An Open Letter To the UCL President and Provost

Dear Malcolm Grant,

On April 14, you issued in your weekly newsletter to staff a statement about the relationship between different kinds of UCL worker. The newsletter was about the preeminency of the ‘academic mission’ at the institution. Referring to workers in ‘Estates, or Registry, or HR, or Finance’, you earnestly declared that between these workers and ‘the academic mission’ (we assume that this means academics), there is not ‘a relationship of master and servant, but one of partnership; and therefore one that must command mutual respect, not subordination.’ Though we would prefer to say that the relationship should be one of ‘community’, not of ‘partnership’ (this is an unfortunate lapse into business jargon), we think these are fine sentiments, and an accurate depiction of how life at UCL ought to be.

Unfortunately they are a complete falsification of how life at UCL is. Currently, and in total contradiction with your public posturing, you and your colleagues in senior management are planning to outsource 94 members of staff from cleaning, portering, security and catering, and to make redundant another sixteen. On May 4, in two weeks time, the consultation period for this decision will be over. Since there seems to have been very little public discussion around the issue, we write this letter in order to make its significance a little clearer. In short, we think that your treatment of non-academic workers in UCL is less ‘respectful’ than it is abominable; and, furthermore, that it is indicative of a completely pernicioustendency in the mistreatment of non-academic staff in UK universities at large.

You and your colleagues believe (or in any case you say that you believe) that the decision to outsource will allow you to better administer your ‘core’ services, namely research and teaching; because of it, senior management will no longer be burdened with the supervision of ‘peripheral’ services such as those provided by the staff you have targeted. This will increase the ‘efficiency’ of the college’s operations.

Thus your justification. However, since you seem resolutely immune from the knowledge of what outsourcing means for the staff involved, those please allow us the opportunity to apprise you of those consequences. The lesson might be instructive.

Outsourcing staff to the private sector means transferring in-house contracts to private contractors. Unlike noble public institutions like UCL, which are at least nominally exempted from the need to accumulate capital, private sector contractors must turn a profit if they are to remain competitive. Historically, they have done this by pushing down the wages of their workers. The UCL staff transferred to contracts with private contractors are ‘protected’ from attacks on their pay and their conditions (by TUPE regulations), but this merely incentivises the private contractors to seek technical grounds to dismiss them. Once this has been done, new workers can be employed on worse conditions, with fewer benefits, to be exploited at a higher rate. Of course to you this makes no difference, because by transferring responsibility to a private contractor, you can claim that this is out of your hands. It isn’t.

Workers moved to private sector contracts are moved one step closer to redundancy. But this isn’t all. While they wait to be nudged into unemployment, they can expect to be withdrawn from the UCL pension scheme; they can expect constant illegitimate tampering with their hours; they can expect discontinuity of workplace; they can expect the derecognition of their union, and subsequent debarral from union representation; they can expect dislocation from and discoordination with their colleagues who remain employed by UCL. These are the inevitable consequences of outsourcing; it has happened time and time again; and if you proceed with your plan you are directly and incontrovertibly responsible for all of them.

As you and your staff in human resources orchestrate all this, in typically cheerful disregard for the damage you inflict on the poorest workers in the institution (and more on this at the moment), UCL runs a surplus of £29 million pounds per annum on a turnover of £762 million. Despite the fact that this is the second largest operating surplus in the field of UK Higher Education, and despite the fact that you committed last year to provide for all staff the London Living Wage, you apparently will not extend to your workers the very rudimentary stability that secure, in-house contracts, decent pension provision and union representation afford. And as if this weren’t grotesque enough (it is grotesque enough), you write in your weekly staff newsletter that UCL is a ‘partnership’ in which all staff, no matter what their function, are deserving of ‘mutual respect’. This is so odious as to be beneath contempt. Academic staff know that community with support workers cannot be achieved if those workers are (as in the private sector they almost always are) employed on short term contracts, overstretched, overworked and shunted from workplace to workplace. You have absolutely no right to vapid paternal attitudinising about ‘mutual respect’ when you treat the poorest staff in the College so viciously.

Let’s say something about those staff with whom you believe yourself to be in ‘partnership’. These are a group of people who, like so many of the poorest working people in London, are mainly non-white; they exhibit a roughly even gender split. In this respect they strike a contrast with you and the Vice-Provosts, all of whom are white men. Already the staff targeted for outsourcing earn very considerably less than academic staff, and only a fraction of what you and other senior managers at UCL earn, in handsome return for your virtuoso displays of moral vacuity and managerial hubris. But, no matter, ‘efficiency’ demands that you abandon those targeted staff to the private sector, so that, once removed from your narrow field of vision, they can be abused even more authoritatively by companies whose profitability is a direct consequence of their expertise in abuse, for the greater benefit and efficiency of the UCL community. This is the ‘partnership’ of the employer’s boot and the employee’s chest.

To summarise: outsourcing at UCL is financially needless, extraordinarily damaging for the staff affected, and related to the UCL community only in the sense that it’s likely to annihilate it. It is carried out in line with a managerial philosophy that is both cruel and stupid; and it is publicly justified by nothing but chicanery churned out in the propaganda reports that you style ‘weekly newsletters’. In opposition to this process, UCL students and staff will conduct the consultation with the UCL community that your official ‘consultation’ has so manifestly failed to provide. You can anticipate the disgust of that community; certainly you fully deserve it.

In a period where a government elite, mouthing their own dismal platitudes about ‘community’, enthusiastically trample their way towards economic recovery, it’s difficult not to respond to news of the outsourcing with a sense of deja vu. The fight to resist the wholesale and complacent abuse of the poorest workers in UCL is part of the fight against the abuse of precarious (academic and support) workers in universities across the country, in a period when universities are bent ever further out of shape according to the ‘needs’ of the market, under the direction of managers whose wages are proportionate only to their contempt for the people who work in the institutions they destroy.

Yours Sincerely,

Anti-Cuts Space London

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‘The Scab’ by Jack London

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.
A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.
When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.
No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.
Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab.
For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.
Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.
Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commision in the british army.
The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.
Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country.
A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

scabs vs students, Columbia University 1968

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Bloomsbury Fightback meeting on Wednesday

Wednesday 16th March, 1pm-3pm
Birkbeck, 43 Gordon Square, Room B03

On March 22nd and 24th, UCU members will be going on strike over pay freezes (or pay cuts, when adjusted for inflation) and attacks on their pension scheme.

The meeting is for Bloomsbury students and union members, and will provide the ideas and the materials we need to get the campus to support the UCU strike. We’ll be handing out flyers and posters, getting a rota sorted, talking about how to convince fellow students and colleagues to go to the pickets and not to their classes, and preparing other actions for a strong, effective strike in the run up to the TUC march on March 26th.

Bloomsbury Fightback! is a group that brings together students and union members who wish to create a broad oppositional front against austerity in the university and more generally.

We’ll also be flyering on campus every lunchtime (meet outside SOAS), and the local tube stations. Come join in, the more the better – because the union keeps us strong.

Date Location Time
Thursday 10 March 2011 Goodge Street Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Friday 11 March 2011 Holborn Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Saturday 12 March 2011 Camden Town Sainsburys , Camden Road 12noon – 1pm
Sunday 13 March 2011
Monday 14 March 2011 Russell Square Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Tuesday 15 March 2011 Euston Tube & BR Station 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Wednesday 16 March 2011 Kings Cross Tube & BR Station 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Thursday 17 March 2011 St Pancras Station 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Friday 18 March 2011 Tottenham Court Road Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Saturday 19 March 2011 Camden Town Sainsbury’s , Camden Road 12noon – 1pm
Sunday 20 March 2011
Monday 21 March 2011 Euston Square Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Tuesday 22 March 2011 Warren Street Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Wednesday 23 March 2011 Kings Cross Tube & BR Station, St Pancras Station and Russell Square Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Thursday 24 March 2011 Euston Tube & BR Station, Euston Square Tube and Warren Street Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm
Friday 25 March 2011 Holborn Tube, Tottenham Court Road Tube and Goodge Street Tube 4.50pm – 6.15pm

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Solidarity message from Islington anti-cuts group

IHOOPS wishes you well in your continuing struggle.  We condemn the violent action by the university and their contracted bailiffs.

It is likely that the reason for the escalation in their behaviour is
the very purpose of the Anti-Cuts Space: to unite students and others
in fighting the cuts. We must not be divided and we look forward to work closely with you in maximising the numbers at the 26th March demonstration and the inevitable actions that will need to follow, as we build a massive movement to divide then kick out the coalition Government.

We wish you well in finding a new space.

Andy & Shirley,
Joint Chairs
Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS)
http://www.ihoops.org.uk/

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Undercover Surveillance of Student Activists

During yesterday’s eviction we became aware of non-uniform police surveillance of the occupation. If you have any information on the person in these photographs (i.e. if you recognise him from previous protests, if you know him to be a police officer, or if you know him to definitively not be police officers, please get in touch.)

We observed him a couple of hours later making some kind of drugs bust, but during our eviction he just stood outside taking photos and making phone calls/recordings.


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PRESS RELEASE: Student protesters violently evicted by university

ALL PRESS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

At around 4:30pm on Thursday 3rd March, bailiffs entered a property in Bedford Square owned by Royal Holloway, University of London in order to violently evict protesters. This is the first use of bailiffs against students by their own university in Britain in decades. Students and activists had taken over the property to create an “Anti-Cuts Space.”

The Anti-Cuts Space was created as a resource and meeting-place for activists and anyone involved in new social movements to fight the Government’s austerity measures. It was opened on Friday 25th February in a large Georgian house. The space aimed to revivify the student movement by making connections with wider anti-cuts struggles across London.

Throughout the occupation there was little negotiation offered by the university, and where communication existed the university Registrar, Mr. Simon Higman, backed up offers of discussion with threats of violent removal. Nonetheless, many members of staff, including many members of university unions UCU and Unison across the University of London, had expressed support for the occupation.

The occupiers received a notice to quit on Tuesday, followed by the delivery of court papers on Thursday only an hour before the case was to be heard, leaving no time for a legal defence of the protest to be prepared. By Wednesday afternoon a possession order had been issued by the high court.

During the eviction, bailiffs damaged the external and internal doors of the Grade 1 listed property. Upon eviction, the activists took to the streets, blocking Gower Street protesting that the bailiffs had prevented access to their property that had been left in the building. The police were forced to intervene, demanding that the bailiffs allow students access in order to retrieve these items.

The use of such force by a university against its own students marks a sad day for Higher Education in Britain. That an institution would inflict such violence upon its own members demonstrates the total alienation of students and managers within the sector.

We believe that such violence is never necessary, and hope that during imminent future occupations universities will feel no need to resort to such means. We hope that victimisation and abuse of protesters yesterday will serve as a stark reminder that education is about people, not buildings, about learning, not institutions.

ENDS

For further information please contact anticutsspacelondon@gmail.com or follow http://www.twitter.com/anticutsspace. Further reports will be posted on https://anticutsspace.wordpress.com.

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They came through the roof…

Tonight’s events are all cancelled due to tonights illegal eviction. Bailiffs gained access to the building from the roof, occupants had no choice but to leave.

Full account coming soon.

Keep watching anticutsspace for the future.

Solidarity,

Anti-Cuts Space

 

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