students and academic strikes: first draft of a leaflet (UCL)

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si
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Feb 16 2007 18:55
students and academic strikes: first draft of a leaflet (UCL)

Comments, criticisms, observations &c. For mass distribution in the coming weeks. Probably more palatable than the cod-eloquence previously on display & rather short of humour too. Not sure if that's a good thing wink

It definitely needs work on the question of the withdrawal of academic labour & the accumulation of capital. I'm not too clear on this myself to be honest.

Anyway:

UCL UCU stuff:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/unions/UCU/
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/unions/UCU/fixedterm/redundancy.htm#motion

Students: we are on the brink of an academic strike.

Why?

In one of a long series of attacks - a series which has by now acquired
the air of inevitability - UCL management is once again moving against
UCL staff. In the context of an unofficial policy of 15% compulsory
redundancies which has already carried a great many into early
retirement, management have now made the sublime move (under the guise
of compliance with the Age Discrimination Act 2006, but not in fact
required by it) of abolishing a 200% jump in redundancy pay after 10
years, meaning real-terms cuts of between 15 and 25 thousand pounds
for long serving staff.

What's the context?

Over the past several years UCL's provost has been in the forefront of
the development of the new-style corporate university, leading
arguments for uncapped top-up fees and avidly pursuing corporate
funding while simultaneously launching increasingly brazen attacks on
college workers, farming out cleaning and catering (to keep blood off
management's hands while the agencies drive down wages to poverty
levels and sack anyone who complains) and appearing time and time again
to oppose lecturer's pay claims last year. Needless to say Grant draws
a salary of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Why industrial action?

Industrial action is one of very few potentially effective (legal)
weapons the managed have to resist the impositions of management. By
withdrawing labour – or by 'working to rule', only doing precisely the
work one is contractually obliged to do – workers can interrupt the
accumulation of profit, hitting managers in the one place they care about:
the pocket.

But isn't it different in a university?

Yes and no. With academics, of course, the situation is a little
different – not least because what they are producing is not inanimate
commodities but us, students. When they withdraw their labour, it can
feel like they're using us as tools in a struggle that is not ours.
This is certainly what management encourage us to think. But it
strikes us that there are good reasons to think otherwise.

i) This fight has not been chosen by our teachers. This attack is in
itself a horrendous attack on conditions, and it comes in the context
of a whole wave of attacks which will not stop until it is stopped.
These attacks and hence these struggles will continue to happen more
and more often until they win a decisive victory and force back this
offensive.
ii) We are also subject to the management imposing these attacks. The
rent we pay in halls, the fees people are now being forced to pay (and
which Grant is campaigning to raise to at least £10,000), the use we
are allowed to make of our campus buildings, the investments UCL makes
in arms companies – in all of these things what is clear is our
powerlessness. Liberal wheeling won't help, Grant's too canny for
that. What can change things is a real defeat for management, and the
development of solidarity with our lecturers, the building of the
strength of the managed.
iii) Just as we are subject to management, so are the cleaners and
caterers nominally outsourced in recent years. If we want to have the
slightest hope of supporting them in their struggle for a living wage
(ongoing at SOAS and LSE, as yet dormant here) success in this theatre
would set us up very well indeed.
iv) Finally, perhaps a few of us are considering a career in academia.
UCL is, as has been mentioned, in the forefront of university reforms
which are causing department closures (physics at Reading, chemistry
at Sussex, Portugese at Cambridge), leading stringent attacks against
the conditions of workers and more and more subordinating research to
the interests of capital and the state. Success at UCL means the
pursuit of those projects everywhere; defeat for UCL could stop it in
its tracks.

What can we do?

Above all, we can voice our support for our teachers. In the first
stage of struggle it is crucial that students do this, or management
will use us as a stick to beat the strikers with. In contrast a
strongly committed student body will encourage staff to come out,
since it makes the struggle a great deal more winnable. This extends
to joining them on picket lines during any strike. 5 people is a
tragic, demoralising sight: 20 on every door is an imposing assertion
of power.

Furthermore, the organisation of sit-ins and demonstrations has proven
an extremely effective mechanism in the past for politically
embarassing an intransigent management. There are more effective modes
of struggle, too – but they are a little way off yet.

Who are you?

We are UCL students supportive of industrial action in the university
for many of the above reasons, seeking to build networks between
students and staff for effective struggle against reforms we see as
pernicious. We are in the process of setting up a staff-student action
committee. In the meantime we can be contacted at an old email address
: studentsagainststudentsucl at gmail.com.

Cheers for your attention.

madashell's picture
madashell
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Feb 16 2007 19:02

I'd take issue with your substituting "managed and management" for "workers and bosses", but it hardly matters, so I won't wink

Prety good leaflet, anywho smile

si
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Feb 16 2007 19:09

thing is "managed and management" handily obfuscates the tension manifest in the "students as workers" thread, since whether or not students are workers they're definitely managed...

Jacques Roux's picture
Jacques Roux
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Feb 16 2007 19:56

Si are your cohorts at our other favourite central London union doing any sort of solidarity leafleting here?

si
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Feb 16 2007 21:08

we're not even doing anything at ucl yet, and nor are UCU (see the motions) so no wink once I've succesfully moved house (squatting is a bit of a hassle twice a year >:\) and reading week's over we'll see what's possible. I'll keep you up to speed etc.

magnifico
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Feb 17 2007 00:15

Good leaflet. In the national lecturers strike last year my uni emailed all students slagging off the lecturers, saying they were putting our degrees in danger for personal gain and such shite. The union produced a rebuttal which i helped hand out, it's got some good arguments you could use (though obviously the situation's a bit different here.) One of the arguments I thought was quite effective was that lecturers had supported students' opposition to top-up fees, now it's our chance to support them type thing. Here's the letter, might be helpful:-

Quote:
Open letter from the lecturers’ unions to Northampton students

Dear Students
As I’m sure you are aware, NATFHE and AUT members are currently boycotting assessment. We take this action with the greatest reluctance and only as a last resort. We hope you’ll spare a little time to read this, understand the reasons and help us put pressure on vice chancellors to find a solution.
University staff have become increasingly overworked and underpaid over the last two decades. In the last twenty years, our salaries have fallen in value by around 40%. Since 1976, when many of your parents were at university, our workloads have increased by around 140%. No other profession in the UK has endured anything like this.
We have waited for twenty years for university vice-chancellors to address this. Now universities are receiving the biggest injection of new funding for a generation - more than £3.5 billion over the next three years.
Much of this new cash is levied from yourselves through top-up fees. We oppose these and together with NUS fought a long hard campaign in an attempt to stop the government introducing them. However, the reality is that the money is now there and will be spent. When vice-chancellors lobbied for these fees they told the minister for higher education that they wanted to spend ‘at least a third’ of the new money on staff pay and conditions. But vice-chancellors are refusing to honour their promise (although they awarded themselves 25% increases over three years when resources were much tighter).
We have tried everything to persuade vice-chancellors to keep their promises - without success. That is why, in February, we voted overwhelmingly to take strike action and to begin a continuous boycott of assessment.
We know that the assessment boycott is already affecting tens of thousands of students and as dedicated education professionals we dislike taking action that affects our students. However, the burden of responsibility lies firmly with the vice-chancellors for refusing to engage in dialogue over pay.
We did everything to avoid the disruption to students. We accepted a low settlement last year with great reluctance warning that when new cash came in, we expected vice-chancellors to address the pay problem.
NATFHE and AUT submitted our pay claim 10 months in advance allowing ample time for the negotiation of a fair deal. The employers only started negotiations with the unions on 9 May when disruption to students was inevitable, canceling talks when an immediate solution could not be reached.
We will now see how serious the vice-chancellors are about ending the action. The ball is firmly in their court. If a decent pay offer is given then the assessment boycott will be stopped. However if they are not serious about delivering a credible offer, unions will be forced to continue the action.
For this reason, it is essential that our members display solidarity in prosecuting this action. If we do not succeed in our campaign for fair pay in our universities, all of us – staff and students alike – will lose out.
That is why we ask you now for your understanding and your solidarity.
Please help us end this dispute by
· Writing to your vice-chancellor suggesting that they contact their national negotiators urging them to settle this dispute.
· Writing to Dr Geoffrey Copland, chair of the employers’ side and vice-chancellor of University of Westminster, asking that a credible offer is made in order to end the dispute now.
[Dr Geoffrey Copland, Chairman, UCEA, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9HU]
If you have any queries you can contact:
....
Respectfully yours,
....

ticking_fool
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Feb 17 2007 07:46
Quote:
This attack is in
itself a horrendous attack on conditions, and it comes in the context
of a whole wave of attacks which will not stop until it is stopped. These attacks and hence these struggles will continue to happen more
and more often until they win a decisive victory and force back this
offensive.

This paragraph is really weird and difficult to follow. It's tricky to keep track and which 'they' you're referring to and who's attacking what. Try something like:

'The present attack comes as part of a wave of management 'reforms' which target conditions and pay, worsening conditions for teachers whilst increasing profits, and it will not be stopped until those under attack stop it. The upcoming strike is an important part of stopping these attacks.'

Or something like that.

Quote:
Liberal wheeling won't help,

Do you mean 'wheedling'? 'Whining' might be better, or drop liberal altogether and just stick with 'complaining' or something.

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Steven.
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Feb 18 2007 15:54

edit - maybe i should've read other people's comments first... oh well.

Yeah i'd echo the management, managed thing as well, i mean it seems like a very deliberate choice on your part. Firstly it's not because of nasty managers that this is happening, it's because of capital's imperatives; secondly i would imagine that a large proportion of the lower down managers would be opposed to these cuts themselves, albeit part of their job will be to make workers take up the slack afterwards.

but anyway...

firstly i think on the whole it's very good. but a few things i think:

This para is unclear:

Quote:
itself a horrendous attack on conditions, and it comes in the context
of a whole wave of attacks which will not stop until it is stopped.
These attacks and hence these struggles will continue to happen more
and more often until they win a decisive victory and force back this
offensive.

in particular the word "they" - who is this? also of course in class struggle there's no decisive victory until revolution. a worker's victory will only hold off attacks for so long. i think the word "attack" is overused here, and i think "horrendous" is OTT.

this i think is too flowery:

Quote:
success in this theatre
would set us up very well indeed.
Quote:
liberal wheeling...grant canny

what's wheeling? not sure the grant canny thing is good either. anything other than industrial action he can ignore.

Quote:
leading stringent attacks against
the conditions of workers and more and more subordinating research to
the interests of capital and the state.

i don't think most people would understand this, or that it's bad.

Quote:
This extends
to joining them on picket lines during any strike. 5 people is a
tragic, demoralising sight: 20 on every door is an imposing assertion
of power.

do the lecturers want you there? cos over 7 is illegal.

Quote:
we see as
pernicious

i think you could choose a better word here.

maybe worth mentioning that lower pay + conditions for lecturers will mean shitter lecturers too? and that attacks on one set of workers wages + job numbers lowers all wages?

si
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Joined: 16-01-05
Feb 20 2007 13:28

okey doke. I'll work it up.

Alf's picture
Alf
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Feb 20 2007 16:18

The leaflet has a lot of good points - perhaps too many details. The need for solidarity with the teachers is explained well.
A reference to the movement in France would show that it is possible to struggle, even if the issue there was much more clearly seen as a general attack by the state rather than one imposed by a single boss or corporation. The French movement was also inspiring at the level of organisation - the holding of general assemblies uniting staff and students and open to families, retired. etc.
It's not clear what you mean by the 'staff student action committee' and what its role is. If it's explicitly an 'agitation group' which doesn't claim to be a representative body, that's fine, but then it should say so.
The role of the NUS in all this is not clear either.

Spikymike
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Joined: 6-01-07
Feb 21 2007 20:04

I agree with Alf's comments and other points made here.

This sort of leaflet could usefully be included in an 'Education Workers Bulletin' and get a wider distribution as similar stuff is going on throughout the higer education sector.

Sol Fed produce a rather irregular bulletin of this name but perhaps the newly emerging Network involving the Sol Fed/AF/IWW and others (despite some issues between them on the role of unions)could look to something of this kind which might circulate more widely than the political newsheets?

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
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Feb 22 2007 10:16
Quote:
UK university chiefs had average pay rises of 7.9% last year - compared with academics' 3% after industrial action.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6385297.stm