Tristram Hunt incurs wrath for crossing UCU picket

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, has been criticised by party colleagues after crossing a University and College Union picket line

February 11, 2014

Source: SOTCTHMP

Dr Hunt crossed a picket line yesterday to teach a module on “Marx, Engels and the Making of Marxism” at Queen Mary, University of London, where he works for one morning a week.

The Morning Star reported that the historian said he was not a member of the UCU and “hurried away” when challenged by those on the picket line.

UCU members at Queen Mary were on strike as part of ongoing national industrial action over a 1 per cent pay offer – following a series of below-inflation settlements.

Tom Watson, the prominent Labour backbencher, wrote on his blog that he would “rather the shadow Secretary of State for Education, resign his post as a lecturer than cross a picket line of striking lecturers…Those lecturers, working in the shadow of the high rise banking headquarters of the City, have had an effective pay cut in recent years.”

Lee Jones, senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary, challenged Dr Hunt at the picket line.

Dr Jones said he was “not at all surprised by Dr Hunt crossing the picket line, given what we know of his politics, and given that the Labour Party under Ed Miliband has continued to drift ever rightwards, denouncing industrial action and further marginalising the already weak trade unions”.

He added that Dr Hunt “has been virtually invisible as shadow secretary of state and Labour have had nothing to say on the current pay dispute, or the wider crisis in HE – initiated under their watch”.

Dr Jones continued: “The only surprising thing was that a media-savvy professional politician would be willing to risk an inevitable PR backlash and did not sneak on to campus via a rear entrance.”

Dr Hunt said in a statement:“I support the right to strike for those who have balloted to picket.

“I have chosen not to join the strike. My personal commitment remains to the students I am lecturing.”

Mark Ferguson, editor of LabourList, wrote: “We shouldn’t cross picket lines in the Labour Party. It should go against what we stand for as a movement.

“When you cross a picket line and give a lecture whilst staff are on strike, you undermine those who are taking industrial action.”

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said the union had written to Dr Hunt over his decision.

“Tristram Hunt should know better than most MPs the extent to which staff pay has been kept down in recent years, despite healthy pay rises for vice-chancellors and bills going up. It is a real cost of living crisis and why university staff are fighting the pay dispute,” she said.

“It is disappointing that Tristram appears to be using his students as an excuse to cross the picket line, particularly since the National Union of Students supports the trade union case for a decent pay rise.

“We have written to Mr Hunt asking for the opportunity to explain the issues behind our dispute and also why thousands of university staff and trade unionists will be so disappointed that he crossed an official picket line.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (5)

Is it even known whether he is a UCU member? If not, clearly he is under no moral obligation to strike. Even if he is, I think it's entirely justifiable to invoke students' interests as a defence given that he no longer works as a full-time academic, and thus any lectures that he gives are likely to be part of a very short series of intrinsic value to a course. All in all, in my opinion not enough is known about any of this to make such harsh judgements.
1. Dr. Hunt told me himself he was not a member of UCU. 2. If you are a member of UCU, you are obliged to follow the democratic decision of the membership on strike action, whether you supported it or not. That is how trade unions work.
Those who follow what Simon Gaskell and his management team have been doing at Queen Mary University of London may have more questions for Dr Hunt in his capacity as shadow education secretary. For example Dr Hunt's position on the Restruction of what was once the People's Palace (founded 1887) and Westfield College (founded 1882) and is now Queen Mary remains unknown. Restruction is defined by me as destruction by means of restructuring. Some of us who have tried to honour the history of the College, its Royal Charter and its stated missions have been treated despicably by Simon Gaskell (accepting that the Principal accepts the consequences of devolved responsibility). Our own skins may not matter, but what about the principles overturned in the process?
I see that Dr Hunt believes that character can be taught; I wonder who taught him to be a blackleg?
Peter Mason, whether Hunt is in UCU is beside the point. Academic salaries (and those of other university staff) have taken a year on year hit. The oft publicised stat of 13% real cut in 5 years is tip of the iceberg: academic pay has been falling for decades. The failure of pay to keep pace with inflation is one of many mechanisms underpinning the relentlessly upward redistribution of wealth to the 1%, a process that accelerated after 2008. That's why a victory for UCU is a victory for the 99%. It's also why Hunt's behaviour is at best myopic (is it really in the best interests of students to have lecturer pay fall year on year - and don't even get me started on the widespread use of zero hours contracts??) and at worst a shabby act of betrayal. For more on this, see www.zerohoursuni.org

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