been frustrated by UNISON's leaderhisp and structures, but have stayed and fought? Some have been banned from office for years, and eventually got back involved in their branch and then elected onto the NEC with heads held high and dignity. I’ve got infinitely more respect for those comrades than the people who claim ‘not fair’ and leave at the first chance to be a bigger fish in a much smaller pond. Why not stand again in the elections run by ERS?

There you go - I've got it all off my chest. Those of you still reading this far, who haven't abandoned the struggle to transform UNISON into an organising, campaigning and democratic union, I'll see you at the next UNISON event to moan all about it. As a reward for getting this far, here are some pictures of a recent demo. One final thing - is it going too far to say their new flag, with those arrows reminds me of this one