Report: London Met fightback

Below we publish a report of a meeting that took place at London Metropolitan University last week:

The mood was one of anger and determination to fight on Tuesday 7 June, when more than 40 people gathered to plan the fightback against the job cuts and victimisation of trade unionists taking place at London Metropolitan University.

Management had disguised the scale of the planned cuts by counting staff, who though officially ‘on the books’ were no longer actually doing any paid work. The true cut would mean losing about one-third of both academic and support staff – and massive increases in workload for those remaining.

A solidarity message from Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, was read out at the meeting:

“I’m sending my 100% support to UCU and Unison members at London Metropolitan University. Having already pledged my support to the campaign against the victimisation of local UCU officers, Mark Campbell and David Hardman, I’m shocked to now hear about management’s attempts to sack around a third of the university’s substantive workforce.

“To massively increase the scourge of casualisation – including the increased use of London Met’s zero-hours contracts for those staff that are left is appalling.

“These attacks need to be seen in relation to the government’s new HE Bill that seeks to soften-up institutions such as London Met for possible closure and/or eventual privatisation, whilst increasing student fees beyond £9000 a year, and further cutting bursaries and support grants.

“University management should be standing with staff and students to loudly resist these Tory attacks, not proactively implementing them at the expense of both.

“Stay strong and united and I will support you all the way with your campaign.”

Speakers

Karen Reissman (Unison NEC) said that this was an attack on working class people. The UCU was looking at a national co-ordinated campaign and the NUT was doing similarly in education. It needed to happen right across the public sector. “This is a weak government that can be beaten!”

Alex Tarry (Unison London Met Committee) said that management was also planning to use graduate interns to replace the work of permanently-employed staff. He pointed out that the unions locally had successfully fought back before by reducing the number of redundancies in 2009 and also prevented the privatisation of university services. He said that groups like Capita had been discouraged from tendering by visible resistance from staff unions which they saw as a risk factor.

London Met Student Union President, Barbara Ntumi, said that she had been elected on a manifesto of opposing job cuts. She opposed the Government’s Higher Education White Paper, which would create a two-tier education system. “Universities like us would be starved of funds – or shut down.”

Sean, from City and East London College said: “There are too many extremists in this building – and they’re not the students. They [the management] seem to do everything wrong. This government wants to get rid of one university [London Met] – which is a heart of widening diversity. They hate and despise our kids! It’s a successful multicultural university. This [the redundancy plan] is not a coincidence but a planned attack on trade unionists. Is there hope? Absolutely. The local management is weak and not competent. There is fantastic support from our community MPs – Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry. We need to create momentum with a strike of the ‘cradle to the grave’ sector – to defend working class education – building up to October – starting on 5 – 6 July.”

Lori, London Met SU President-Elect said that they would be losing some of their best lecturers and condemned the closure of two campuses.

Alternative Higher Education White Paper

Sean Wallace, UCU NEC and author of the Alternative Higher Education White Paper (HE WP, available at: https://heconvention2.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/awp.pdf), asked:

What is a university? The people who wrote the WP don’t know! (for more on the Government’s recent HE WP proposals see: http://www.socialist.net/university-fees-set-to-increase-the-vultures-are-circling.htm).

The Green Paper and White Paper were documents by lobbyists who work for for-profit organisations like Pearsons, Murdoch, Kaplan etc. Look at the USA where whole hospitals are privatised (in a way not seen in Europe or the UK). They have high tuition fees – no direct government grants – and a market of students.

Apollo owns the University of Phoenix Arizona which sells correspondence course leading to worthless degrees. Nurses study but with no nursing experience, they can’t get a job.

These firms were antagonistic to the whole education sector. UNESCO standards recognised education as a fundamental human right, with universities responsible for:

  1. Teaching the next generation to the highest level;
  2. Independent research at arm’s length and;
  3. Providing an independent space where academic freedom can flourish.

The example of Volkswagen, which had falsified nitrous oxide emissions data, thereby poisoning and killing people, had only come to light due to a university disproving the data.

The Tories were attempting to create a market for providers who did not care about the last two things. The number of students claiming support for courses from alternative providers had increased from about 6,000 to 60,000 in the past five years.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) was to be replaced by a Teaching and Excellence Framework (TEF) – allegedly to raise standards, but actually to avoid the ‘pretend’ universities being exposed. They won’t be sending their children to them. Already the amount spent on staff salaries was collapsing at both ends of the higher education spectrum. If the university goes bust – they can simply sell off the property. This is a moment when we can unite across the education sector – take on this government and bring them down.

Gary Heather (Islington Labour Councillor) stressed the need to build political opposition to the WP. He read a text from Jeremy Corbyn, who said that he was seeking a meeting with the University vice-chancellor. Jeremy said that he valued the diversity and opportunity offered by London Met and would always support it.

Mark Campbell, Chair of UCU London Region HE Comm, said that London Met was a proud working class second-chance university and reflected the local community. He said, we’ve got rid of three vice-chancellors since I’ve been here. They say ‘I’m listening’ but that’s meaningless if they ignore everything they hear. This is the 14th section 188 (collective redundancy) notice in ten years. They talk about getting to the right student: staff ratio (SSR), [using this in terms of reducing the staff], but the universities which were higher up the league tables have a lower level of students to staff. By reducing staff you get fewer students applying. It was like ‘victim-blaming’. “But we care about what we do.”

“Our own management is delivering the university to the Tories. The vice-chancellor claims to be a Labour Party member – but has Tory values. We are fighting for our university – even management accepts that this is the ‘big one’!”

Russell Caplan, London South Bank University, said that the character of London Met was similar to LSB Uni. He believed that this was the template for what was going to happen to most 1992 Universities. The fight needed to be publicised the length and breadth of the country.

Mdani, a former London Met lecturer, expressed solidarity and said: “In a previous dispute, we involved the outside world in a much bigger way.” The academic boycott had snowballed and brought a successful outcome when the university had been in serious crisis over student visas. [This had also involved private sector involvement.]

Ben Gliniecki brought out the political dimension and explained that the Tories were now attacking even their traditional points of support, including vice-chancellors and doctors. They don’t see a way forward for capitalism – so investors need to go for the NHS and education and tear open those sectors. There was a need for socialism and anti-capitalism – prove who really runs things – he therefore called for a General Strike.

Candy Udwin, PCS National Gallery strike veteran, brought a message of support.

Sylvia Courtnage, a London Met research student, explained that she had taken a report of the dispute to members of her local Trades Council in Portsmouth, who had unanimously agreed to send a message of support.

She had studied for a degree at a time when there were no tuition fees and had received a maintenance grant – without which she would not have been able to afford to study. She expressed solidarity with current students who were forced to take on huge debts to undertake their courses. She believed it was important to build solidarity with other unions as there was a huge amount of support out there.

Brian (London Met University) said that the management had engendered an atmosphere of fear which had prevented more people attending the meeting. He believed that it was important to get more media coverage

Mark Campbell said that further mass meetings were taking place. They had already been in dispute for the past year. They needed to move rapidly to a ballot for action. UCU was already campaigning on HE pay and casualisation. There was possible action on 5 July when NUT might also be out. They might hold community teach-outs.

Background

The university has already suffered a huge reduction in size over the past few years. When originally formed in 2002 by a merger, it had a total of 28,000 students. This has been cut to the current level of 12,000 and management aims to reduce this by another 16%, to 10,000 by 2017. It also plans to close two campuses and concentrate all students at one site.

The management’s “austerity” campaign at London Met has resulted in the closure of 70% of courses over a five-year period from 2010.

Last summer, the Unison Branch Secretary, Max Watson, was singled out for redundancy for his part in campaigning against the 165 threatened job cuts. That vindictive trend has continued this year when the management has targeted UCU officers and made compulsorily redundant Mark Campbell, UCU Chair and David Hardman, UCU Secretary.

London Met University has traditionally offered access to education for many less privileged students and has had both the highest proportion in the country of women returning to study and more black students than the top 20 universities combined. That door is now effectively being slammed in their faces.

We need to fight for educational opportunity for all regardless of their age or means. We must therefore build an alliance with trade unions and students to oppose these cuts.

  • No to the Higher Education Bill proposals
  • For free and properly-resourced education for all
  • For adequate maintenance grants

Sylvia Courtnage,
Professional Doctorate Student,
London Metropolitan University