Protecting, not posing

November 17, 2011

I write this while struggling, as chair of a local University and College Union committee, to complete the detail of a workload model for my institution and having just closed (partly successfully) two pieces of casework over contracts. I do so while about to address the issue of renegotiating the local promotions procedure for academic staff, while reflecting with other local officers on the next stage of strike action after 30 November, and organising against further privatisation via the local intervention of the "for-profit" Kaplan operation.

I write as our committee prepares to fight for transparency and accountability in selecting the university's submissions for the research excellence framework. I do so as I prepare to speak in meetings across the region on the higher education White Paper and how we might reclaim the academic process. What does a "focus on pay and conditions" and being the "guardian of scholarship" mean if not this? ("Bread, not political poses", 3 November.)

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, is to be commended for her defence of the union's record ("Fighting the good fight", 10 November), and this is what that fight means on the ground.

In "Bread, not political poses", however, I read that as a supporter of UCU Left, I am merely a political poseur who sees his primary purpose as "bringing down the capitalist system or otherwise grandstanding in pursuit of impossible political goals". One wonders whether Times Higher Education considers it worthwhile to find out about those whom it chooses to disparage before going to print, or whether, knowing already that the supporters of UCU Left are among the most committed branch activists and officers in the union, it chooses not to compromise its political opinion with the facts.

UCU Left takes a strategic view of the sector. It is not one shared by everyone in the union, but that does not make it a "revolutionary programme": in fact, it exhibits a hard-nosed realism about the nature of the fight in which the UCU and its members are now engaged. This is a fight in which the government is committed to a generalised offensive against the welfare state, public post-16 education and public provision generally. The question for the UCU is whether it is willing to generalise to mount an effective defence of the education system in which its members have chosen to make their careers.

Tom Hickey

UCU member of the national executive and strategy and finance committee, chair of the recruitment, organisation and campaigns committee, and chair, University of Brighton UCU

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