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Year 2005 No. 68, May 16, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Ignoring the Public Consciousness over Election Results

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Ignoring the Public Consciousness over Election Results

Continued Crisis in Higher Education

Strong Support from AUT for NATFHE London Met Walkout

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Ignoring the Public Consciousness over Election Results

Tony Blair, at his press conference at Number 10 last Thursday, was insistent that, despite the public consciousness that the election results demand a change in the institutions and processes of democracy, the electorate did not want a change in government. He claimed against the evidence that the electorate had sent a message that it wanted the government to "get on and do it", and that the government would push ahead with getting its programme through.

It is the anachronism of the royal prerogative that enables Blair to ingore this consciousness for change, for the exercise of the people’s sovereignty. The growth of the anti-war movement in particular, and its political expression, has highlighted how out of kilter with the popular will is the system of representative democracy. The demand which is now growing is for a role of the people in governance, for the exercise of direct democracy. The fact that Tony Blair can brazenly claim that he has a mandate, and even that there is no need at all for a reform of the electoral system, shows that for a modern system of democracy to be effective, to cast a vote is not enough. The people demonstrated through the results of the election that not just electoral reform of the voting system is required for them to be the genuine decision makers and for the elected MPs to be accountable to them, but that mechanisms are required whereby the people themselves are empowered, whereby they select candidates who represent their interests, and genuinely share power with them and deprive the monopolies of the right to exercise their dictate in every sphere of life.

This is emerging as the crucial issue. The royal prerogative, the sovereignty of the monarch in parliament exercised absolutely by cabinet and increasingly by the prime minister through his personal appointments and his politcal patronage, is the block which underpins the disempowerment of the working class and people. This royal prerogative is being concentrated in the arrangements of the corporate fascist state.

In contrast, the question facing the working class and people is how the electorate can be enabled to exercise their sovereignty. In fact, New Labour, as can be seen, is attempting to go in the opposite direction, of entrenching parties as adjuncts of the state and the executive of monopoly right, despite the trend and demand for change.

So ignoring the public consciousness for democratic renewal and for people to exercise control over their lives, the Prime Minister is declaring that tomorrow’s Queen's speech would set out a " bold programme for the new parliament which starts to implement the manifesto on which we were elected" said. His vision is of a "broad political consensus" around seeking to "embed a culture of rights and responsibilities", by which he means to refer to the subordination of everything to "business as usual" – the continued occupation of Iraq, the attack on rights and civil liberties, the criminalisation of the youth, of dissent and political protest, attacking "immigrants and asylum seekers" in order to attack the rights of all, and delivering social programmes to enrich the monopolies.

According to Tony Blair, some of the solutions may be "difficult", but the disenfranchisement of the people must continue and their responsibility to subordinate themselves to the state must be paramount.

The people’s demand for change is bound to grow, and WDIE calls on the working class and people to intensify the focus of their struggle against the party-dominated system of government and to place a block on Tony Blair’s programme for reaction, chauvinism and dictate.

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Continued Crisis in Higher Education

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) has announced that a rally in support of its members is to be held outside the London Metropolitan University building in the Holloway Road in north London at 1pm on Tuesday, May 17. The NATFHE members have been engaged in industrial action for over a year. The NATFHE staff are taking strike action this week, May 16-20. Anyone who supports the action is invited to come along to the mass meeting.

Academic staff at London Metropolitan have taken action following attempts by the university to impose a contract with inferior working conditions on some and the sending of dismissal notices to 387 staff without any prior warning in April 2004. Academic staff were told by the university that their silence would indicate acceptance of the terms of the contract, while refusal to accept it would lead to dismissal.

In response NATFHE members at the university voted overwhelmingly for strike and other industrial action in June last year. They made it clear that their aims were the withdrawal of the dismissal notices and a fully negotiated contract for all academic staff. Since that time industrial action and an academic boycott of the university were temporarily lifted during talks brokered by ACAS. But these talks collapsed earlier this year when the university refused to negotiate with NATFHE and also refused further mediation. Consequently academic staff voted again to take industrial action including further strikes.

One feature of the current dispute, which is one of the longest running in any university in recent years, is the close co-operation that has developed between NATFHE and the larger union of university academic staff, the Association of University Teachers. Both unions have recently announced that the will ballot their members on the issue of the amalgamation of the two unions in order to establish a new union for those working in further and higher education. In a joint statement Sally Hunt, general secretary of AUT, and Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE, said: "We firmly believe that we need to create a stronger union now capable of defending and advancing our professional interests in an insecure world." Both unions have recently also rejected a pay offer of 5% from university employers, much less that the 11.2% that was demanded. Both unions said that the employers’ offer was "unacceptable".

The dispute at London Metropolitan, as well as that at Brunel and other universities, and the strikes that took place in Colleges of Further Education earlier in the year show that the tertiary education sector in deep crisis not least because of massive government under-funding and rising debts. Universities and Colleges are therefore taking extraordinary measures to cut costs, attempting to impose redundancies, low pay and poorer working conditions as they see fit. There is also considerable pressure on universities to amalgamate in order to overcome the financial and other crises. Recently it has been announced that there is a recommendation that a merger should take place between three universities in Wales, the University of Wales Newport, the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff and the University of Glamorgan. However, the experience of London Metropolitan, which is itself the result of a merger between North London and Guildhall Universities, shows that such amalgamation cannot solve the dire problems facing universities which are likely to worsen when the government-imposed system of student top-up fees is introduced in 2006.

Despite claims by the New Labour government that their main concern is "education, education, education" it is clear that education, like health and other vital social programmes are increasingly geared to the needs of big business, while the working people are made to foot the bill. New Labour and the other big parties have no intention of providing and guaranteeing a fully funded education system that meets society’s education needs. It is such an education system and a society that provides it must be demanded and fought for by all progressive people.

Article Index

Strong Support from AUT for NATFHE London Met Walkout

The Association of University Teachers (AUT) has declared that it is strongly supporting the strike action of NATFHE members at London Metropolitan.

Recently NATFHE negotiators spent more than 43 hours, over nine days, at the conciliation service ACAS trying to agree a new contract for academic staff at London Met. Steve Cushion, NATFHE London Region Higher Education Secretary, said: "We went to ACAS in good faith on the understanding that we and the management side had been charged, by a governors' disputes committee, to resolve the dispute by negotiating a new contract. That attempt failed because of the senior management team’s stubborn refusal to discuss a single contractual term. The management have negotiated a new post-merger contract for the administrative staff but have refused to do so for academic staff."

The threat of dismissal remains over all those staff who do not accept the new contract and, Steve Cushion said, "will always remain as long as senior management insist upon an imposed contract".

AUT assistant general secretary Matt Waddup said: "We send the strongest message of support to our NATFHE colleagues at London Met, and I would urge all AUT members to pass on messages of solidarity during what is a very difficult period."

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