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University employers’ strategy: play for time 17 May, 2006

Posted by blogforvictory in Uncategorized.
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Today’s emergency session of the Commons Education and Skills Committee (you can see it here) left MPs, unions and observers baffled by the university employers’ persistent reliance on time-wasting and spurious figures rather than actively seeking a resolution to the universities’ pay dispute.

There were two clues that UCEA (the Universities’ and Colleges Employers’ Association) is content to sit back and do nothing. In his answers to MPs’ questions, UCEA chief Dr Geoffrey Copland (above) said the extent to which students would be unable to take exams had been exaggerated and only a “very small number” would be affected. UCEA has been happy to let the media report otherwise, in the hope that it will pressurise NATFHE and AUT members to discontinue their industrial action, and Dr Copland’s remarks suggest this may be a deliberate strategy which they plan to stick to.

The second clue came in a leaked UCEA notice calling for an employers’ meeting this Friday 19 May. The notice makes no mention of any fresh initiative to seek a settlement of the dispute but simply hopes that student, public and government opinion will put pressure on lecturers “which may change the climate greatly”.

UCEA even managed to upset the chairman of the MPs committee, by issuing a false press statement claiming that Barry Sheerman MP had called on the AUT and NATFHE representatives to put the employers’ 12.6 per cent “final offer” to their members for a ballot.

According to the BBC:

‘Committee chair Barry Sheerman said this was “absolutely the opposite of the truth”, adding: “I’m hopping mad.”

The Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) issued a statement to news media after the committee hearing, quoting its chair, Dr Geoffrey Copland – who had given evidence.

“We are delighted that members of the education and skills committee this morning added their voice to the growing demand for the AUT and Natfhe to put this 12.6% pay offer to a ballot.”

Mr Sheerman said: “It’s the opposite of the truth and this is a real breach of trust. I don’t see how anyone can trust an organisation that would do that.”

We must expose the employers’ bad faith. As the frustration and anxiety of thousands of students and their families in the UK and around the world turns to anger, and as growing numbers of union members face threats and intimidation from their employers, the employers’ cynicism cannot go unpunished.


Getting the word out 14 May, 2006

Posted by blogforvictory in Uncategorized.
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It’s critical that those involved in the dispute pool resources, information and ideas if we are going to beat the concerted attack on our legitimate claim by the employers. It’s also important that we get the word out. Prominent political blog Lenin’s Tomb invited me to write a post on the dispute, which you can read here.

Fighting the lockout 13 May, 2006

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So now we know what we are up against. Despite doing everything over the two months of the dispute so far to minimise disruption to students (by marking, giving feedback and often marks back to students but withholding them from the university), and performing the other 95% of our jobs normally, the BU vice chancellor has threatened us with the withholding of 100% of our pay if we don’t submit marks at least 14 days before the relevant exam board. This amounts to suspension without pay: a lockout.

Of course using this sledgehammer approach – in a national dispute where the outcome will be decided by every university in the country – has immediately backfired. Student opinion, which was probably drifting against us until the VC issued his threat on Wednesday, is now much more sympathetic as the employers’ role as aggressor, and obstacle to a settlement, is revealed. And of course it has stiffened our resolve, even though the threat has also made people feel intimidated and anxious about the consequences once pay starts being cut in a couple of weeks’ time.

I am reminded of the words of Peter Knight, vice chancellor of UCE Birmingham (28% pay increase over past three years), back on 7 March: “If pay is stopped, the action will collapse. “While there is proper and understandable loyalty to the unions from their members, there is a limit to that loyalty and it will get severely tested at pay day.”

We shall see.