Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
London Met Unison members celebrate victory over the university’s ‘shared services’ proposals. Photo: David Hardman
Since January 2012, London Metropolitan University Unison members have been engaged in an ongoing fight against wide-scale privatisation proposals. This autumn we won a huge battle against the university’s ‘shared services’ plans, and we can hold our heads high going into the next round of battles. We feel it is worth reflecting on how our successful fight against privatisation fits into the wider issues of what is happening across higher education (for more detailed background, see Andrew McGettigan’s article).
The universities minister David Willetts is like the Michael Gove of higher education but without the full support of the rest of the Tory right wing. He’s been encouraging greater outsourcing, more privatisation and so called ‘shared services’ initiatives, and London Met management has been dancing to this tune – much to our exasperation.
Why? Just after the general election in 2010 our vice chancellor, Malcolm Gillies, appointed David Willetts’ long-standing senior Tory adviser, Jonathan Woodhead (who did a masters degree in war studies at King’s College), on a £75,000 per annum contract as executive officer. A year later he appointed as deputy chief executive Paul Bowler, an ex-banker with a reputation as an asset stripper and with close connections in the City. It was Bowler who set to work on the shared services proposals, which were announced by the vice chancellor two days before the 2011 Christmas holidays.
With a history of struggle, it was inevitable that our Unison branch would resist these proposals and we threw everything we could into making them unworkable. As it turned out, another wing of the ‘nasty party’, represented by home secretary Theresa May, wasn’t on board with Willetts’ neoliberal experiment either. Her department threw a spanner in the works by taking away London Met’s licence to recruit international students in August because she wanted to cap migration numbers.
It was in this context that when the shared services proposals were finally dropped in October, our members were rightly celebrating the vindication of our campaign but at the same time worried about what is round the corner and shocked at the damage already caused by the international students fiasco.
Rather than simply try to negotiate a transfer to a new company, we had agreed to fight the proposals outright, which helped to delay and disrupt the plans until it was too late to implement them. It proved to be the right course of action. The university conceded on ‘admitted body status’ to the local government pension scheme, for example, only after a great deal of pressure from our campaign and only after we announced our intention to ballot our members for industrial action.
They knew we would win a resounding ‘yes’ vote and could take potentially very disruptive action short of a strike, as well as smart strike action, over their plans to change the identity of our employer. This was backed up by the recent landslide victory for the Unison candidate who stood for election to the board of governors on an anti-shared services platform.
This was the culmination of a long member-led campaign, in which we used everything we could from a union organiser’s toolbox and engaged the imagination and creativity of our members. Posters and fliers were pinned up all over campus. We covered up the university’s ‘Proud to be London Met’ marketing slogans and replaced them with Unison placards that read ‘Not allowed to be London Met’. An email campaign, which the university tried to block, gained the active support of more than 100 members. Local MP Jeremy Corbyn signed up to our cause. And we organised a ‘virtual lobby’ of the governing body, which involved 50 Unison members photographed individually wearing a campaign t-shirt and carrying a placard against privatisation that was sent as a slide show to the governors.
Our media campaign was successful too, ensuring we changed the narrative from ‘shared services’ to privatisation, which the university was keen to play down; and we called on the support of our allies in the University and College Union (UCU) and students’ union.
When the overseas students fiasco hit us we took the opportunity to link the issue to privatisation and insisted on the governors dropping their ‘shared services’ proposals in order for us to work together on that issue and get our house in order. Diane Abbott MP, among others, has acknowledged that our campaign was instrumental in winning a judicial review of the UK Border Agency revocation of the university’s licence to recruit international students and eventually the governors accepted that to focus on getting our licence back they had to drop their deeply unpopular privatisation proposals.
Union members recognise that we continue to face an uphill struggle and the university is financially weak but we are stronger and better prepared for battles ahead knowing that – against all the odds – we defeated the pet project of our government-backed vice chancellor.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency