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UCU HE Sector Conference 2014 – Fighting on Pay – The Way Forward

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The following is the text of a UCU Left statement on the recent HE Pay ballot result that I fully endorse.

PDF version here


UCU members have put up a brilliant fight on pay. This was in the face of the ineptitude of the current majority of the Higher Education Committee (HEC) in not following through on the decisions of our annual conference and the hostile and aggressive tactics of employers. The 2 per cent offer for next year would not have been achieved without industrial action this year – and it does break through the 1 per cent public sector pay freeze. This is a significant achievement. However, the 1 per cent imposed this year represents another 2 per cent cut in real incomes, and the 2 per cent for next year is also below the current RPI at 2.5 per cent. We are still a long way from achieving the catch-up we fought for. Therefore we must learn the lessons of this year’s campaign and develop a strategy to fight on pay for next year.

The ballot result

Members voted by 83.7 percent to 16.3 percent to accept the 2 percent pay offer. Some activists may be disappointed by such a large vote for acceptance, but this outcome is not surprising under the circumstances:

  • The decision by the majority on the Higher Education Committee (HEC) to postpone the marking boycott in January when it could have been a sharp and effective tool;
  • The complete absence of an industrial action strategy, and a reliance on the courts, to counteract the intImidatory threats made by many employers to deduct 100 per cent of pay for partial performance;
  • The failure of the HEC to recommend rejection, despite all recognising the offer fell far short of our demands.

All combined to undermine the confidence of members to reject the offer. Members were left in an invidious position in deciding whether to vote for continuing with a poorly led dispute or accepting a poor deal. However, in spite of this, it was right that branch activists argued for rejection and 4,902 members were prepared to face down the employers’ draconian threats even in the absence of a national lead.

The price for backing off in January

The ballot outcome is the price paid for the disastrous decision by the same majority group on the HEC to postpone the marking boycott in January and the escalation from single day strikes to a programme of regional multi-day strikes. Many members and activists were confused, angry and frustrated that the momentum of the Autumn strikes was lost and our carefully considered strategy of escalation to our most powerful weapon was dumped in favour of three two-hour strikes. These had a very mixed and uneven success. In some places, they mobilised some members who had previously not been involved in picketing, but as a whole they represented a significant retreat for UCU. This hesitation and retreat gave the employers confidence that the dispute could be seen off. It enabled them to regroup and prepare their counter moves. It allowed a number of employers to test their strategy of 100 per cent pay deductions for ‘partial performance’ and to note the failure of the union nationally to adequately respond to this.

A lack of leadership

After six sets of strike action, with some institutions deducting a full day’s pay for each of the two-hour stoppages, members expected some leadership from the people that they elected to the HEC. However, in April, the majority of the HEC voted against recommending rejection of the pay offer and agreed that the argument should be put in a ‘neutral’ way. When trade union leaderships and national committees have, in the past, given a clear lead to members they have received overwhelming support. In addition, the failure of the UCU to give a national response to the employers’ threat of 100 percent pay dockings for partial performance left many members hesitant and fearful of entering the marking boycott – significantly at a time when many had completed teaching for the academic year.  A robust response and a strategy for countering the employers’ offensive would have given members much more confidence that we could face down that threat. Such a robust response would have included national industrial action and solidarity actions between institutions.

Where do we go from here?

Wage cuts and falling living standards remain a real issue for our members – some lower paid members are facing real hardship. The dispute has strengthened many local branches, in terms of numbers and activity.  New and younger activists have got involved.  Many of our members are angry and smarting from the threats from employers, which have exposed the iron fist in the velvet glove.

This is a starting point for organising to win real catch-up. Branch meetings need to be held to discuss how we build a campaign for fair pay and the sort of action that will be effective. We need to argue that future campaigns are kept under the democratic control of members and not derailed by the HEC. We need to ensure that all aspects of our claim – such as an end to casualisation, zero-hour contracts, and the gender pay-gap, are adequately highlighted and vigorously pursued (note the UCU Anti-Casualisation Day of Action on 7th May). Ballots and recommendations in national campaigns must be decided by special Higher Education Sector conferences.

The wider fight against pay cuts and austerity

It is unfortunate that our dispute has ended just as other groups of workers are preparing to fight over pay. We know that these fights can be won. Crown Post Office staff in the CWU have been offered 7.9 per cent over three years, 3.9 per cent for this year (after 14 days of strike). Unison local government have announced a strike ballot after members voted 70 percent  to reject their pay offer in a consultation and the NUT conference voted to strike in the week of 23rd May and plan more action in the autumn. The TUC are organising a demonstration demanding fair pay in October. This is the context in which we should begin a new campaign for catch-up for 2015/2016. We must make sure that our branches link up with and offer solidarity to unions taking action. Where possible, we must argue for linking up and joint activity with other groups of workers in education and across the public sector. We can start by mobilising our members for the People’s Assembly protests on 21st June.

Building networks of UCU activists

It is doubtful that there would even have been a pay campaign without UCU Left activists elected as negotiators or to the HEC. UCU Left activists threw themselves into delivering the strike action and work-to-contract in the branches. Liz Lawrence, current President Elect played a key role in arguing that conference policy was carried through. This demonstrates the importance of electing national officers committed to the democratic processes of the union. We currently have an opportunity to elect Lesley Kane in the Vice-President election. She is standing on a platform of accountability and carrying out the actions and strategies determined by the members. The election is open until the 21 May and her blog can be found at lesleykane4vp.wordpress.com.

However, electing candidates sympathetic to the policies that the UCU Left argues for, is not enough in itself. To prevent a repeat of the debacle this time around we must build strong and vibrant branches linked to networks of activists in branches, cities and regions.

The current pay dispute may be over, but it is clear that employers are on the offensive – the need to be organised and fight back has never been greater. The current dispute by further education lecturers at Lambeth College who voted for indefinite strike action shows that there is a willingness to fight. The UCU has called a national solidarity demonstration in support of Lambeth on 17th May and we should ensure that we build support for it in our own branches.


When we fight we can win.



The result of the UCU and UNISON Staff Survey on ‘Confidence’ in the Vice Chancellor and his Senior Management was as follows:

338 members of staff voted

306 staff voted no confidence in the VC and his Executive

32 voted confidence in the VC and his Executive

This represents a massive 91% rejection by the staff of the current Vice Chancellor’s unrelenting strategy to shrink, sell off or privatise the university’s physical, human and educational resource. It is a resounding “NO” to his policy on “shared services” (outsourcing). It is a rejection of his decision to close the Women’s Library and the Trades Union Collection. It is a condemnation of the student over-recruitment in 2011-2012 that led directly to a fine of £5.9m by HEFCE.

It also parallels the rejection by London Met staff representatives and by the London Met Student Union of the Vice Chancellor’s ill-thought out views on Islam and drinking on campus. London Met Student Union is currently carrying out a parallel survey amongst their member on the Vice Chancellor and his policies.

Malcolm Gillies has been Vice Chancellor at London Met for just two years since January 2010. He came in with the incredibly useful advantage (to him) of not being the previous Vice Chancellor Brian Roper and not being associated in any way with the previous Board of Governors who had resigned in December 2009. Virtually everyone at London Met was prepared then to invest confidence in him and to help him take London Met into a new positive future. That at least 306 staff reject him now is a damning indictment of the strategy he has adopted and the actions he has taken ostensibly for the ‘public good’ of London Met.

We know that the turn-out in the survey would almost certainly have been higher had the Vice Chancellor not ‘requested’ staff in a formal ALL-STAFF communication not to take part in the survey. This intimidation was accompanied by threats to UCU and to UCU local officers if the survey was not withdrawn.

Ironically at various points in his ill-chosen very public debate over Islam the Vice Chancellor has referred to internal debate going on at London Met into this and other issues. The reality is that our current Vice Chancellor cannot stand any debate at London Met over anything and has sought to suppress this vote of confidence for fear of the result. At a very insecure moment with ongoing job loss, we understand why quite a few staff felt too nervous to even take part in the survey. A significant number of staff have already stated this to UCU officers. This in itself is a worrying reflection of the situation at London Met! We therefore do genuinely thank those many members of staff (UCU, UNISON and non-members who we hope will now become members!) who nevertheless did vote.

It is now clear that the current Board of Governors of London Met must intervene and re-direct the current flawed management of London Met. UCU, UNISON and the leadership of the London Met Student Union have sent the results of the survey to all governors and have requested a formal meeting with the Board as soon as possible.

UCU members have recently voted in favour of strike action and action short of a strike following London Met management’s refusal to reduce in any way the number of current redundancies required under the s188. We will be discussing how to take forward that ballot at the next UCU meeting Wednesday May 2rd (see below). As part of the unions’ unilateral attempt to reduce redundancies, UCU and UNISON have already sought a meeting with the Board of Governors under the university’s dispute-resolution procedure. We have invoked this procedure to seek means to avoid 229 job losses by the end of July 2012 and the threat of a further £11million cuts in staff costs by the end of July 2013. We also wish to discuss with the governors the other elements of our dispute, the threat of new contracts and the appropriate levels of resource for subjects being ‘taught out’ in 2012-2013.

To date the university has not responded with dates for meetings with Governors. Given the result of the Vote of No confidence we now have a mandate to go to the governors directly not just over the issues covered in the industrial dispute but also over management’s strategy for shrinkage at London Met.

We will also be putting a version of this email out to the press and to HEFCE.

UCU members are reminded that the next UCU ALL Member Meeting will be at City Campus on Wednesday May 2nd. At that meeting we will be discussing further steps arising both from the recent Industrial Ballot and the Vote of No confidence. Full details will follow. Please do attend.

UCU Co-ordinating Committee

[Guest Post] Proud to support: Islington UAF: successful launch

This is a guest post from Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHoops) regarding the launch of Islington UAF, originally posted here.

The public launch meeting of Islington Unite Against Fascism on Wednesday 25th January was a wonderful example of British multiculturalism at its best. The Finsbury Park Mosque ,where the meeting was held, was buzzing with men, women and children from all religions, cultures and backgrounds, united in one aim: to defend multiculturalism and fight fascism.

Even the panel of speakers represented the diversity of the borough, from religious leaders to MP’s to national campaigners. The room was packed, estimated 180 in attendance, with people even having to stand at the back. Chairing the meeting was Mark Campbell, a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University and chair of London Met UCU branch. A life-long anti-racist campaigner, Mark began the meeting with Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous poem “Never Again” and dedicated the meeting to the victims of the Holocaust in reference to Holocaust remembrance day that week.

Speakers included Catherine West, Leader of Islington Council, who spoke about housing problems in the borough, then Imam Ahmed Saad, who talked about the history of Islam and anti-fascism.

Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn spoke next on anti-fascism in Islington and how the borough has a long history of challenging racism and defending itself against far right groups like the National Front and the BNP.

Reverend Jennifer Potter, leader of the Islington Inter-faith Forum spoke of Celebrating our diversity and being open minded in our approach to others and working as a community to build friendships between different faiths and cultures.

Hassan Mahamadallie,editor of the book Defending Multiculturalism, spoke of his experiences of racism and the link between the fight against fascism and racism and the fight against government austerity.

Emily Thornberry, Islington MP, spoke of her history working with refugees and immigrants as a lawyer and how this shaped her approach to politics in the borough.

And finally, Weyman Bennett, joint national secretary of Unite Against Fascism, spoke of the national situation in terms of far right organisations and our responses to that.

These speakers were followed by many questions, comments and most interestingly, personal stories. People spoke of their own struggles and problems they have faced in the community, as well as asking for a better channel of communication between the MPs and their communities. And as a final triumph of the evening, the whole event was broadcast live, via Skype, from the mosque to the FinFuture community space across the street for the benefit of disabled people and their carers.

In all, this event has truly united the community in one aim: to Celebrate diversity, defend multiculturalism and oppose Islamophobia and racism. It has also opened up the dialogue between different corners of the community, creating a space for everyone to tell their story, have their voices heard and to come together in Islington, galvanized in unity and strength.

Why I will be urging Welsh speakers in UCU to vote for Mark Campbell

This is a guest posting by Liza van Zyl, candidate for NEC (UCU Cymru vice president).

I work as a Welsh tutor on zero-hour contracts in both the higher and further education sectors in Wales, and represent Welsh speakers as a workplace union rep.  I’d like to make the case for why UCU Left should make campaign material available in Welsh.

But first I’d like to thank Mark Campbell and UCU Left for listening to the UCU members I represent, and for taking seriously the concerns of Welsh speakers.  And for the support UCU Left has given us to progress Welsh-language issues in UCU, in particular for enabling me to progress a matter of importance to my members, namely the implementation of a Congress motion, passed by UCU Congress last year, to provide materials in Welsh.

So, why does UCU Left need to go to the expense of providing campaign material in Welsh?

As everyone in UCU knows, there are three key facts about Welsh speakers, and the Welsh language, in the higher and further education sectors:

1. Almost nobody speaks Welsh (except in a few isolated pockets of North Wales).

2. Welsh-speakers are affluent and middle-class, and get preferential treatment in the job market.

3. Welsh speakers are right wing.

But actually, the fact that hardly anyone speaks Welsh is news to the 40,000 Welsh-speakers in Cardiff. And to the several hundred of my colleagues in both Cardiff University and Coleg Gwent who live and work in the medium of Welsh every day and have very little need or reason to speak English in their daily work and lives.

The fact that Welsh speakers are affluent and middle-class is news to Welsh-speaking university students. They are disproportionately more likely to come from Communities First postcodes and from the bottom end of the Index of Multiple Deprivation.

It’s certainly news to me and my colleagues, who are on zero-hour contracts and who are experiencing severe economic hardship because of the public sector funding cuts. It was news to me that Welsh-speakers get preferential treatment in the job market – I was recently unemployed for eleven months and am now earning only slightly more than a quarter of what I previously earned on a full-time lecturer’s salary.

The reason people perceive that Welsh speakers get preferential treatment in the jobs market is the same reason people perceive that asylum seekers get all the council houses: it is because some of us on the left are doing a rather rubbish job of explaining that everyone is suffering because of the lack of jobs and housing, and that the real culprits are not Welsh-speakers, asylum seekers, etc – it’s because the bankers have trashed the economy.

And the fact that Welsh-speakers are right wing is news to the many Welsh-speakers who are at the forefront of the anti-cuts and Occupy movements, who are working shoulder to shoulder with those of us in the Trades Councils to protect our public services, the NHS, and the most vulnerable in society from this wholesale unprecedented destruction of everything working people in Britain have fought for over the last several generations.

The fact that Welsh-speakers are right wing is also news to the many Welsh-speakers whose grand-parents and great-grand-parents fought in the Spanish Civil War and who were active in the anti-slavery movement.  And to those who made such a profound impact in the anti-Apartheid movement and the miners’ strike.
It’s also news to those of my colleagues (including senior managers) and students who have criminal records (including prison time) for services to the Welsh language and working-class Welsh communities through direct-action campaigns.

I was once told by a Welsh-speaking faculty dean in a Pre-92 university in England that, many years previously, his brother had received a prison sentence for Welsh-language activism in service to their desperately poor working-class community in the same week that the dean had been offered a place to study at Oxford. Their father, and the congregation of the chapel of which their father was a minister, was much prouder of his brother than of himself.  Yep, you don’t get much more right wing than that.

For years, UCU’s Welsh speakers and those of us who are trying to recruit and involve our Welsh-speaking colleagues in the union have made very little real progress persuading UCU to provide materials in Welsh. We’re told that Welsh-speakers are quite capable of reading and speaking English, and so it is silly to spend our members’ subs translating and printing stuff in Welsh.
This is an entirely reasonable argument.  After all it is entirely reasonable to expect Sikhs and Muslims to remove their turbans or headscarves if they want employment.  Just as it’s entirely reasonable for the Home Office to deport gay and lesbian asylum seekers on grounds that they’re perfectly capable of passing for straight by getting married and not flaunting their homosexuality.
As we all know, matters of language identity are just like religion or belief, or sexual orientation: they’re lifestyle choices. Not matters profoundly important to identity. Not like proper equality issues.

All of us who are union organisers and community campaigners know how very effective a recruiting tool it is to be dismissive of what people consider to be fundamental aspects of their identity. We all know how very helpful it is, in terms of increasing engagement in unions or campaigns, when we require that people give up important issues of identity and principle in order to participate.
In Wales there is a saying in response to receiving a communication or seeing a poster or leaflet in English only: “bilingualism offends nobody, but monolingualism offends thousands of people every day”.

So folks, we need campaign material in Welsh. I was delighted to hear that Mark Campbell wants to learn to say a few things in Welsh, that he can say when he comes to a hustings in Wales next month. I’ve certainly experienced Mark to be genuinely committed to progressing the interests of Welsh-speaking UCU members, just as he is genuinely committed to progressing the interests of all UCU members.

I’m sure there will be some who’ll say Mark’s support for Welsh-language issues is pure opportunism, that Mark has suddenly discovered within himself a burning passion for the Welsh language as a cynical vote-winning ploy.

But this is not an issue of Welsh nationalism, nor of Welsh-language campaigning. Mark, like me, is not Welsh.  I am a migrant worker in the UK to whom Welsh and English are both foreign languages, who just happens to work as a Welsh tutor. But I am a workplace union rep. And Mark, like me, believes that means you take up the issues that are important to those you represent.

This is simply an issue of effective trade union organizing. You recruit and engage folks in your workplace more effectively if you listen to them, take their concerns seriously, and don’t alienate them by requiring them to compromise something profoundly important to their self-identity. It’s about representing members, and listening to them, and progressing the issues they ask their elected reps to take up.
Mark is standing for UCU general secretary not because he wants to be a ‘union baron’, or wants loads of power, or a seat in the House of Lords one day. Or because he wants Sally Hunt’s £100,000 a year salary (he has committed to drawing the same salary if he’s elected that he gets now as a university lecturer). He is standing for UCU general secretary simply because he believes the union should fight for the interests of all its members, and progress the issues they want the union to take up.

Is Mark the person we so desperately need at the helm of UCU? Based on what I’ve seen of him in action as a workplace rep at London Metropolitan University, and based on how he’s been prepared to listen to me and my members, and take us seriously, I believe he is.  But it’s not for me to decide whether he should be UCU general secretary.  I will explain to my members why I believe they should vote for him, but it is ultimately a decision each UCU member needs to make themselves.
Therefore I will urge all UCU members in Wales to come to the Wales hustings in Cardiff next month, and urge them to grill Mark robustly until he’s well done on all sides, so they can decide for themselves if he’s the candidate they should vote for.
That is why we need UCU Left to produce campaign materials in Welsh.  So we can more effectively encourage folks in Wales to come to the hustings and decide for themselves who they want at the helm of their union.  And so that we can alert folks to an un-missable opportunity to hear a bit of Welsh spoken in a strong Newcastle accent.

HE White Paper panic – let’s step up the fight to defend public education!

Reports that the Government is to delay putting its Higher Education White Paper before parliament until 2015 are highly significant. That 2015 has been identified means that the proposals may be put off until after the next election. The delay is significant for two reasons.

1. The news underlines the fact that this is a weak government. It is wary of opening up a full-frontal ideological attack on higher education, in the face of opposition from students, academics and a number of vice-chancellors, while attempting simultaneously to dismantle the NHS and cut benefits. The Government has remembered that the success of a predecessor Tory government depended on ‘salami tactics’ – only attacking one enemy at a time. It is clearly aware that its plans to turn our universities into cash cows for private profiteers were not going to be imposed without a fight.

Protests by students, the No Confidence campaign launched by Oxford University staff and taken up by UCU, along with the industrial action by UCU members over attacks on pensions (part of the cost-cutting measures outlined in the White Paper) have made this clear. The shelving of the Higher Education Bill represents a humiliating setback for David Willetts, who was clearly the inspiration behind much of the free-market fundamentalism contained in the HE White Paper.

2. While the Government may be nervous about putting its measures before Parliament, in particular its plans for deregulation to facilitate the entry of private providers into higher education, many of the measures contained in the White Paper do not require legislation in order to be implemented.

The new market for admissions, which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ own select committee has called to be put on hold, is well underway and already distorting the admissions process for 2012-13.

Meanwhile, prospective students are already facing fees of up to £9k. Many universities are following the grotesque example of London Met and preparing to shed jobs, and outsource provision, in anticipation of the White Paper’s distopian future. By declining to expose its plans to public scrutiny in the form of parliamentary debate, the government is simply refusing to be held accountable for the intensification of competition between universities which is already being imposed, a process which will lead to greater stratification, less student choice and the impoverishment of higher education for all.

Willetts’ White Paper may have no future, but his project to kill off the public university remains live, and is being put into practice by servile university managers all over the country. This chaotic and destructive process must be stopped.

How do we do this?

1. Continue the fight to defend pensions. The attacks being imposed on the TPS and USS schemes are part of the attempt to drive down costs enshrined in the discredited White Paper. There should be no termination of industrial action in either the USS or the TPS disputes. These are not just battles for our sectional interests. They are part of the defence of public post-16 education. We also need to resist the pay cuts being imposed on staff.

2. Back the NUS lobby of parliament called for 7 March. The Government has refused to debate its policies in parliament – we need to exert pressure to put a stop to these destructive policies.

3. Sign up to UCU’s Defend Public Education conference on 10 March: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/a/o/Defend_Public_Education_Conference_Programme.pdf

4. Raise the No Confidence motion in Willetts everywhere. David Cameron clearly has no confidence in Willetts. So far over twenty thousand others have voiced their opposition to his chaotic destructiveness. He needs to go. Press your staff representatives on academic boards and governing bodies to propose a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the minister, and organize a campaign of support for the motion amongst students and staff, including a lobby of meetings.

5. Organise for a national demonstration in the autumn in defence of education.

Reclaiming Education

The Government’s White Paper will affect further and higher education equally. Unless successfully resisted, it will force the market on the post-16 education sector. Some colleagues may think that by staying silent they will save their courses. Any such idea of safety in passivity is mistaken. I appeal to all to stand up for education. I want all who want to fight for education, and against the market, to unite in a determined defence of education as a public and social good.

Reclaiming our institutions

We need to reassert academic and scholarly control of our colleges and universities. We need to insist on public service not only as the reason why we came into education but also why we stay. We need to insist that our educational institutions serve the communities of which they are an integral part.

We have become too accustomed to a language of ‘aims’ and ‘objectives’, of ‘module descriptors’, of accounting criteria to determine the quality of course provision, and of a meaningless ‘peddababble’ on outcomes and achievement. We have the absurd prospects of managers determining the academic curriculum in relation to the requirements of local commerce, of information managers reinventing libraries as social spaces unencumbered with books, and of research administration subverting the academic role of supervisors.

Our union has as yet done too little to resist the drift, despite the admirable research and propaganda material produced by our staff. Now it is time for us to say, ‘No more’, and to reverse the trend of the last two decades. We need the democratization of education.

We need our reps to be involved in their local communities, and our members in universities to challenge for representation on faculty boards, academic boards and on Senates. We must seek the overhaul of institutional procedures. We need a union that does not think that this battle is lost already, one that will dovetail its defence of members’ jobs and conditions with this educational initiative to reclaim the institutions – to win them back from the rampant managerialism that has overcome them.

Jobs and conditions of service

We have learned the lesson of timidity on the question of jobs. If not, we should have done. Where we fight we win, and we do win; where we seek compromise we disillusion our members and supporters, and we harvest defeat.

Beyond that willingness to act there is the question of what it is that we are acting for. In the face of a threat to jobs, are we fighting to preserve the jobs and the courses and the support on which they depend, or are we only fighting against compulsory redundancies and for better severance terms? This is a sharp question that confronts us.

We need to unite our defence of members’ interests with a defence of educational provision as the pivotal element in the defence of employment security and the terms of employment. We can no longer, in this new climate, hope to secure our sectional interests as a group of employees without embracing the need to defend the jobs and conditions of all, and the service provided to students and the wider community by the FE and HE sectors.

The union we need, and the union we deserve

We need well-organised branches, and well-trained officers. None of it can be achieved without debating our priorities to get a resolution in which all members can invest.

We need to preserve our capacity to debate the implementation of policy regionally in our Regional Committees. We need to involve the largest possible layer of members in the union’s democratic structures in the determination of policy – in attending Congress, and our HE and FE Sector Conferences. Our National Committee must reflect all of the union’s constituencies, and have a procedure that prevents the dominance of any at the expense of the others.

This is how we pull all sections together in a common fight. There is no Chinese Wall between organization and combat effectiveness for a trade union in this new and austere climate. Every argument about organization is an argument about what the UCU is for, and about the imagination and willingness to fight.

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