by Mark Harrison
In November 2009, the management of Manchester Metropolitan University announced plans to shed 127 members of ‘support staff’ from their workforce; this follows a period of manifest ‘natural wastage’, which has left the library devoid of staff. Amongst students, those of the flagship art department will be hardest hit. Artists have complained that their courses will become ‘unviable’ with the loss of technicians and studio time.
The UNISON branch secretary made a firm verbal attack against management, highlighting the Vice Chancellor John Brooks’ £250,000 annual salary and the 7% increase in his pay packet as well as the development of new sites by the university, a £1.3 million budget surplus for the year 2009-10 and the fact that the cuts were announced before Alistair Darling’s 2010 budget. The union called for a vote of no-confidence in the VC whilst condemning a growth in the number of highly paid managers and “years of mismanagement”.
Initially it appeared that strike action would be likely, union stewards called a number of demonstrations which were attended by hundreds of angry workers. Unfortunately anti-union laws and the trade union bureaucracy combined to diffuse the workers’ anger. Due to the fact that the union had to hold three separate ballots, it was not until May, five months later that a vote for strike action was taken. This ballot returned a 53% ‘yes’ vote on a 50% turn out, enough for a strike, however regional full timers – who had earlier ordered that only official union reps could wield megaphones and that they must confiscate those brought by ‘trouble makers’ – did not allow the strike to go ahead.
There has also been a shocking lack of co-operation between trade unions at the neighbouring universities where cuts are also taking place. Nevertheless, management have seen this as an opportunity to do away with a number of union militants at MMU. They have repeatedly been refused rooms in which to hold public meetings and have been told that their number of part time reps will be reduced from three to one. Management’s aggressive tactics and the bullying culture they employ in the workplace paid off as a number of workers decided to jump ship and accept ‘voluntary’ redundancies.
The Students’ Union, occupied by Labour, Liberal and Tory hacks was, unsurprisingly, passive. Despite Rob Boardman, president of the Union and a card carrying Labour member, commenting that as a member of a trade union he had his ‘sympathies’, he failed to come out in support of strike action.
By the end of the academic year the union had managed to negotiate the number of compulsory redundancies down to around eight people, doubtlessly supplemented by considerable voluntary redundancies. Of course this is only the beginning, a new onslaught on jobs is expected in the new year, which once successful will be followed by an attack on teaching staff.
The new academic year will also see a fresh set of ‘indy green’ types occupy the Students’ Union executive and I think it will be important for socialists at MMU to pressure them into radical action.
See http://tiny.cc/eq8co for more info and to get involved in the student-worker anti-cuts coalition, the ‘Manchester for Jobs and Education’ campaign.