Today the AUT is taking a full day of strike action. Like many others involved in ENGAGE, I’ll be on the picket line outside my place of work, asking other union members to take strike action with the rest of us, getting some press coverage for our dispute, chatting to other AUT members. After today’s action, we go into ‘action short of a strike’ – primarily this involves withholding marks from students - in protest at the unwillingness of the employers – the UCEA – to come up with a reasonable pay offer.
The dispute arises from the failure of the employers to agree to improve salaries despite the inflow of money into universities as a result of the introduction of tuition fees. The government promised us that this increased income would be reflected in increased salaries, but is now backing away from that promise. Whatever we thought of the introduction of tuition fees – and plenty of lecturers were against them – it is unreasonable to refuse to deliver on those promises.
What has all this to do with boycotting Israel and anti-semitism? Two things.
First, there will be some unpleasant arguments on some picket lines today. At the worst, some of us in ENGAGE got denounced as ‘Zionist Scabs’ by the least restrained, the most self-indulgently adolescent of the boycotters last year. The boycott battle has left a legacy of considerable disagreement and bitterness, for which the boycotters themselves are largely responsible. They chose to raise the boycott – which they now admit was only ever ‘symbolic’ and a ‘gesture’ into the foreground of the AUT, without any concern about the consequences of their actions for the unity of the union.
Second, there is something ordinary about this dispute that observers should recognise: it’s an ordinary struggle by ordinary trade unionists, for a decent pay offer, and the employers are involved in the usual tactics of counter-argument, trying to suggest that we are all terribly well paid, and have nothing to complain about. When that happens, you look for support from others who understand the dispute in these familiar terms, others who have been through the same sort of thing: you look for expressions of solidarity. And you get them. The National Union of Students is supporting our action, and so are our colleagues in universities in other countries.
Here is the letter from the Chair of the Coordinating Committee of Faculty Associations in Israel, Prof Zvi HaCohen, as posted on Labourstart:
to: Ms. Sally Hunt, General Secretary of AUT
Dear Ms. Hunt
I'd like to offer our support of the AUT struggle for a pay increase. We strongly believe that a nation's success is directly linked with the level of education provided to its people. Higher education is one of the best criteria for predicting national growth and success. This can hardly be done without properly compensating the faculty. We wish you success in your struggle for a reasonable salary, especially as I understand that the requested increase would come from top up fees, rather than directly from the employers. We too were involved in a prolonged series of negotiations lasting almost 5 years to improve our pension. It ended only after we have notified the universities and the ministry of treasury that unless the contract is signed we would declare an open ended nation-wide strike.
On behalf of my colleagues I'd like to wish you success.
Prof. Zvi Ha Cohen
Chair, the Coordinating Council of Israel's Faculty Associations
Chair, BGU Faculty Association
Maks and Rochelle Chair in Desert Research
J. Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research
Ben Gurion University
The Coordinating Committee of Faculty Associations is the organisation that Sue Blackwell and other boycotters declared ‘not to exist’ during the boycott battle. It is the organisation she refuses to recognise, or listen to. In this, she is at least consistent, since she denies the right of Israel to exist.
The Coordinating Committee of Faculty Associations is an ordinary committee representing ordinary academics in ordinary universities. In the past, it’s been involved in disputes just like ours, with the Israeli government, and doubtless it will be, again. The academics involved in the Israeli Faculty Associations recognise our dispute, and support us. But the boycotters want to exclude these academics – just at the moment that they express their solidarity with us in our dispute – from research collaboration, from journals, from conferences. The boycotters still pursue a covert campaign against individuals with affiliations to Israeli institutions, ignoring the opposition of the representative bodies of Israeli academics, ignoring the Faculty Associations, ignoring the Coordinating Committee, ignoring the widespread opposition of Israeli academics. These people, they still say, are uniquely complicit, are uniquely suborned, are different.
Here’s how I see it. There are some nasty characters in Israeli academia, some with racist views. (But this, is unfortunately, not unusual - this week a rather unpleasant racist lecturer came out of the woodwork at Leeds University). There are plenty of Israeli academics with whom I disagree politically – I’ll be hoping for a Peretz victory later this month. There are plenty more with whom I agree that Israel, embroiled in a nasty conflict with the Palestinians, is often, and in large measure, culpable in that conflict. I have ordinary political - and philosophical - arguments with my colleagues in Israel, and at Palestinian Universities as well, and those will continue. So will the straightforward expressions of solidarity from and to academics around the world when they try to improve their pay and conditions.
There’ll be some terse arguments about the boycott on AUT picket lines today, mainly thanks to the nasty rhetoric of the boycotters. And it’ll be cold. But I’ll be warmed by expressions of support from colleagues and students in the UK - and from further afield, too.
Open University AUT
Israeli Academic Union Sends Message of Support to AUT in its Dispute Over Pay - Jon Pike
Added by David Hirsh on March 06, 2006 06:06:00 PM.