Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Branch AGM

The Branch held its Annual General Meeting on 11 March in Senate House. The event was standing room only, with over 70 members packed into the room. Members heard speakers on the London Living Wage Campaign (Greg Brown), and on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe (Leo Zeilig). Unfortunately, one guest speaker was not able to attend as she was detained by Zimbabwe security forces.

After the speakers were heard, members had the opportunity to consider reports from the Chair, Treasurer and Branch Officers. The Branch also elected its committee members for the next year.

Before breaking for a well-deserved lunch, the local Unison officer presided over the 'Recruit a Friend Prize Draw', where a member from the Courtauld Institute won an ipod. Four other lucky members received runner up prizes including a £100 red-letter day voucher, and book tokens.

Please see here for full minutes of the meeting.

Bloomsbury Fightsnack

A campaigning picnic on Thurdsay 28 April, 12 noon-2pm, UCL Quadrangle Courtyard

See map here.

Bloomsbury is biting back at the assault on our public services. Teachers, health workers, students and university staff are mobilising across our community to say: we’re not swallowing your cuts!

Take an activist lunch-hour and meet other Bloomsbury trade unionists and campaigners to exchange experiences and learn more about:


Join Bloomsbury Fightback on Facebook or by emailing

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Pay Negotiations

The first set of national HE pay negotiations took place on the 20th April. The Joint HE unions presented the national pay claim which they had submitted the previous day. The unions vigorously pressed the case for a need for a decent pay award this year linked to inflation to offset recent poor pay settlements in the sector. The employers responded, presenting their own background paper, which predictably sought to plead poverty. After a frank exchange of views the employers undertook to respond to the claim by the next scheduled meeting at the end of May. The unions made it clear that they expected an offer in response to their claim at that meeting. A copy of the claim and the employers background paper can be found at this link Joint Pay Claim

Friday, 15 April 2011

UCL Outsourcing Campaign - Public Meeting

Come to a meeting organised by Bloomsbury Fightback! At the meeting speakers from local Bloomsbury Colleges will talk about what outsourcing has meant for their pay and conditions. Then we'll plan the next steps for the No Outsourcing! campaign.

We can win the battle against outsourcing through unity with our union members in a collective united campaign.

Thursday 14 April - 6pm
Foster Court, Room 101

Any questions, contact / 07783 719479

Thursday, 14 April 2011

UNISON on the march

There was a great turnout from the branch for the massive March 26 demo - see above for some pictures featuring the first appearance of our new customised Senate House banner. If nothing else, it performed the vital service of obscuring the Communications Officer's face...

Friday, 8 April 2011

Senate House UNISON condemns proposed outsourcing at UCL

UCL management are planning to outsource 94 cleaning, portering and security staff to private contractors. The majority of these are UNISON members. If they are outsourced, they can expect the following:
  • to lose their pensions
  • to have their terms and conditions worsened
  • to face redundancies, and receive lower redundancy payments
  • to lose union recognition
  • to be totally separated from their UCL collegues
There are no good reasons for outsourcing to occur. UCL is one of the richest universities in the country. It is not in debt. The decision to outsource displays total contempt for the people who work to keep the college running.

UCL management evidently believes that support workers exist to perform menial tasks and should be procured at the lowest possible cost. We utterly reject this. We believe that support staff, academics and students are all part of the same community. Everyone in that community deserves equal respect. All workers deserve decent pay and conditions.

What can I do?

Our first task is to defeat the proposed changes. We don’t have much time. Consultation ends on May 4. Therefore we want to get as many people as possible involved in a big grassroots campaign, involving support workers, academics and students.

Bloomsbury UNISON and UCU branches, along with student groups and other activists have formed Bloomsbury Fightback! A mass meeting is being organised, where speakers from local Bloomsbury Colleges will talk about what outsourcing has meant for their pay and conditions, and the campaign's next steps will be decided.

If you want to get involved and help, contact for more information.

Pensions - Let's step this campaign up a gear

Last week we came to winning on some amendments to the Pensions Bill in the House of Lords – amendments that would have reduced the impact of the government’s unfair changes to the state pension age that are making thousands of women wait up to 2 years longer for their pension.

We now know that the Bill is due for it third reading in the Lords at the end of April – that means that it’s likely to move to the House of Commons in May.

This could be our last chance to stop these changes. We need to convince MPs to oppose them in Parliament. That’s why we have called a local 'weekend of action' on April 15th and 16th. We need as many people as possible to go and see their MPs in their local constituency surgery, and explain why the government’s plans are unfair.

Help us take this campaign to the next level. Sign up now to lobby your MP next weekend.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A Letter to the Vice-Chancellor

Senate House Unison branch strongly disagree with our VC’s support for a letter in the Telegraph defending the increase in student fees. While we recognise that Professor Crossick defends raising fees only in the light of the recent withdrawal of funding from higher education, the change in funding is also a political decision which must be opposed – and one which is not expected to save much money in the short term.

Higher and further education are vitally important not just for individuals but also for society. An educated workforce is an advantage for the country in many ways, and access to higher education for everyone is crucial if we are to emerge from the recession and build the economy. As workers in higher education we are also concerned about our own jobs and working conditions and about the increasing commercialisation of the higher education sector. We support the students, the NUS and UCU and oppose both the removal of government funding from the HE and FE sectors and the rise in fees that this will lead to. We call upon our VC to do the same.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Why Black History Month (still) Matters

October is Black History Month: the foremost opportunity – for all communities – to remember and celebrate the place of Black people in the annals of Britain's past.

Before we proceed, it's worth dwelling briefly on the term Black, as used in UNISON parlance. Black, is a broad political term, spelt with a capital 'B' to distinguish it from the colour black. It describes those non-white communities in Britain that suffered colonialism and enslavement in the past, and, today often face racism and diminished opportunities. Africans and Asians used the term routinely during the UK antiracist campaigns, which became pronounced from the seventies onwards. The west London women's rights and advocacy group Southall Black Sisters – with its primary focus on vulnerable Asian and African-Caribbean women – is a perfect illustration of the term's usage.

While debates over the suitability of the term Black are almost perennial – after all, for example, many reasonably ask, what about the cultural distinctions between Africans and Asians? Or, what of marginalised non-Black ethnic minorities, such as the Irish? – a satisfactory new vocabulary has yet to be created. And, for the time being at least, the prevailing sentiment at UNISON Black Members' conferences is to remain, solidly and straightforwardly, Black.

So then, in our multicultural era, why do we continue to hold a Black History Month? In short, because Black history has (still) yet to become fully mainstream. For example, not so long ago, I – surely like many others – was never taught at school that the Indian contribution to Britain's forces in both World Wars outstripped that of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. In World War II, India supplied a massive 2.5 million personnel. The curriculum also failed to cover African regiments which fought across continents for Britain.

Black History Month then, is an attempt to get our story known. And, to some extent, it would be fair to say that such aims are being realised. Our experience is slowly becoming better, and, more widely appreciated. We must not be naïve however; Black history still plays second fiddle to a traditional interpretation, which has Europe as its locus.

Perhaps ironically, Black History Month is not only a period for reflection on the past; simultaneously, during this time, we are prompted to consider the status and vitality of Black communities in the present. When the Commission for Racial Equality was replaced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission three years ago its final report was entitled: "A Lot Done, A Lot To Do, Our Vision for an Integrated Britain". Here is an excerpt:
Only a few decades ago, it was acceptable to put up a sign in a boarding house or B&B saying 'No blacks, no Irish, no dogs'. We don't see those signs anymore, thanks to the race relations legislation that made them illegal, as well as thirty years of hard work by the Commission for Racial Equality and others in changing the national mindset to make them morally inconceivable.

But let's not kid ourselves. Britain, despite its status as the fifth largest economy in the world, is still a place of inequality, exclusion and isolation. An ethnic minority British baby born today is sadly still more likely to go on to receive poor quality education, be paid less, live in sub-standard housing, be in poor health and be discriminated against in other ways than his or her white contemporaries. This persistent, longstanding inequality is quite simply unfair and unacceptable.
As the above being the sum of our immediate prospects, and with the government's savage budget cuts predicted to disproportionately hurt Black communities, initiatives like Black History Month – with its ability to help lift spirits and facilitate debate – clearly remain crucial in the continuing struggle for the economic and cultural progress of Black communities throughout Britain.

Let us all have an enjoyable autumn and stimulating Black History Month.

Eren Panesar (Black Members Officer)

UNISON in combination with the wider trade union movement - has long campaigned with, and for, the interests of Black people. Typically, Black trade unionists receive better pay & conditions and are less likely to face discrimination at work than non-unionised Black workers. As a means of tackling the marginalisation Black people often face in society, UNISON Black members ‘self-organise’;
as do women, disabled and LGBT members. ‘Self-organising’ brings members with common experiences together and helps them to effectively consider, raise and resolve issues of concern arising at the workplace and beyond. All Black members (and interested nonmembers) wishing to receive UNISON’s informative quarterly publication ‘Black Action’ or discuss relevant issues should get in touch with the Senate House Black Members Officer

Comment: Was the University’s response to acts of God, adverse weather and travel disruption fair?

Readers will remember the travel chaos caused by Iceland's volcanic ash cloud in 2010. Some members and employees holidaying around the time faced problems trying to return to work on time. In response to these unforeseeable events the University has made those affected use their own time or pay – by taking unpaid leave or using one's remaining annual leave – to cover any absence. This is unlike those on University business at the time, who received payment for the period.

The Senate House UNISON Branch considers this move on the part of the University to be unfair. We believe that it is 'University business' to ensure that our hardworking members and other employees are able gain a proper work/life balance – especially through the use of their annual leave entitlement, in full. We all know, and are proud of the fact, that the University is a vastly successful and growing global institution. Given this standing, it is surely reasonable to expect the University to bear the burden of extraordinary events rather than individual members and employees.

London Metropolitan University granted 'Special Leave' status for its employees affected by the volcanic ash cloud. We call on our University to do the same.

Egypt, Tunisia and the Middle East

By any measure January and February have been extraordinary months. Within several weeks two dictators, who were feted and dined for years by their Western sponsors, have been overthrown. In Egypt the events have caused commentators to talk about a period of ‘democratic opening’ and a ‘wave of popular politics’. In both revolts, it has been the involvement of the trade unions that has made the decisive difference. The strikes in Egypt, in the second weeks of the protests, in mines, public institutions and universities helped to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak left office.

There are two elements of these extraordinary revolts that need to be remembered. In the UK we have been fed a series of myths about the Arab world. We were told that democracy was a pipe-dream in the Middle East and that change could only come through armed intervention from the west. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have proved otherwise.

For trade unionists in the UK there is another myth. For year’s trade unionism has been derided as old-fashioned and impotent as a force to change the world. Instead we were left with the pessimism of declining trade union membership and the sense of quiet resignation to privatisations and restructuring. On a global scale we can see the importance of organising in work places, for both the immediate defence of our jobs, but also for wider democratic demands.

In the months ahead, as Egyptians and Tunisians, continue to struggle to maintain the momentum of their movements, and the demands of their revolution Unison members should be ready to provide solidarity for their struggles.

Find more UNISON news on: