Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My speech (that never got heard) at #uNDC14 on Motion 9, 'Ensuring Trade Union Studies remains part of Higher Education'

Max Watson, NEC, supporting Motion 9, 'Ensuring Trade Union Studies remains part of Higher Education'  

Education is the life blood of trade unions, and of a democratic society. Education should be free for all.

The imposition of fees for higher education has stopped many adults from going to university. 

Since fees were raised to around £9000 a year  the numbers of mature students has fallen dramatically. 

London Met (where I work) was one of the few universities that ran undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Trade Union Studies, aimed at trade unionists with few or no academic qualifications but who had been through their own union or TUC courses and wanted to go further. 

I myself did a Masters degree in Trade Union studies myself when Mary Davis was there. I know there will be many others here at conference, like me (I've never been called a 'mature' anything though ... ).

The introduction of high tuition fees has led to the closure of these courses and Ruskin College is now the only Higher Education college which provides anything similar.

Trade unions need well educated reps and officers and that is what these courses provide. 

I spoke to Frank Radcliffe (who moved the motion) earlier about his experiences getting an MA at London Met and also to Richard Ross about teaching out the final year of that course. 

Hearing Frank's story and his passion for continuous education to a post grad level was truly inspiring. 

His Dad used to work at PNL, before it became London Met - we're part of the same community that is being attacked, broken up and killed off. 

Talking to Frank or to Richard you can see why the Government want them killed off... 

There are two things we in UNISON can do about this.

Firstly we should call on all political parties to commit themselves to abolish tuition fees and properly fund universities. 

When I went to University I never paid fees - I was the last of my generation to get a grant too. By the time my younger brother went he never got a grant and he paid tuition fees. That was after New Labour got in...

Secondly we should discuss with London Met and Ruskin how we can support trade union studies in those institutions. 

And finally we can learn the lessons of Lambeth college - where they've had enough of the cuts and UNISON members have just announced three more days strike action next week to be out alongside their sisters and brothers in UCU who are on indefinite strike to stand up for themselves. 

Dave Esterson is the UCU Chair, who also went to Uni of North London, which became London Met. Lambeth college is a perfect example of not only why the government hates and fears well educated trade unionists, it is also a perfect example of what we should do to protect trade union courses in Higher Ed.

Last night I heard from a UCU rep who said their lives had been transformed by their strike and people who had never before spoken in a meeting were now going up and down the country giving speeches to rooms packed with 200 people as a matter of course. 

They're advertising for a new HR Director at Lambeth - essential criteria? "Must have experience of a heavily unionised workforce"!

I was born and brought up in Lambeth, and I studied there. I'm proud to say I was educated by a "heavily unionised workforce."

Solidarity with striking Lambeth college staff - keep on keeping on until you win!

Your fight is our fight, your win will be ours too!


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