Since Keele University management announced its plans to make redundant 57% of teaching staff in the School of Economics and Management Studies before Christmas, Keele UCU, students and staff in SEMS, and Labour and Socialist Students have been rallying opposition to the cuts. While negotiations have been taking place, lecturers and students have kept management under pressure. At the chancellor's annual lecture, the UCU-backed protest made national news and Janet Finch, the vice chancellor and mastermind of the cuts, made a show of speaking to activists in front of the assembled press pack. All the while, messages from alumni, academics, UCU branches, and specialist journals have been pouring in expressing their support for the campaign, and significantly Keele University Students' Union voted last week to back UCU action by a wide margin.
Today's demonstration signalled the campaign is moving up a gear. Around 200 members of staff and students assembled on the Concourse to march on Finch's office in Keele hall to deliver a UCU letter outlining our demands which, at this stage, are no to compulsory redundancies and an extension of the consultation period. Upon our arrival at the hall no one was surprised to learn she'd taken leave that day. Chopping jobs and courses is much easier if you don't have to face those who are affected. We then marched back to the Chancellor's Building where we listened to several short contributions.
First was the outgoing Keele UCU president, Colin Whitston. He outlined several areas where management have already been forced to retreat. In their haste to dispense with SEMS they overlooked the small matter of abiding by government legislation on redundancies, skill and equality audits, consultation periods, etc. He pledged that if Finch was serious about talking (she failed to turn up for scheduled negotiations in London last week) then the UCU will be happy to come to the table. If not, a combination of strikes and actions short of a strike will make her life miserable over the coming months. Naz Patel, president of KUSU (and sporting a Che t-shirt for the occasion) said the student body will back the UCU 100% because it is their interests that are under threat too. Mary Davis of the UCU exec brought solidarity from the national union. She attacked management for their arrogance and greed, as well as noting the dispute here is of national significance. If the VC can get away with such a large programme of redundancies, that will be a green light to rapacious managers elsewhere. That is why the union has made Keele its key priority, and why the rest of the labour movement needs to rally round as well. Finally, a Unison regional official pledged the solidarity of its members on campus (Unison represents most of the support staff).
Provided all the campus unions stand side by side, and with the strategy the Keele committee is pursuing, we can beat off this attack. This blog will cover any significant developments.