When I made a brief comment on twitter last week on the importance of the ongoing strike, I had no anticipation of how quickly events would escalate. On Monday morning, it looked like there had been some “progress” in negotiations between representatives of the “employers” and those of the academic staff. But then, from Monday afternoon and for 24 hours, an amazing mobilisation under the demand #NoCapitulation energized every union branch and member who assembled early on Tuesday (see here, here, here, here & here for examples); their representatives then carried as a mandate the grass-roots resolve to continue the struggle for the pension scheme to be fully protected. With many Vice-Chancellors having changed their position after connecting with the academics at their institutions and because of the miscalculations that had been used to justify the cuts by the employer representatives, it looked like the right thing to do. The sector would come closer together to bring about a better result, at least where healthy elements prevail. Under these circumstances, the union headquarters decided for the strike to be continued.
Any managers insisting to attack the pension contributions should now be isolated to avoid producing further disruption. Unfortunately, the Principal of Queen Mary falls in the above category. He failed to represent the College’s views and instead infuriated everyone by refusing to exclude a plan of redundancies should pension rights be respected. An open letter by the School of Geography, seconded by the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) signaled the views and determination of colleagues locally. A few years back, when the first attack to the pension scheme took place, only a handful of us in SBCS standed on the Mile End Road picket lines at the union’s call, although collective letters defending student education had also been written at the time. Now, the the local unions requested solidarity and as part of the mobilisation, a group of students occupied the Octagon and, with expressed support from the Student Union, they set out their demands. They also composed a song to the College’s Principal, although I am not sure that he deserved such nice treatment. 😉
I was moved by the upheaval, despite the geographic distance that separates Mexico from the United Kingdom. I postponed my planned experiment (forgive the mention, but not doing an experiment is an important concern to an active scientist just like not lecturing to your students hurts colleagues that are taking action) to write a letter to the students sitting at the Octagon. Doing so, I recalled some of my previous communications where I had tried to explain that the College was charging fees way above its true expenditure on their studies. Why should universities charge more than they need to if they are public institutions? Memories of what happened to the large class I used to teach, revived. John Allen’s ordeals by those who departed to Scotland or Hong Kong, after damaging Queen Mary, came to mind (as did other injustices). I petitioned the Chairman of Council and the Principal to correct such unlawfulness, but to no avail (they bear the major responsibility for what was going on). Students had also written in before the decisions to restructure that led half of the Faculty to eventually leave the College had been implemented. Afterwards, things fell more silent. Little space for hopes to grow at the East End. The new Principal announced further accumulation of money was due. What for? Was it to enable borrowing to finance subsidiary companies? Who controls these companies and what types of benefits are open to various university-affiliated individuals offering services? Who pays for the multi-million losses? Is this the right way to run a university?
When everything seemed to have come to a deep winter halt, along with the flowering spring comes a fresh struggle that brings the next generation of students fighting at a higher level. Thank you and good luck. At every moment, remain connected to all students & staff in the College. In unity, lies strength. The battle to regain control of the University is one that requires perserverence & commitment. I hope to see many more colleagues demanding their say, when the College eventually returns back to functioning normally. We have a lot to learn from you.