by Edd Mustill
Times Higher Education this week reports on divisions in the lecturers’ union, the UCU, between the current general secretary Sally Hunt and the UCU Left.
Phil at AVPS has written a good piece about this here. It seems one point of conflict is the UCU NEC’s decision to back a call from the Left supporting the protest in London on 29th January.
Meanwhile, NUS President Aaron “Glowstick” Porter is bringing a motion to an emergency NEC meeting on Monday condemning the plans for a London demonstration on 29th January. In the name of unity with the trade union movement, Porter wants students to attend the TUC’s Manchester rally on that day. This would perhaps make sense, if Unite, the GMB, and UCU weren’t backing both protests.
We shouldn’t be surprised. In his quest for unity in the movement, Porter has variously dismissed, condemned, and tried to take credit for actions called by groups and individuals to his left.
It seems that the official leaderships of the UCU and NUS are closing ranks as the authority to direct the movement slips away from them. They are wary of having to work with less “official” bodies, because of the political effects this will have on radicalising some of their members. The telling sentence in the THE report is this:
“Critics of the UCU Left note that many of its key figures are members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), arguing that this subjects the union to external influence.”
As if members of the union who are also members of a political party are somehow less legitimate as members! What then should we say about the NUS leaders who are also in the Labour Party, for example? Is this subjecting the NUS to a perfidious external influence? As if every political body isn’t “subject to external influence” all the time. Otherwise what would be the point in us ever doing anything?
This is nothing more than an example of the sort of sectionalism that has long-plagued the trade union movement in Britain. The let-us-get-on-with-it attitude of union leaderships is constant, and it was precisely this that was rejected by the students in the Autumn, which allowed the movement to develop.
The NUS is one of the worst unions for sectionalism, having not so long ago criticising the UCU for considering industrial action. Porter’s focus on Manchester has nothing to do with genuine unity and everything to do with his attempt to reign in the movement. The strategy he is now pursuing, if his open letter to Simon Hughes is anything to go by, accepts that as far as he is concerned the battle against tuition fees is over.
As for the 29th, more demonstrations are obviously a good thing at the moment. Not everyone can get to Manchester. Just as when there is a national demo in London, people who can’t make it protest in their own towns, the same is true of Manchester. There are local protests organised in Sheffield and Glasgow, but no-one is accusing the local anti-cuts groups there of “splitting the movement.” In a situation where we are building national resistance to a national government, it’s ridiculous to suggest that there should be no London demonstration. We can and should build the 29th into a national day of action against cuts, as much as we can.
Demonstrate in London. Demonstrate in Manchester. Demonstrate in your own town. Let’s do it.