The seeds of justice

Paul Mackney's bold message as he steps down from the helm of the UCU

At midnight, I stopped being joint general secretary. Ten years ago this week I announced my candidature in the election for general secretary of Natfhe. It's a tribute to trade union comradeship that three of my co-contestants are here today.

While you wouldn't say I'm as happy as Popeye on shore leave, I do recognise the need to move on. Spare ex-general secretaries hanging around are not a pretty sight. I'm not quite at the departure gate to retirement.

But I am on the move from "Who's Who?" to "Who the hell was that?" From today, until Christmas at least, I will be University and College Union associate general secretary. But I will be seconded three days a week to the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education as their associate director for further education.

I am sure the UCU will go from strength to strength. It will hold its leaders to account. Natfhe activists didn't let me get away with anything.

That's the way it should be.

It will be bold in recognition that you don't necessarily get what you deserve, you get what you fight for. It will distinguish elitism from excellence and be the guardian of the colleges and universities. It will take the high road to justice. Eventually, by dogged persistence, it will rectify the anomaly of unequal pay.

It will champion the causes of the excluded. It will soon learn that without organisation you're cotton buds with attitude. I hope it will beware of the myth of a golden past, recognise the pace of change and eschew strategic objectives that assume things ought to be a lot more like they never were than they ever were.

It will be clear that, as with actions to save Esol, campaigning works, especially when combined with broad alliances. It will be clear that it does matter whether you win or lose; it isn't sufficient to know where to place the blame.

It will learn that they take us to the cleaners if we do our dirty washing in public. It will be political, though not party political, to operate effectively in a highly political environment. It will stand in solidarity with the oppressed at home and abroad where trade unionists are persecuted like they are in countries such as Colombia.

On Israel and Palestine it will determine that you have to sow the seeds of justice before you reap the fruits of peace. It will stand against the rising tide of Islamophobia and instruct its members not to spy on Muslim students. It will be resolute in opposition to the BNP and other such organisations.

And the issue is not one of polite academic debate: it's about organised political violence and intimidation of racial minorities and lesbian and gay people. We cannot just ignore fascists and hope they will go away. We have an obligation to ensure that hope conquers hatred and respect replaces racism. Academics are not immune to the lure of obnoxious creeds. In 1930s'

Germany, academics in the heartland of European culture were scrambling to take up the posts of the Jews excluded from universities.

Let's be honest, the Government's hardly been ambitious for F or HE. We didn't expect New Labour government to dance to our tune exactly. But it would have been nice if they could have occasionally hummed along a bit.

There is not only a lot of unfinished business, there's even more un-begun business. The problems nearly all stem from the Government worshipping at the altar of business and failing to deal with poverty.

The first skill too many students have to learn, is how to feed themselves.

Jack Straw, when he was NUS president on a grant, spoke of choosing between a book and a meal. Now students choose between finishing an assignment or doing another shift at the supermarket.

I really do not believe that Middle England is so opposed to redistributive income tax. At the risk of insulting Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the UCU membership is about as Middle English as they come. The passport to a civilised society is progressive taxation. It is obscene that there are 54 people with an estimated income of pound;126 billion who pay an average of only 0.14 per cent in tax, while we fight over pennies.No We need a level playing field for industrial relations rather than current labour law which seems to have the referee playing for the other side.

But we shouldn't be too hard on the Government, they have double standards to live up to - or, as the prescriptive grammarians would have it, up to which they have to live.

* Taken from Paul Mackney's speech which he was due to give today at the UCU conference

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