One lecturer in further education in the West Midlands has been sacked for his role as an active UCU trade unionists, and measures are being taken against three others. Darrall Cozens, a UCU member in the West Midlands, looks at the background to the case of the “Halesowen four”.
On a cold but dry morning, Monday, January 7th, between 40 and 50 trade unionists from UCU and other unions “picketed” three entrances to Halesowen College lobbying staff and students as they went in. Why? On December 20th a popular Maths lecturer, Dave Muritu, was sacked by the Principal and today was the first day back for the College after the Xmas break.
In Further Education, staff members are usually sacked because of gross misconduct, poor teaching or capability. The college has admitted that the evidence they used to sack Dave did not support an accusation of misconduct. So was it capability? The College claims that Dave was dismissed on the basis of student results in Maths exams. Yet his course results are above the national average and from the College’s own lesson observation procedure he has been graded at Level 2, which is good.
Dave is not alone. Three other Maths lecturers also face disciplinary procedures with the imminent possibility of dismissal. Did they all have “bad” results? Have they all been judged on capability grounds and found to be wanting? Or is there another reason?
It is no coincidence that these measures are being taken against active members of UCU. Dave is the Branch Secretary for Halesowen UCU. The only possible explanation, therefore, is that this is an attack on trade unionism, on the right to organise and defend members. It is also an attack on education as students will now be taught by replacement teachers who they do not know. Dave and the Maths team are committed to the principle that all students, no matter where they start from, have the right to education and the right to try to achieve their potential.
The College claims that the results from the Maths department are not good enough. So UCU members from Halesowen have some questions for College management.
- Why did they refuse to pay for specialist cover, despite having a financial surplus and therefore having money to spare, to cover long term sickness and paternity leave?
- Why was there a lack or organisation in the staffing of cover?
- Why were Maths lecturers expected to teach two different classes at the same time in two different rooms?
- Why were student groups pushed together even though they were supposed to be covering different material?
- Why were lecturers expected to do up to 7 cover slots with no allowances for planning and assessment?
- Why were non-specialist staff regularly covering Maths sessions?
- Why did the College fail to provide teaching for students in the vital run-up to exams?
Despite the incompetence of the College in their mismanagement of the Maths department, the results obtained were above the national average. Yet teaching staff are blamed, face disciplinary procedures and are sacked. Furthermore, even before Dave had gone to a disciplinary meeting to decide his fate, adverts had been placed to recruit new Maths teachers!
Up and down the country FE college management are testing the water. They know full well that even greater cuts are on the way. They also know that UCU has been at the forefront of defending education, students, jobs and wages. And UCU reps are now being singled out for dismissal. The employers’ logic is simple. We will cut back provision and get rid of anyone who stands in our way.
Just before Christmas, the employers’ organisation, the AoC, announced that it was withdrawing from national agreements on sick pay. Over the past 20 years since Incorporation, when FE colleges were effectively privatised, the same plan has been followed. Terms and conditions and wages have been steadily eroded to cut costs. You even remove the slightest element of democratic accountability by having unelected Boards of Governors. Now the remaining barrier to further cuts, the trade unions and their elected reps, are to be confronted.
All of this fits in with the “logic” of the Coalition. You “solve” the crisis of capitalism by cutting public spending to reduce the deficit but by cutting you also reduce demand in the economy, so the overall debt does not go down as quickly as you had expected. So you now introduce what are called supply side measures. You get rid of anything that increases costs to the employers. You attack Health and Safety provision. You demand that anyone taking an employer to court for unfair dismissal puts up £1200 for the case to proceed. You campaign against the so-called “compensation culture”. You reduce the redundancy notice period from 90 days to 45. You attack facility time that enables trade unions to reach and organise their members during working time. In short, you undermine all of the democratic rights and protection at work that decades of struggle have been able to achieve.
What has happened to Dave Muritu and his fellow UCU trade unionists is part and parcel of this process. The crisis of capitalism demands cuts in public spending and any opposition to these cuts has to be neutered. That is why Dave has to be defended for if Halesowen College succeeds in this issue, it will give the green light to college management up and down the country to go on the rampage against trade union rights and trade union elected officers.
The Justice for the Halesowen 4 Campaign asks you to do the following:
- Sign the petition at http://tinyurl.com/Halesowen4
- Send messages of support to the Branch at HalesowenUCU_branch_secretary@hotmail.com
- Join the campaign to reinstate Dave and to defend other lecturers under attack.
- Contact the College Principal to protest about the dismissal and call for Dave’s reinstatement. Email him at KBATE@halesowen.ac.uk or write to him at Keith Bate, Principal, Halesowen College, Whittingham Road, Halesowen. B63 3NA.
However, there also needs to be a political response. We are in this mess because of the crisis in the capitalist system and until that system is changed, we will always have periodic crises that working class people and their organisations will be made to pay for. That is why the need for a socialist solution to the crisis is needed now more than ever.