During these difficult times, it is perhaps worth remembering why we do what we do. Whatever your discipline, you were employed to stimulate debate and ask critical questions about the status quo in your area, and to help teach others to do the same: how can we ‘#take on tomorrow’ without challenging how things are? This is what we do; this is how a university works. We commit, in our vocation, to call out cant, flim-flam and platitudes, to hold the seemingly powerful to account, and to use argument, evidence, and the strength of academic freedom to make our case. No-one should be surprised when we do this. But it isn’t always easy. Sometimes asking questions to change the way things are is daunting, and leaves you stressed and exposed. But that is what a union is for: if you have a whistle to blow, a grievance to raise, or a worry to share, know you don’t have to do it on your own. Contact the Branch Executive or your rep, and UCU can and will try to guide and protect you:http://www.ucu-unn.org.uk/2014-10-12-09-07-44/officers-reps
UCU encourages all staff to complete their online mandatory training (fire safety, GDPR, etc.). We get (some) workload to do so, and whatever you think of the quality of the online materials, much of it relates to matters the university has a statutory obligation to address. If nothing else, doing the training stops your line manager getting lots of emails telling them to tell you to do it.
Save the Rhino
It has come to UCU’s attention that some people have assumed that certain images in our posters encouraging people to vote in the national ballot on pay and conditions are somehow connected to recent ignominious press reports about Northumbria. We blush at the very thought of this imputation. No, UCU has always been very fond of megafauna such as these beautiful, lovable, odd-toed, herbivorous ungulates (thanks Wikipedia!), all the more so because they are endangered (like our posters). If you share UCU’s love for rhinos, and are concerned about their future, please share and support these campaigns.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, the one attached, taken at the recent and otherwise very well-attended Branch meeting to discuss Spearmint Rhino and our toxic bonus culture, speaks volumes. Despite the problems of cancelled or postponed meetings, of ‘offline’ or one-to-one chats, and radio silence from some of those we have contacted, the UCU Executive is doing all it can to get the answers you want to the questions you asked.
Vote because you can. Vote because you should. Vote because you care about the erosion of our pay, about ending gender pay disparity, reducing excessive workloads, and helping colleagues on casual contracts. Vote because you think our employers should negotiate sensibly about these things.
Vote because you want to. Vote even if you don’t want to. Vote however you want. Vote and tell your colleagues to vote. But vote, before the pay ballot closes on 19 October if you think yet another below-inflation pay award is unacceptable: https://www.ucu.org.uk/he2018
If nothing else, vote because our employers (UCEA) are scared and don’t want you to vote. Their expensive lawyers have given them this advice on how to deal with UCU’s democratic processes:
“Employers should be looking to influence the outcome of the ballot at their centre while they still can. This means a direct appeal to affected staff to abstain or vote against. As this dispute develops, they should get into the good habit of putting out regular, clear and informative communications which must be as direct and compelling as the material put out by the unions. Employers should also be more proactive in talking to students about how they plan to protect and safeguard their studies and exam timetables. It was an alliance of students with teaching staff which helped pile pressure on university employers during the pensions dispute.”
For the result of a ballot to be a lawful mandate for industrial action, UCU must not only achieve a positive vote in favour of its proposals but also ensure that at least 50% of its members eligible to vote do so. Let’s make this happen, and please help promote the campaign with our posters and leaflets (click link) and make sure your personal and address details (follow link) are up to date.
Everyone will by now have received the recent charming missive from their FPVC about what they say will happen if you do vote for industrial action. We recognise it is tough (and lonely) at the top, making difficult decisions, and sharing discomfiting news. But this particular communication was an entertaining if adversarial melange of spurious conflations, patronising scaremongering, and mild threats. According to this communication, we’ve never had it so good, and yet times have never been harder. We won’t add further injury to your already insulted intelligence by dignifying this message with a point-by-point rebuttal. You’re all smart folk, and can doubtless see this for what it is, and the facts for what they are: the ballot is about a lot more than pay; getting an increment isn’t the same as getting a pay rise; there’s no increment if you’re at the top of your grade; there clearly can’t be ‘no limits’ to promotion (the university would be bankrupt and grind to a halt if everyone was a grade 9); just because some universities say they can’t afford to pay more than 2%, that doesn’t mean Northumbria can’t; no-one takes industrial action willingly or lightly but if we can’t withhold our labour we’re no better than wage slaves etc. Suffice it to say that the people who saw fit to put their names to the embarrassingly similar letters spread across the university receive their bonuses in part by ensuring the ‘financial sustainability’ of the Faculty they oversee. Put bluntly, when we work harder, they get paid more (and way more than the 2% currently offered to staff). This being the case, these messages expose a fundamental paradox. Either ‘financial sustainability’ can only be achieved by staff suffering a real terms pay cut (of 21% since 2010), or our Faculties aren’t as ‘financially sustainable’ as we’ve been led to believe, and as we’ve all being working so hard to ensure. Be assured, UCU will be asking questions to find out which.
Dates for your Diary, Campaigns to Support
Transforming Cultures: A Trans-Atlantic Conversation about Gender-Based Violence
We've recently seen unprecedented attention to cultures that support or challenge gender-based violence: disclosures about violence and abuse by Harvey Weinstein and others; the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns; plans to outlaw 'upskirting'; Dr Christine Ford's accusations about Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to name just a few. From 1700-1830 on Wednesday 24 October, in Sandyford 210, Northumbria University will host a seminar which will reflect on these developments in the UK and the US and is delighted to welcome two eminent scholars/activists/practitioners: Professor Susan Marine, Merrimack College, US will speak about how the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings are shaping discourse about sexual violence in high school and college; and Ms Cullagh Warnock, expert on gender-based violence, will talk about the role of specialist women’s organisations in improving services and policy around gender-based violence.
Politics students at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire have launched a parliamentary petition calling on the Government to urgently increase college funding to sustainable levels, including immediate parity with recently announced increases to schools funding. They need 100,000 signatures to get a debate in Westminster. You can sign the petition here:petition.parliament.uk/petitions/229744
Frack Free Ryedale are a campaign group opposed to the environmental destruction caused by fracking. They are calling on unions like UCU and branches like ours to support their campaign, and we will be discussing a motion to do so soon. For more info, see here:
Fighting Racism and Fascism Today: Lessons From The Past
To coincide with Black History Month, Stand Up To Racism North East are hosting 'Fighting Racism and Fascism Today: Lessons From The Past' at 6.30 PM on Thursday 18th October in the Lindisfarne Room (Hadrian Building, King's Road, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU). The event is co-hosted by Newcastle University Student Union and supported by the UCU Branch. In an era of Trump, Tommy Robinson, and the expansion of the far right across Europe, the echoes of the 1930s are too loud for us to ignore. Stand Up To Racism are building a mass movement in order to fight the ever increasing threat from the far right, but in order to do so, we must look to lessons from the past. Stand Up To Racism's predecessor, the Anti-Nazi League, defeated the National Front of the 1970s, turning the tide on a culture of racism and the threat of fascism in Britain. We will be joined by Paul Holborow, founder of the Anti- Nazi League, with other speakers to be confirmed.
End Violence Against Women: 25 November
Join TUC womens’ group and join millions across the globe who will be marking the annual United Nations Day to End Violence Against Women (25th November) with demonstrations and marches. Reclaim the Night came to the UK 40 years ago, in 1977. One of the first marches took place in Leeds where women took to the streets to protest the police requesting women to stay at home after dark in response to the Yorkshire Ripper murders. Placards read “No curfew on women – curfew on men”. It is hard to believe we are still marching 41 years later, yet the recent outpouring of #MeToo on social media only makes it clear why this is important. The statistics speak for themselves: two women a week are killed by their male partner or ex-partner. One in three women experience sexual abuse of some kind in their lifetime. This is unacceptable and must stop. For more info on campaigns around this, please see here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/blogs/un-international-day-elimination-violence-against-women-%E2%80%93-unions-must-be-part-solution
Black History Month
To celebrate Black History Month, Jackie Collins and Vicki Murray (UCU’s Equality Officers) organised a very successful film screening in Lipman on 10/10/18. Continuing the creative and celebratory theme, we’re delighted to share the world premiere of this poem by Northumbria’s very own Bard, ‘The Fish Doctor’. Enjoy!