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.”