Failure of principle

July 19, 2012

We write to express our outrage at a recent decision by the University and College Union's national executive (on which we sit). Before the committee was a motion expressing regret about Labour Party leader Ed Miliband's recent speech blaming immigrants for low wages and for the housing, welfare and health crisis. The motion condemned the speech and urged Labour members to disassociate themselves from its views. It committed the UCU to campaign for the truth on this question by using the latest statistical evidence of the positive effects of immigration. It reaffirmed the union's traditional celebration of the contribution of immigrants to our society.

The motion was not supported by the national executive.

In the debate, there was much hand-wringing about Miliband's tactical ineptitude and the danger of creeping racism. Others simply opposed the motion. One nationally elected officer argued that while he agreed with the motion's sentiment, passing it would not be good for UCU relations with Labour, despite the fact that the union is not affiliated with it. This reasoning is both dangerous and a form of craven sectionalism. It is also a risible overestimation of Labour's interest in workers or trade unions.

Since its inception, the UCU has opposed all forms of racism, particularly the insidious kind that hides behind faux expressions of concern for the oppressed. The attitude of our union has been resolutely to resist the blandishments of politicians from any political party and the cynicism of electoralist hypocrisy that seeks to appeal to a wider constituency through a populist rhetoric that abandons all principle.

This decision by the new majority on our national executive is a signal warning to members about what their union might become if its principles are not upheld when the union is put to the test.

Laura Miles, Veronica Killen, Jane Hardy and Elizabeth Lawrence, National executive committee members of the University and College Union (writing in a personal capacity)

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