The Essence of Solidarity (or, why the lecturers were right to boycott marking, and why you were wrong to scab on them)

July 30, 2006

Far be it for me to teach proclaimed socialists and progressives the essentials of worker solidarity, but when people I know and respect start posting anti-union bile on an anti-socialist blog (in this instance, Students Waiving Placards, an anti-SWP Livejournal community), I feel the need to intervene. These people are my friends (you know who you are), and a friend, when seeing another friend making a massive mistake, you step in and tell them so. It is in this light I hope my friends see this entry.

The entry in question is ‘The AUT Strike’ and you can read it – with comments – here.

I’m going to approach this in a Q&A style, and answer the many glib comments that come up.

The unions were just busting to go on action! They couldn’t keep it in their pants! So to speak…
Despite what most people think, unions don’t like going on strike. They’re an absolute pain in the arse, you lose a day’s pay, and the union bureaucracy would rather sit in nice meeting rooms, eat nice biscuits, drink nice cups of tea (or coffee) and generally get chummy with management. That, after all, is the role of the union bureaucracy; the labour lieutenant of capital, as Marx (or was it Lenin? I forget) oft said.

In any case, current strike levels are still well below their 1970’s levels. Even days lost to industrial action short of a strike were down.

The AUT dispute had been dragging on for several years. There have been a series of one day strikes which achieved little in the face of a determined management. This is not something that happened at the drop of a hat or came out of the ether. Pay rises in acedemia – controlled by a sub-committee of Universities UK – had either been below, or at the rate of, inflation for many years. A pay rise which is below the rate of inflation IS NOT a pay rise – it is a pay cut.

But they’re using the students as pawns!
Really? How so? Because they boycotted marking instead of research? Well, considering this is a lecturer’s strike, over lecturer’s pay, then it would make sense to target areas of work related to lecturing. Remember, the AUT had a series of one day strikes which did nothing. It didn’t even bring UUK to the negoiating table.

The AUT aren’t just using the students to get what they want. The AUT were fully behind the NUS’s opposition to tuition fees (when the NUS were opposed to it), they actively lobbied and fought against top-up fees (wheres the NUS did very little) and, where they are lead locally by a leadership of militants, do fight for students. The AUT have been there for students, because, without students, they would be out of a job! They have put their necks on the line for speaking out against their employers – the university VCs who lobbied for tuition fees, top up fees and for the abolishment of the fees cap. That takes guts.

Whereas those students who oppose the AUT now seem to welcome the AUT’s help when it suits them, but when the AUT need solidarity (note that the AUT never actively sought student solidarity, and only made a hoo-hah about it when socialist NEC members of the NUS managed to win a motion of solidarity with the AUT – a huge mistake on their part) you turn your backs on them. Some friends you turn out to be.

The AUT are being selfish!
As I have shown above, the AUT have always supported students when they have struggled. Apart from their opposition to fees, they also supported the NUS’s Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free campaign, as well as numerous other campaigns.

In the face of an unrepentant, savage management, the AUT have shown remarkable restraint (they shouldn’t have, as it goes). UUK promised pay rises when tuition fees were introduced – they did not appear. UUK promised pay rises when top up fees were introduced – they did not appear. Yet the AUT only took action in May – and won.

The AUT didn’t want to negoiate! They wanted a 40% rise!
This is a lie. All the AUT wanted was to bring management to the negoiating table. The AUT wanted to negotiate. They wanted to bargain. And they did – they settled for less than that, for 20% (or there abouts) over a number of years.

Lecturers are loaded! They’re being greedy.
Some are, sure. But not the majority of them. Lecturers on lower pay scales, who do the actual nitty-gritty of helping students, earn on average £18-20k per year. When the average graduate these days will start out on around £20-22k, this is a joke.

The ancillarly staff associated with the striking unions accepted the 12.6% but were knocked back by the lecturers. (Verbatim quote)
This is also a lie. The ancillary staff form a seperate bargaining unit to the lecturers. The anc staff (who are in UNISON I believe) decided to accept 12.6%. They should have held out for more, but to say that the lecturers scabbed on the anc staff for holding out is absurd. Indeed, the anc staff blackened any lecturer-related work, an action of solidarity.

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