Jean Tully Education Correspondent for the New Times continues her exclusive series about the University of Weeengland: Today Head of the UCU calls for Permanent Revolution in the first of three interviews. (We had planned one interview but the UCU refused to talk unless it had three interviews, like VC Woodley.
Rebecca Halstead, thank you for agreeing to this interview. How long have you been Chair of UCU at Weeengland?
Three weeks now Jean. A lifetime – the revolution never ends, keeps going round and round. Can’t stop time to pause the revolution like those stupid anarchists UWAC demand. They don’t understand the realities of struggle, the need for unity, for organisation…living in their rabbit hutches, occupying the odd house here and there, dribbling on about the centralised state apparatus…These new anarchists, they are like rebellious teenagers. It is time for them to learn about…
So this is a new role for you then?
Yes, Thomas Kucinski resigned as chair, unexpected but after 22 years in the role he should have moved on…I mean he was brilliant, he established the best pay and conditions at Weeengland, but the struggle continues.
Do you miss Kucinski? There are rumours that you and he enjoyed lunch hours on seminar room tables? Some insist that you rode your way to power, like many others at Weeengland.
Yes, I know that our dear Vice Chancellor spread this vile rumour. I am not like him or his lackeys. I was promoted to serve the union, to serve its members, to protect HE staff against the war being waged on the public sector. It is sexist, misogynistic and plain stupid to suggest otherwise. Could we talk about the issues… my sex life is the last concern of members.
Your election pamphlet called for permanent revolution. You identified yourself with UCU left and with ALTRA (the Alliance of Trotskyite Revolutionary activists). Some members of your local branch claim that the Union is run by a cabal of intimates out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of most lecturers…
Rebecca do you intend to attack the union and its members throughout the interview? If so I will leave. I represent the mainstream views of the UCU at Weeengland. I was elected in a ballot open to all members. I stood on a platform supporting the UCU left. I could not have a clearer mandate.
33.28% of members at Weeengland voted. Of those 61% voted for you. You have a mandate from 20% of members…
20.3008% in fact.
Aaah so the numbers do matter? And union membership is what, around 47% of academic staff at Weeengland?
So your mandate is 10% of academic staff at the University of Weeengland? Do you suppose that the other 90% are revolutionary Troskyites as well? Do you think that they are committed to your politics? Do they really want more one day strikes allowing the University to put money away, while you all do the job anyway. Have you thought about other tactics?
Is your name Sally Hunt? Sorry, I thought I was speaking to Jean Tully, but some weird phantasm seems to have inhabited your body. Can we stop playing this reds under the beds game. This is the last time – I will leave.
Could you answer the question please. Members I have spoken to are angry with a union they say is prepared to sacrifice one or two days of staff pay without any sustained action which actually targets and damages the University. Is there a point to this peacock like showing off, all bravado with no sting.You might as well peck at crumbs one member said to me.
You can blame Sally Hunt for that. We on UCU left are well-known for our careful deliberations over strategy, tactics, theory and practice. Those deliberations show that what is required is a general strike. We will work tirelessly toward that end.
One last question about this – do you advocate permanent revolution?
Yes. A permanent revolution. An international revolution against all nationalism. A revolution against Stalinism and the bureaucracy of state capitalism. We refuse the idea that socialism in one country is possible, especially in the global capitalist world. Our policies are clear, and our tactics are subordinate to those broader aims.
Right. Of course all members agree with you on those points? Sally Hunt was elected with a huge majority over the UCU left candidate. Perhaps you have misread the mood of members? The Socialist Worker described this election, and I quote, as a ‘Strong vote for UCU Left‘. A very odd suggestion given the complete failure of you and your comrades. It suggested that Hunt won because of red baiting. The Socialist Worker thinks that members do not really know what is good for them, that they were misled, incapable of making fully informed decisions. Is that what you think?
Finally, a serious question. We at UCU left have much work to do. We need to persuade members that we represent their interests. Trotsky was an internationalist and a democrat. We are democrats. We follow fair and honest and open procedures. We are honest about our interests, and we pursue them openly. We need members to understand that Sally Hunt is signing away their pension rights, their pay, and even democracy within the union. We did not get those messages out. We were too polite, putting the unity of the union above the interests of the union. Hunt has now shown her true colors. We will fight…and win.
But the UCU left lost 29 0f the 30 positions on the NEC up for grabs in the election. How can you possibly take that position? The problem is your politics, rather than Hunt or the election. You need to wake up if you are not going to remain a marginal fringe group eliciting no more than a noise pollution order from the authorities?
Jean, history is not written today. We will be proved right. For now we must recognise the difficulty of any revolution in this world. There are no longer world leading states where the proletariat have seized power; there are no longer any bastions of hope. In dark times we do not give up. I know that Trotsky is right, in most respects. I believe in revolution against these reborn Thatcherites running the country, running our University, and even running some of our departments, I must believe that it will happen. I intend to be there…
Do you realise that you sound like a member of a religious cult?
Oh come on Jean, let’s talk about the University. Let’s talk about Weeengland.
Weeengland is at the centre of a revolution in British Higher Education. Your VC has privatised all services, has outsourced security, has agreed research contracts with arms companies…the list goes on an on. Your union seems to have no influence whatsoever over the future of the University.
It is true that we have not blocked the gradual privatisation, the gradual destruction in fact, of the public university. We’ve allowed private patents on publicly funded research; we’ve allowed the mortgaging of our estate to private companies; we’ve outsourced services; and some Universities have already begun the process of outsourcing teaching. We have to strike, and if we fail we have to strike again. We need continuous action whatever the consequences. Sally Hunt is a sell out with her £100 000 salary, and her failure to defend the interests of members.
Is the private life of the Vice Chancellor an issue? It does seem that privatisation has gone hand in hand with sexual corruption throughout the institution.
Jean did you know that the word privatisation was originally used to describe the economic policy of the Nazis? Read the latest edition of LRB. Why? The Nazis as Sidney Merlin put it ‘facilitate the accumulation of private fortunes and industrial empires through privatisation and other measures.’ Now, this is a Nazi government, clothed in liberal skin. Our VC is a perfect example. His hunting trips with ARMSCORP, his lunch time assignations with the Head of the Faculty of CRAP are only part of the story. He is one of those privateers, the buccaneers, whose accumulation of a private fortune is facilitated by the kleptocracy run by Cameron.
Your University failed to meet its recruitment targets this year. The consequence, VC Woodley insists, will be job losses. He blames the union, says that your boycott of clearing meant that tutors were uncertain about what to do. Many staff have said the same thing.
We called for a boycott, but realised that this tactic was a mistake. The failure of the University is a failure of the VC and his management team. They must resign. Once that happens staff can take over the running of the University rather than these trumped-up imitations of neo-liberal capitalist swine. VC Woodley is a despicable man, despicable. He even tried to seduce me during our last negotiations. The Head of CRAP was sitting opposite me, blithely rabbiting on about her recent meeting with a REF panel member. He stroked my leg under the table. I thought it was…I removed it straight away. He smirked. He will be investigated for sexual harassment but of course he denies any wrongdoing.
Rebecca Halstead, Head of UCU Weeengland, thank you. We will return for the second part of this exclusive interview later in the week.