Today the Guardian published my letter, or rather half the letter, that I sent them on Friday after reading Polly Tonybee’s article: ‘Welfare dependency isn’t Britain’s gravest economic problem. Pitiful pay is’. Here’s the letter in full:
On first reading her article (‘Welfare dependency isn’t Britain’s gravest economic problem. Pitiful pay is’, 31 Oct 2013) it appeared that Polly Toynbee had simply failed to appreciate that the whole of Higher Education across the UK was in the grip of an unprecedented co-ordinated strike by the three largest unions in the sector: UCU, Unison, and Unite, over the issue of pay cuts generally and the demand for a Living Wage for the 4,000+ university staff currently earning below it in particular. But then again, the notion of unions taking strident industrial action in defence of their members pay, terms and conditions, and the services they provide doesn’t tend to sit well with so many of the ‘we live in new times’ commentators.
However, Polly is right on one thing in particular. We do need to learn the real lessons of Grangemouth. We have ruthless employers prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods of their entire workforce to maximise their already obscene profits, and we have politicians who will support them in doing so all the way to the bank. In such a situation, our union leaders need to do a lot better than capitulate under such intense media and political pressure. They need to lead from the front and call upon their members nationally to stand up in solidarity with their targeted colleagues, they need to go beyond the rhetoric of resistance and actually resist. In the specific case of Grangemouth they should have learnt the lessons of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) and occupied the plant against closure and put real political pressure on the SNP, as the independence referendum looms closer, to do the genuinely popular thing and nationalise the plant! The lesson for the union movement is simple: When the going gets tough we have to get tougher!
UCU National Executive Committee
London Metropolitan University