union

UNion Win – United Nations reverses derecognition

Some good news from the international online union campaign group LabourStart (make sure to sign up if you’re not already a part of it)…

(As an aside, it begars belief that the UN took such a dramatically anti-labour move in the first place, when the generally pro-worker International Labour Organisation constitutes such a significant and strong part of the UN)

Eight months ago, I wrote to all of you asking you to support a campaign for workers’ rights at the United Nations.

On 11 July last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon derecognized the staff unions representing the organization’s 65,000 staff, many working in dangerous locations and war zones.  I asked you to join me in sending off protest messages to Ban Ki-moon, and you did in your thousands.

This week, I learned that our efforts paid off.

According to Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations, “the campaign by UN unions to restore the recognition rights of UN staff has secured a successful outcome.

“On behalf of the unions of the United Nations, I would like to thank you, LabourStart and your 14,000 members who sent emails to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for their fantastic support during the campaign. Your efforts helped persuade the Secretary-General and his team that the UN should live up to its principles on human rights and labour representation.”

You can read the full text of Ian’s message here.

I thank you too — we did well.

And we demonstrated yet again the incredible power of the new communications technologies when combined with traditional trade union solidarity.

Have a great weekend!


Eric Lee

Anti-Privatisation Win in York – Uni Pulls out of INTO outsourcing plans

It doesn’t happen a lot, but once in a while there’s some good news for lefties in the UK.

After a brewing underground uproar by students and staff, the University of York has decided not to go ahead with its controversial plans to outsource the recruitment and English-language teaching of international students to part-hedge fund-owned INTO University Partnerships, a multinational firm.

Despite assertions in student media that the plans wouldn’t amount to privatisation (since the university would retain a 50% stake), many saw through it. There have been rowdy Senate meetings, mass leafleting by union activists and strong cases made against the proposals in joint union/management forums.

The idea was worrying from the start. Currently in-house staff would have been transferred to the company, and once the private-sector pressure grew too intense, it was likely that that they would leave and be replaced by people on worse contracts. Even the head of INTO has admitted himself that rates of pay are worse at the organisation.

That’s not the only reason it was always a bad idea. I was contacted by a member staff from another UK university INTO works with when the plans were announced. They warned of the disaster that the INTO contract had been, saying the York plans “threaten the fabric of your university.”

INTO contracts which started at other universities with just student recruitment are now allegedly spreading into other areas of campus management. Outsourcing is a “slippery slope”, I was told. Once you lose the capacity to run services in house, it’s more difficult to take them back under university control when companies fail.

The UCU’s briefing at York noted that at Exeter University, where INTO run international student recruitment, “the university council recently expressed concern that students coming via INTO were now of a lower quality than those recruited by the university” – all to reach targets and make a profit.

That’s not all. “In January this year, UEA pulled out of a joint venture in London having lost £2.5 million over two years and written off a further £3 million that it invested late last year trying to save the project,” the document pointed out. The same thing has happened in many other campuses across the county, including Queen’s Belfast, City University, and Manchester College. In Joint Ventures, profits and losses are shared equally. So where the company messes up, students take the hit too.

“Prevent it and you will inspire others” – that was the message from the concerned member of staff at another partner university. We should be congratulate the UCU branch at York for campaigning to prevent this undemocratic and ideological scheme from going any further. They have shown that the outsourcing tide is not irreversible.

A member of staff who would be affected at York told me when the plans were going through their “faith in the integrity of our leaders on campus [was at an] all-time low.” Now, hopefully, their faith can be a little bit restored.

Universities should be run for students, not for private company profits. The message we can learn from this saga is that, when concerns become ever louder, the university has to take heed of this fact. It’s hard to say it, but hats off to them for listening. Although maybe, just maybe, they feared the anti-privatisation unrest that hit Birmingham and Sussex Universities recently could visit our little Northern city…

UCU Head Urges York Uni Staff to Reject Recruitment Outsourcing Plans

The General Secretary of the national lecturers’ union UCU has written to hundreds of University of York staff urging them to reject the proposal to outsource the provision of basic English-language teaching and international student recruitment.

In an email last Friday (7th), Sally Hunt warned that the planned Joint Venture between the University and multi-national company INTO University Partnerships was ‘a dangerous and risky gamble’.

The plans are for much of the currently in-house Centre for English Language Teaching’s work to be undertaken by the private company  over at a new building on Heslington East, in a scheme 50% owned by the university. It is expected, if it goes ahead, to begin in Autumn 2015, being fully operational from 2016. However, university staff as well as student union representatives including Kallum Taylor have raised concerns about the plans which some see as ‘part-privatisation’.

Hunt said: “The joint venture will involve the university committing millions of pounds to setting and sustaining a new company with INTO to recruit and teach international students.

“UCU has serious concerns about these joint ventures. We believe that INTO’s need to generate profit will create pressure to cut corners in academic standards. We know that INTO employs staff on lower pay rates and worse terms and conditions than comparable university staff.

“We also know that two of the joint ventures have been dissolved following losses and two more continue to make losses  years after they opened, surviving on loans of millions of pounds from their partner universities. A joint venture with INTO will be a big issue for your university and for everyone who works there.

Hunt said it was “not too late to stop this gamble”, and noted that UCU campaigns have helped persuade universities to avoid these joint ventures at a succession of other universities including Essex, Goldsmiths, Oxford Brookes and De Montfort, where over 90% of staff consulted opposed the plans.

However, the University of York has defended the early-stage proposals, which were put to the Senate in February.

In an article for York Vision, University Registrar David Duncan said: “The programmes would increase the throughput of well-qualified overseas students, especially for undergraduate courses but also for some postgraduate programmes. This in turn would improve the University’s financial position, generate funds for reinvestment in staff and facilities, and raise our profile overseas.

“INTO is regarded as the market leader at the present time. It would provide both capital to build new facilities and recruitment of students through its network of overseas agents who specialise in recruiting students to foundation courses.”

He said that the plans were ‘far from’ the privatisation of Higher Education: “We already partner with external providers to fund capital investments on campus; likewise, we make use of recruiting agents around the world to attract students to York.  Under this proposal, the University would retain complete academic control of entry, programmes and progression, and would have a 50% stake in the joint venture.”

However, the UCU have produced a leaflet at York on what they see as the dangers of the INTO proposals after significant financial losses and underperformance were reported at other partner universities.

University of York plans to part-privatise international student recruitment

The UCU union have revealed that the University of York – without student consultation – is planning to go into a joint venture with for-profit company INTO to recruit international students. Read the excellent York UCU briefing here and share it widely.

This has thus far gone completely under the radar without democratic discussion. Student media are about to break the story, with a comment piece by me plus news articles are to follow in the coming days.

I’ve asked the UCU what their campaign plans are and will be looking at how students can get involved. Let’s bring the Sussex and Birmingham protests to our own university which is faced with back-door privatisation. The neoliberal paradigm ain’t welcome in York…

#No2INTO, anyone?

Statement: We Condemn the Crackdown on Campus Activism

This open statement from University of York students and alumni was drafted following ULU President Michael Chessum’s arrest on Thursday. To add your name, write in the comments box or email jm1053@york.ac.uk. Other university students and groups across the UK are encouraged to write similar statements and share widely.

We, University of York students, alumni and society representatives, condemn the arrest of University of London Union President Michael Chessum on Thursday 14th November and the broader clampdown on activism on campuses across the UK.

Though Chessum has now been released, we write to wholeheartedly oppose the police’s behaviour and indeed treatment of peaceful protesters in the UK today. Chessum was arrested after leaving a meeting with University of London management over the forced University takeover of the Union, the largest SU in Europe, which hundreds of students had marched against the day before.

It is understood that the arrest was in response to this demonstration, organised by ULU. Thousands of students are demanding the Union remain student-led and the response from both the University and the police has been incredibly heavy-handed.

We, joining with the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC) state our full support for Michael Chessum and the campaign to defend ULU.

We call for all charges against Chessum to be dropped and his highly restrictive bail conditions – preventing him from engaging with any protest – removed.

The arrest comes in the same week that the Guardian revealed that police in Cambridge have been attempting to recruit students as informants to spy on student union activities, and the activities of student environmental and anti-cuts groups.

This follows a number of recent crackdowns on student demonstrations and a worrying increase in collusion between the police and our institutions. This includes the recent arrest of ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper for challenging the police stop-and-search policy, the arrest of two Edinburgh students for being on campus and nearby Princess Anne without permission, and the heavy-handed and violent police response to student chalking. Moreover, new legislation is currently being passed to further curtail protests that ‘disturb local residents’ – effectively crushing freedom of assembly at any point it is deemed a ‘nuisance’ by the police.

At this time of police repression and the withering of our democratic rights it is vital that students stand firm to defend these rights. We demand the right to protest when, where and how we see fit. We demand the right move freely through our campuses. We demand the right to organise autonomously, free from management interference.

As a movement we cannot allow them to succeed in quashing dissent.

We call on students nationally to stand together to protect the right to organise freely without fear of intimidation.

Signed:

Nick Devlin – University of York Green Party Chair
Rachel Statham – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Euan Raffle – University of York Amnesty International Co-Chair
Melissa Saviste – University of York People and Planet Chair
Dylan Wilby – University of York Amnesty International Social Secretary
Hannah Jeans – University of York Palestinian Solidarity society Co-Chair
Sophie Mak-Schram – Student Action for Refugees Co-Chair
Katie Mapp – University of York Oxfam Chair
Denise Wong – People and Planet Secretary
Elizabeth Sheerin- Vice President Politics Society
Josiah Mortimer – University of York Green Party Press Officer
Leon Morris – YUSU Campaigns Officer, York Vision’s News Editor
Shakti Shah – University of York Green Party Campaigns Officer
Dave Taylor – former student, York Green Party councillor
Emma Brownbill – former YUSU LGBT Officer
Josh Allen – community journalist, UoY alumnus
Helena Horton – student journalist
Harkirit Boparai – Applied Human Rights MA 2013
Sanja Billic – post-graduate student
Sarah Vowden – 1st Year rep Politics Society
Alice Kewellhampton – 3rd year student, University of York
Sami Al Suwaidi – 2nd year student
Robin Monckton-milnes – 3rd Year Historical Archaeology
Indrani Sigamany – PhD student, Centre for Applied Human Rights

More names forthcoming

We Need to Talk About Brighton

This is an edited version of an article cross-posted from Green Left, the eco-socialist current within the Green Party

Ask a Green a few years back whether they’d expect to be in council, and they might not have been too optimistic. Ask them whether they’d think a Green council would ever face strike action, and they may have laughed at you. Yet that’s exactly the situation we face today as a party. A Green administration, albeit a minority one – is facing hundreds of its refuse workers going on strike for a week, starting on the 14th (today), against proposed pay cuts that could see some losing up to £4000 a year, according to the GMB. We are in office, as the saying goes, but seemingly not in power.

Several local parties and individuals – including the local Brighton and Hove Green Party, Caroline Lucas (who has pledged to join the picket lines), and some university branches (including my own) – have spoken out against the bin worker pay cuts in a thus-far shambolic dispute that has seen a noble attempt to equalise pay between male and female staff leading to up to £95 a week income reductions for the (largely male) CityClean workers, idiotic comparisons to the winter of discontent by certain Greens, plausible accusations of potential strike breaking (yes, strike breaking from a Green council), and the outsourcing of the pay proposal decision altogether in order for Greens to claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’. Yet Jason Kitcat seems determined not to budge. It is, frankly a mess.

Internal discussion about this sorry state of affairs has sadly been minimal at best, actively stifled at worst (as a proposed motion to the next conference illustrates). This will not suffice. The Greens are coming under attack over this from all other sections of the left, and Labour (as well as every other supposedly progressive grouping) will exploit this to its fullest unless we change tack and handle the situation properly. If we don’t tackle the issue head on, the other parties will do it for us. We need to talk about Brighton partly because, frankly, everyone else is.

It’s not good enough to say that since the Greens are a federal party ‘it’s up to Brighton’. Brighton Greens – both the local party and our only MP have spoken. It’s now up to the rest of the party nationally to back them up in this. We have, bar some very honourable exceptions in the likes of Alex Phillips and others, a rogue council, refusing to cede to the wishes of its local party, its constituents, and (from what I gather) the rest of the party nationally. Sadly GPEX and Natalie Bennett have appeared silent on the issue.

Worthy though bringing in a Living Wage and attempting to equalise pay between male and female workers is, a Green council should never cut the pay of some of the least well off. That should be a given. As a party which has the strongest record on workers’ rights in terms of policy, strike busting should never have even been rumoured, let alone an actual possibility. Let’s be clear. The bin workers are by no means living gold-plated lifestyles. A Living Wage is a solid base, but it should be a minimum and something to build on, not to undermine through slashing allowances. Though the motives of the Labour-affiliated GMB union aren’t entirely pure, the grassroots members’ reasons for going on strike (on a 96% majority) are.

There are some hopeful signs. Leading figures in Brighton & Hove Greens have at last made public statements about the strike action, though still seemingly refusing to back down over the pay cut proposals. The GMB has agreed to re-enter negotiations. And the candidate for the Hanover & Elm Grove by-election, David Gibson, is a solid trade unionist who opposes the measures to equalise pay down instead of up.

Nonetheless, myself – and I imagine thousands of other Greens – never thought we’d have to ever be in the position of backing workers striking against our own council. We need to be having a serious discussion about the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and if not, discussing whether we should be in office at all if we are forced to act as a mere smoke-screen for Tory-Lib Dem cuts. At what point do we start to consider that to stay in office and continue to implement cuts would be to breach our fundamental principles? As the Green Party conference in Brighton approaches (provided it isn’t moved to avoid potential strike ‘embarrassment’, as has been considered), it’s time to get backtracking on the proposed pay cuts, fast – and time to start talking.

Josiah Mortimer (@josiahmortimer) is a Green Party activist and student based in York.

Unite the Union launches cut price student rate. Bring on the Big Society.

The Guardian reported yesterday that Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, has just launched a new cut price rate for students and the unemployed of 50p a week in an aim to bring some of those most badly affected by the cuts into the union movement.

Kudos to Len McClusky, the left-wing leader of Unite who has proved a match for the Tory government since coming in six months ago. I’ve been a Unite member for just a few weeks, and though like seemingly every other group at the minute there’s been a few membership problems (the Green Party for a start), the new rate looks like a good step towards sorting it out.

I have my criticisms of course. Unite’s online membership at the moment is shambolic – it’s a nightmare to join online and when you have there is often little confirmation to say you’ve successfully joined. If that isn’t off-putting to students, I don’t know what it. Moreover, the Unite student site hasn’t been updated for months, and the members section of the unions main site is currently down. Without sorting this out, the problems of a non-unionised student workforce will remain.

Getting students and the unemployed on board has to be one of the most important hurdles in fighting the cuts as well as fighting for workers rights in an increasingly casualised, “hire-or-fire” labour market.