‘We can win. We will win. We must win.’ – London Met University Dispute
UNISON and UCU branches at London Metropolitan University believe the suspension of 3 staff members is part of attack by the university authorities after high-profile union campaigns against privatisation of services at the east London campus. Below Louise Raw gives her view:
Management at London Metropolitan University (LMU) have suspended three staff members and subjected 2 more to hours of interviews. A packed meeting on Tuesday called for their immediate reinstatement, as union officials and colleagues accused management of attempted union busting and victimisation.
All staff work for the internationally-recognised Working Lives Research Institute, which is dedicated to social justice and works with the trade union movement. Its Swedish counterpart, with which WLRI worked closely, was shut down overnight when a reactionary government was elected.
A senior LMU figure had recently been heard to talk of the need to ‘cleanse’ the ‘oppositional element’ within staff. One suspendee, Max Watson, is a dedicated Unison activist and NEC member who has consistently opposed the universities’ attempts to privatise. Just before his suspension, Unison was threatened with derecognition. Watson was attacked personally in an open, all-staff email, because he had advised members they did not need to co-operate with notorious outsourcing firm Capita, brought in by the University to advise on cuts. This is union policy.
Newly-elected staff governor and WLRI employee Jawad Botmeh was also suspended, and WLRI’s head Steve Jefferys followed.
Al three are accused of potential misconduct around Botmeh’s employment. When he applied for a temporary post Botmeh declared a past criminal conviction. Watson, who was administering interviews, consulted with Jefferys on this and the two men checked university policy. They found the conviction made no difference to the application, and proceeded accordingly. Botmeh was exceptionally well-qualified, holding a Master’s degree, and was hired.
In 2010 Botmeh applied for a permanent post and again declared his criminal record. He was appointed. In 2013, after Botmeh’s election to the board of Governors, his appointment suddenly became an issue- though the university has not been able to suggest any rules or procedures broken- and the men were suspended.
Their treatment has been extreme. Watson was given 70 minutes notice of his first hearing, and was surrounded by security guards who would not allow his representative through.
At the first ‘Stop the Witch-hunt’ campaign meeting on Holloway Road on 5th March, Mike MacNeil from the University and College Union said that, as no offence had been committed, a deeper agenda must be at work.
He called the suspensions ‘crass stupidity’ and warned that they were ‘on message’ with wider government policy: ‘The heart is being ripped out of our unions and public services…trade unions are at the forefront of combating this social vandalism.’
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, said it was clear LMU was victimising trade unionists involved in opposing cuts. ‘The whole university sector is watching. This is a fight we have to win or trade unionists will suffer the consequences for years.’
A message of support from the PCS NEC read ‘Witch-hunts don’t identify trouble-makers; they identify the heroes of our movement’.
Jefferys and Watson spoke movingly of their personal ordeals and thanked supporters, with Jefferys concluding
‘We can win. We will win. We must win.’
For next events, messages of solidarity, model motion for union branches and details on donations:
Louise Raw is the organiser of the first annual Matchwomen’s Festival, celebrating 125 years since the women’s inspirational strike.
Saturday July 6th 2013:
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