Friday, 22 February 2013

Fightback Against the Trade Union Witch Hunt at LMU

Following the suspension of Jawad Botmeh and Max Watson at London Metropolitan University last week, part of a trade union witch hunt, and following a threat to de-recognise UNISON, the head of the Working Lives Research Institute (and where Jawad and Max are based), Steve Jeffries, has now been suspended also.
The charges against all three are hoaxes and screens to mask an attack on an Institute whose central role is the development of radical, transformative research and education which resists the type of marketised-privatised agenda of the likes of Malcolm Gilles, Vice Chancellor at LMU.
Details of the LMU UNISON campaign against the suspensions can be found here:
Also, below is the statement from Steve Jeffries calling on trade union support to attack the suspensions and call for reinstatement. Beneath this is the letter from Steve to LMU Governors and provides their contact details:
Do everything you can to support Steve's request - this is truly a fight to protect trade unionism and basic human rights - Ian.
Dear Trade Union Friends,

I'm writing to let you know that I was suspended on Wednesday by Londonmet after a 45 minute investigation into the WLRI because I appointed a former prisoner who had served 13 years imprisonment to a part-time, casual three month maternity cover job in our social justice Institute.
Did I know that his conviction in 1996 was for conspiracy to blow up the Israeli embassy? Yes. I also knew that he had been refused parole for 6 years because he maintained his innocence, and that Paul Foot and Robert Fisk had campaigned for him. And I saw his CV which included his having completed an OU degree in sociology and an MA in Peace and Reconciliation (with merit), as well has having been prisoners' rep on equality issues.
But actually, although this all made him an ideal person to work with us, I felt there was also a basic human rights issues involved. Do we give people a second chance?

The inference involved in my suspension and possible disciplinary action is that either I was involved in some highly sophisticated conspiracy to place a Palestinian terrorist 'sleeper' in a position where he could influence young minds and eventually get elected as staff governor (which five years after Jawad Botmeh started work has now triggered three suspensions), or that I was criminally stupid.

Everyone who knows me or my work knows that I am a principled socialist. But for me, my decision not to discriminate against this applicant whom I had never met, and whom Max Watson (a now very active UNISON trade unionist who is also suspended) had met once at a party is actually the survival of a liberal approach to others in my university. If a Research Institute dedicated to the promotion of social justice in a public institution will not give someone like Jawad the chance to work, who else will?

You'll realise that we are all in a state of shock. Three of the 13 WLRI staff are now suspended. Two others are still under investigation. I fear for our future - just weeks after celebrating our tenth anniversary.

The email addresses of Malcolm Gillies, VC, and the other governors are below. Please do inundate them with emails protesting this awful situation. The UCU and UNISON are united in supporting the three of us who are suspended - and your protest, and those you can encourage others to take, will strengthen their hands in the 'informal contacts' that are taking place in the hope of preventing the university from taking the next step of firing those it has suspended.

Thanks in advance

All the best


(1) My letter to London Governors after suspension
Subject: Suspension of Professor Steve Jefferys
 Dear Governor,
l have worked at Londonmet since 2000 as a research professor. In 2002 I jointly founded and then led the Working Lives Research Institute as its Director. In August 2012 I was appointed Director of the new Faculty Advanced Institute for Research within FSSH, now the largest faculty in the university. In its first 10 years the WLRI brought £7m revenue to the university from externally funded projects. In that time we won 6 ESRC grants, 7 EU DG Research Framework grants, 3 Leverhulme Trust, 2 Nuffield Trust, 2 Joseph Rowntree Foundation and 2 British Library grants. During this time we secured 34 grants carrying out research of trade unions in the UK and Europe, and carried out 13 studies for UK Government departments, 2 for Norwegian government agencies and one for the French ministry of labour. My most recent appraisal (January 2013) states
He has also played an important role in supporting senior managers in the Faculty both through his invaluable contribution at management and executive groups but also in his wider role in the University. I’m indebted to Steve for his support and contribution throughout this period.
Yesterday, however, after a preliminary investigation lasting 45 minutes, and just four weeks after Jawad Botmeh, one of the WLRI admin staff, was elected staff governor, l was suspended with instant effect by the HR Director for "potential gross misconduct" five years ago by not referring Jawad's original application in 2008 for a part-time three-month casual secretarial appointment as a maternity cover to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, my then line manager. I had recommended the appointments of 15 casual staff before Jawad without referring any of them to the DVC, and had not been informed by the university that anyone who declared a criminal conviction should be referred upwards. If I had been informed that this was the policy, as I told the investigation today, I would have adhered to it. But I was not told this was the case, and no-one at the hearing today could refer me to a policy suggesting we should discriminate against people who had served prison sentences, or against people with particular kinds of convictions. Neither, during the first decade of the WLRI when a total of 50 staff were recruited was I ever given or offered any training in recruitment procedures. So when I was asked by one of my admin staff, Max Watson, whether or not I considered that Jawad's application should be treated in the normal way, I looked at his CV, covering letter and reference, which included the fact that he had an OU degree and Coventry University MA and had been a prisoner's representative for equalities, and replied yes. That is then what happened. Three other colleagues interviewed him for this casual post, and decided to recommend to me that I appoint him, which is what I did. The WLRI mission to undertake 'academic, applied and socially-committed research and teaching emphasising equality and social justice into all aspects of working lives' includes both appointing a highly diverse workforce and offering people a second chance.
Jawad worked effectively, diligently and was an excellent colleague, and when in 2010 an 18-month post was advertised, he applied for it - and declared his conviction on a form which this time procedure meant went to HR, who then organised the interview and upon his being recommended by a three-strong interview panel wrote to him offering him the post. HR approved the post, and in so doing endorsed my earlier decision not to make his lengthy prison experience a reason for not employing him. A month later, the University dismissed him because of a Home Office letter saying incorrectly he did not have the right to work; but a week later when they revised this advice the University reinstated him. Again it is not credible that no-one in HR opened his file at this crisis point. Back at work he continued to work effectively in his new role - as indeed he has done up to two weeks ago when he and Max Watson were both suspended. At no point prior to his election as staff governor was my initial decision not to discriminate against him in 2008 questioned. He worked for nearly five years and was praised by all who worked with him.
I sincerely do not believe I have done anything wrong. With the advantage of hindsight I might have approached the then vice chancellor or the DVC informally for their opinions. What they would have suggested can only be a matter of conjecture (I believe they actually would have said, 'give him a chance'). But to suggest that not making that approach can - five years later - be termed 'gross misconduct' worthy of instant suspension is clearly unfair. Unfair on me and on the WLRI's record in social justice research. It is also clearly unfair that Max Watson should be suspended for his involvement in the appointment. He met Jawad once and drew his attention to the vacancy we had at the WLRI, and then properly asked me whether I considered in the light of all the facts it was appropriate for consideration. Jawad, too, is being treated unfairly. He served time for a serious offence, he declared his conviction, and then worked as an excellent colleague for five years. Should ex-prisoners not be given a second chance?
Finally, I believe these suspensions are unfair on the whole university. We have come through so many problems in the last four years - some externally and some internally driven. This is not the moment to jeopardise student recruitment and our reputation again. I do hope you will exercise your influence now to secure rapid and meaningful negotiations to resolve what is a totally unnecessary conflict.
yours truly
Professor Steve Jefferys
Director, Faculty Advanced Institute for Research,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities

Friday, 15 February 2013

Cruddas,Thompson & The Category Error


Please excuse a brief post but I needed to write something as a reaction to the statement by Jon Cruddas on Newsnight on Wednesday in suggesting that "foodbanks are here to stay". The man who ostensibly is in charge of New Labour's policy review then went on, as these people do, to reinvent and re-categorise, fundamental concepts of working class and labour movement history.

Cruddas: A history lesson is in the post

Indeed, so flawed was the Cruddas attempt to make food banks analogous to labour movement history that I am going to post to him one of my dog eared copies of the seminal Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson, which coincidentally celebrates it 50th year of publication.

Thankfully Thompson is not alive to hear Cruddas engage in what constitutes a category error, that is when "a sentence that says of something in one category what can only intelligibly be said of something in another", and by that I mean the disgraceful attempt to align the spirit of the 19th century labour movement with that of the expansion of food banks under the austerity-driven policies of the Coalition.

To understand what I mean, have a look at this post supplied by the Ipswich Unemployed Action:

When Cruddas confuses 'self-help' with foodbanks he does himself and the Labour Party a profound discredit as he obscures a scenario where the explosion of food banks is in direct correlation to the massive expansion of poverty across the UK. This is evident who you look at those who are reliant on foodbank provisions: refugess and asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, the young homeless, the disabled who find that benefit reform has removed a means by which they can maintain dignity in independent living. And that isn't including the significant number of those in-work and in receipt of the benefit, the very people who disrupt the cosy, arrogant notion of the division between strivers and skivers.

At my most cynical I can only think that the gambit of Cruddas is to institutionalise foodbanks so that as poverty lingers under a New Labour government they are soon as a core, constituent and acceptable means by which you deal with an inability on the part of the large portion of the UK to maintain decent living standards.

Whilst I remain a member of the Labour Party I utterly reject what is happening here and voice this criticism whenever I can, and using the most distinct means possible.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Still the Enemy Within: The Miners' Strike 30 Year Anniversary


Very well done to Sinead Kirwan and Mike Simons for getting together (using the Kickstarter platform ( the money needed to film and record material which will be used to create a film to mark the 30th anniversary of the 84-85 miners' strike. The link to a film clip is below, it may take some time to load/play.

A central theme of this project is that the miners remain, in Thatcher's vindictive terms' the enemies within'. It's not surprising that ex-miners and their families still feel this legacy as the current battle against blacklisting and fight for an inquiry around police corruption during the Orgreave dispute (generated as a result of the expose of official police corruption during Hillsborough) reminds us as trade unionists that the state (not least in the guise of the police and secret service) have consistently been complicit in working with governments and business to attack basic freedoms and ultimately to attack trade unionists (and their families) if/when they appear to be gaining strength.

The film will be made this year and I do hope that Ruskin College (and more importantly Northern College - given its central role in the dispute and its strong historical relationship with the NUM) will be a venue for a screening of this during 2014.

In Solidarity


Monday, 11 February 2013

Stand Up - Start Living: CWU Black Leadership Weekend

Thanks to (from left): Roseberry, Lloyd, Jonas, Sylvia.Olufemi, Prince, Worrel, Sadiq Khan MP (guest speaker), Adam, Bash, Pete, Moses, Hayden, Shaik, AJ, Linda Roy (CWU Nat Equalities Officer), Sammy and me on the end.

Just recovering from a tremendous weekend of solidarity and action leading a CWU black leadership course at the union's education centre in Alvescot, Oxon.
The first thing I must state unequivocally is how committed and supportive the entire group were to discussing and analysing the current state of BME representation in the union, and what they, and other black workers, must do about it.
As part of this early discussion, the group adopted as their unofficial motto the phrase used by the striking WalMart workers in their fight for greater representation in the union: stand up, start living.
The focus of the weekend was the recently completed Proportionality Report which paints a poor picture of BME (and other eg women, LGBT etc/) representation across the union: no FTOs, no NEC reps for starters. The mood throughout the weekend was never pessimistic however, indeed, the ultimate focus was upon the reponsibility of those attending to effect change.
The guest speakers (Zita Holbourne and Sadiq Khan) sparked huge debate around, for example, austerity and its impact on BME communities, and thus the need for a wider relevancy on the part of trade unions.
Ultimately, the weekend was fundametally positive and focused and one of my most enjoyable experiences recently of working with BME activists on issues of leadership and activism.
Many thanks to Trish Lavelle (Nat Education Officer) for the time, energy and committment in getting the weekend off the ground and for leading Sunday's session on the Proportionality Report. Thanks too to AJ Singh for acting as an outstanding role model - something thrust upon him - throughout the weekend and who helped to shape the debate.
This weekend - beacuse of Trish and those attending - is the start of something great!
In Solidarity
More pics from the weekend.....
The young, black voice of the CWU - Hayden and Mosi

Myself, Prince, Zita Holbourne, Hayden and Mosi after Zita's
speaker slot on Friday

Reflection and analysis were central to the weekend's focus
as with Prince and Roseberry here.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Mark Serwotka at Ruskin College (05-02-13)

Serwotka at Ruskin:
The Coaliton - dangerous for

Many thanks to Mark Serwotka for taking the time out to speak to a large gathering of staff, students and visitors tonight, and to my colleague for Peter Dwyer (tutor in radical economics for organising the event). Although I am far too old and cynical for hero worship, Serwotka automatically gained a thumbs up from me when he kicked off his speech by stating how important that his talk, the trade union response to austerity, was taking place in the UK's historical 'college of the labour movement'.

Indeed, having just recently spoken at the infamous Westminster School (educator of the likes of Nick Clegg) Serwotka was clear that Ruskin was a place for the 'ideas and debates' which are key to the way we promote working class interests - welcome words indeed.

His talk whilst wide ranging was fascinating in that it fell naturally into much of the territory that Ruskin's international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) programme falls. His analysis of the current failure of pockets trade union leadership to take a decisive position on the 2012 TUC motion on a general strike was a case in point. For some, he argued, the call for a general strike was an attack on democracy. I agreed with his own position, which is that much of the Coalition's policy is the actual site of anti-democratic practice, the academies programme being a pertinent illustration of this.

The sense of urgency behind the TUC motion is felt palpably my many in the movement as it reflects what Serwotka referred to as the 'perfect storm' of economic crisis, with the poor and unemployment at the sharpest end of its impact, and frontal assault on trade unionism via the attack, for example on facility time.

That PCS will take a principled lead here is without doubt, my major concern however is the leadership of the remainder of the movement. Those who follow such things will know that the unified trade union front on public sector pension reform dissipated soon after the November 2012 action when the government succeeded in fracturing this coalition by offering different trade unions different deals.

As the impact of Coalition policy widens and deepens however, it is becoming increasingly difficult for reactionary elements within UK trade unionism to maintain a mantle of 'no to austerity' without providing a definining sense of what this alternative is, and in what way this provides a radical alternative to government economic and social policy.

So, the next 12-18 months in the UK will be defining for UK trade unionism, and as the period when the build up to the next general election starts. By then we will also know what a general strike, if it comes, means in this context - it is all to play for.

In Solidarity