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Volume 53 Number 19, June 25, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Lecturers Refuse To Be Intimidated in Marking Boycott

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Lecturers Refuse To Be Intimidated in Marking Boycott

73rd Anniversary of US Military Aggression against DPRK:
Solidarity with the DPRK against the US

Lecturers Refuse To Be Intimidated in Marking Boycott

Photo: Getty Images

Higher education staff have been engaged in both strikes and actions short of striking as part of their long-running struggle over pay and conditions, in the general context of safeguarding the future of higher education. They have been taking repeated action since 2018. The University and College Union (UCU) has labelled the strikes a "fight for the future of higher education".

UCU strike at Goldsmiths

The dispute is termed by the union the "Four Fights", as it combines action over: falling pay, particularly in the context of spiralling inflation; the gender, ethnic and disability pay gap; precarious employment practices such as contract casualisation and job insecurity; and rising workloads driving staff to breaking-point.

Simultaneously, these workers have been fighting to defend their defined-benefit pension scheme. They have been taking action against damaging changes that effectively destroyed the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). Employers wanted to end guaranteed pension benefits altogether in 2018, which union members blocked, and last year cut pensions by 35%. Out of their sustained actions, higher education workers managed to reverse changes to the accrual rate and salary threshold for defined benefits, which will be returned to pre-cut levels, and the pre-April 2022 inflation protection will remain in place.

Important as this victory is, the Four Fights continue. The UCU recently extended its mandate in that dispute in March, allowing 145 campuses to call strikes for a further six months. The union points out that higher education staff during and after the pandemic generated record income for the universities but have faced pay cuts of 25% since 2009. Meanwhile university vice-chancellors and senior management have been collecting six-figure salaries, say the union. At the same time, some 46% of universities are using zero-hour contracts for teaching and 68% of research staff are on fixed-term contracts.

A key part of the current round of action is a national marking and assessment boycott, which began in April. This is critically important, since the fact that this marking includes determination of final grades means it impacts graduation. Despite claims to the contrary, says the union, the boycott is having a widespread impact, such as the University of Nottingham's default position for students to graduate with "partial degrees".

As UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said in a statement: "This is despite many of you receiving outrageous threats of punitive deductions from employers for daring to make a stand. Many of you have been told you are facing 50% pay deductions, with some employers even going to 100%. These actions are immoral, aimed at intimidating you, and about attempting to break your resolve as quickly as possible." [1] The line taken by employers at Leeds, Kings College London, and elsewhere, is that they do not accept "partial performance", despite these workers are continuing to otherwise teach, lecture, and help students as usual.

This response has been in turn met with further action. On June 15, for example, around 1,800 University of Leeds employees will begin an indefinite strike after management said it would withhold 100% of their wages for participating in the boycott. Nine days of strikes have been initiated by staff at the University of Leicester, and strikes are also being held at Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Westminster.

The punitive measures are of questionable legality, but the odds are stacked against the workers. As Jo Grady explains in her statement: "One of the issues we have is that we cannot commence action against an employer until after deductions have taken place, and a further outrage of the UK legal system means that any claim we do make will be tied up for years before knowing if we have won. Whilst the potential to take legal action does exist, and we will obviously fight these deductions legally where possible, at this point in time the law does not help you."

This situation exposes the nature of the arrangements, and that workers in organising in self-defence are struggling with how to be effective when they can no longer operate within a functioning civil society. Trade unions themselves formed part of that civil society, but the reality of the present is that there is no longer any social contract between workers and their employers: this social relation has become entirely one-sided. The marking boycott is just such an example: universities are coming down on lecturers hard, to prevent them even from taking that action. The recent success over pensions is not to be repeated. Any further success is to be blocked.

This is the challenge facing the workers' defence organisations: how can they go beyond the limitations of civil society, of a civil society that does not even really exist anymore? How can they have any effective role in the new conditions?

Long gone are the days of social democracy, of beer and sandwiches at No. 10, which were ended by Margaret Thatcher. In the past also is the New Labour vision of "partnership", where unions were to have the aim of getting workers behind employers in the global market, so as to "make Britain great again", and as such were a part of the machinery of the state. Nowadays, those in control are smashing any limitations on their ability to act with impunity. Now that the old forms have passed away, they openly reduce everything to a matter of law and order. Nowadays, those in the position of power are simply imposing and are refusing to negotiate.

Those in positions of power and control seek to turn back the clock to a time before the struggles of the workers' movement had won the right not to be criminalised. Self-defence is crucial in this situation, where the very humanity of working people is under threat, and workers must speak for themselves and work for control over their lives.

The pandemic showed the amount of value that workers produce. It is the workers who hold the solutions to the problems in higher education. It is this that the powers-that-be seek to block. The only solutions they envisage are self-serving and capital-centred, based on forcing concessions from the workers. But these concessions are not only not solutions, they are outright detrimental.

The lecturers' struggle is in the context of an ongoing wave of action where working people are beginning to reach the conclusion that their struggle must also focus on creating a society which affirms rights by virtue of being human. In that movement, a consciousness is arising that something new is required. The workers' movement is finding its voice and taking action to declare Enough is Enough!

(Source: UCU)

[1] Statement by Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, April 26, 2023

Article Index

73rd Anniversary of US Military Aggression against DPRK

Solidarity with the DPRK against the US

Korean Friendship Association UK protest outside the US Embassy in
London on June 24th in solidarity with the DPRK against the US

South Korean protests against US military exercises

Sunday, June 25, marks the 73rd anniversary of the US-led military aggression against the Korean nation that started the 1950-1953 Korean War [1]. This US-led coalition of aggression, under the flag of the United Nations, involved troops from 17 countries, with Britain as one of the leading forces. Aimed at occupying the whole of Korea, the war lasted three years until the US, Britain and the troops from the south of Korea were defeated and the US was forced to sign the armistice on July 27, 1953, 70 years ago next month. This weekend events are being held in Britain and around the world to start a month of expressing solidarity with the DPRK and against the US, and paying tribute to the heroic Korean people who continue to affirm their right to be by fighting for an independent and united Korea, and for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang mass rallies took place at different parts of the municipality on June 25, the day of struggle against U.S. imperialism. More than 120,000 working people and youth and students in the capital participated.

Today, the US with the south Korean military are marking this anniversary by once again staging five ongoing "combined joint firepower annihilation drills" targeting the DPRK. Four of these exercises were in June. Also, last week it was reported that the USS Michigan, one of the largest nuclear missile submarines in the world, "capable of launching special forces missions", was in south Korea as part of these exercises. The statements say it is part of the recent bilateral agreements on enhancing "regular visibility" of US strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula in "response to North Korea's advancing nuclear programme". That the DPRK defends itself against US nuclear weapons, which have always been present, if not "visible" on the Korean peninsula, is not a crime but is its right in the context of the ever-present US nuclear blackmail and threats. It is the right of all nations and peoples to defend their self-determination and peaceful development.

These ongoing military and nuclear weapons exercises on this 73rd anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War are not only the largest in many years but are accompanied by false claims that such exercises are "defensive" to the Republic of Korea (ROK). It is clear that they are now openly aimed, as they were in 1950, at waging war against the DPRK, at "occupation of Pyongyang" and at a "beheading operation". As they did before in 1950, the US and its allies wheel out the false claims that it is the DPRK that is the "aggressor" and threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Il Sung, President of the DPRK and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army in the Korean War.

Condemning these exercises in April when they were announced, a KCNA commentary [2] pointed out that the exercises demonstrate that the hostility of the US to the DPRK has never been greater. The commentary added that this hostility is reminding the people and army of the DPRK of the aggression of June 1950, when they were subject to this war crime against the people of Korea, and is further arousing the greatest vigilance against the military and nuclear aggression posed by the US on the Korean Peninsula. On June 15, a representative of the Ministry of Defence of the DPRK issued a strong warning against the "combined joint firepower annihilation drill" targeting the DPRK.

In the Korean War, three million people died at the hands of the Anglo-US forces in Korea. The US carpet-bombed the DPRK and there was hardly a brick left standing in the cities and towns of the north. The US and their allies did not hesitate to use terrible chemical and biological weapons, and even thought of using nuclear weapons, provoking a wave of indignation throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in the north and south of Korea were massacred. Civilians were buried alive, dismembered, burned to death and drowned. Many were forced to dig their own graves before being executed in the same manner that the Nazis massacred civilians, particularly those who resisted [3].

This was a time when the Korean people had made tremendous sacrifices to defeat the colonial occupation by the Japanese fascists and establish their legitimate right to independence. Already President Kim Il Sung, the leader of the armed struggle against the Japanese occupying forces, and the architect of the liberation of the country, had founded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948. It was the US, Britain and their allies that could not tolerate the existence of an independent anti-fascist Korea, with its popular government and its determination to create a socialist society. It was the US, Britain and their allies that divided Korea and maintained their military occupation following the defeat of the fascist forces by the Koreans themselves.

The division of the one nation of Korea continues to this day with the US led punitive trade and economic sanctions, which also block "food and agricultural products" [4], threatening the well-being and lives of the people in the DPRK, which is a mountainous country with smaller areas of arable land than the south of Korea. With these illegal and inhumane sanctions, themselves an act of war, they hope to starve the people of the DPRK into submission and blame their socialist political system.

The dangerous militarisation of the Korean Peninsula by the US continues today as part of its hegemonic ambitions to dominate East Asia and also China. The US is conducting ongoing military and nuclear exercises on land, sea and in the air, in and around the Asian-Pacific Taiwan strait and South China Sea as well as around the Korean Peninsula. Britain has also joined the US in these dangerous military manoeuvres in the Asia-Pacific and on the Korean Peninsula into 2023. This year for the first time since the Korean War, Britain has deployed its Royal Marines to the Korean Peninsula to join the US in its war preparations against the DPRK. This act by the British government was an insulting provocation given that the former soldiers of the Royal Marines of 41 Independent Commando were the ones that had carried out amphibious raids behind north Korean lines between 1950 and 1951 as part of the armed forces of the US, fraudulently dispatched under the United Nations flag [5], which invaded and occupied Korea.

Pyongyang in 1953, the result of US-led barbarity in the Korean War

From the time of the Korean War until now, the US has refused to sign a peace treaty, which betrays its true aims on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, its leaders and people's government, far from being the threat to peace, have always stood for peaceful re-unification of the two Koreas and continue to take stands against the interference of the US and for peace worldwide. Unlike the US, Britain and other powers that condemn the DPRK's existence and its right to be, the DPRK has not invaded and occupied any country.

Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang

The interests of all peoples is to build their solidarity with the DPRK and the Korean people against the US to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula and to put an end to the more than 70 years of US-engineered division, militarisation, tension, and strife between north and south and oppose the criminal trade and economic sanctions against the DPRK. The peace-loving people of Britain must condemn British government for its support for these ongoing and large-scale military exercises and provocations against the DPRK and demand that Britain gets its marines and other forces out of the Korean Peninsula.

Today, when the US imperialists and their cohorts, such as Britain, are stepping up war preparations in the Asia-Pacific, it is more important than ever to remember the terrible tragedies visited upon the Korean people during that war that must never again be permitted. The working class and people must play their part to ensure that another war does not break out on the Korean Peninsula and that Britain ends its hostile stand towards the DPRK.

1. On June 25, 1950, after a whole series of incursions and military provocation against the DPRK, the forces from the south of Korea, placed under US command, crossed the 38th parallel, which separates the north from the south, with an objective to "disperse and disarm North Korea's People's Army" in order to "take Pyongyang in three days" (to cite Syngman Rhee, "President" of the South Korean puppet government at the end of 1949).
2. "War Maniacs' Reckless Move", KCNA commentary, April 2, 2023
3. All this was documented by the Commission of the Women's International Democratic Federation to Korea May 16-27, 1951. In their report We Accuse! the Commission condemned these crimes that were being committed against defenceless civilians and called for the UN to demand an end to all fighting, that all foreign troops be pulled out of Korea and for the Korean people to determine their own affairs.
4. Democratic People's Republic of Korea sanctions: guidance
5. The US accused the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) of "starting the war" when it was they who were interfering in the internal affairs of Korea which, through the efforts of the people themselves, had won its independence by defeating the Japanese occupation in August 1945.
First the US illegally divided Korea into north and south. It then mobilised the UN to intervene in a civil war which constituted foreign interference in the internal affairs of a country and is illegal under the UN Charter. The UN Security Council used the fact that the People's Republic of China had not yet been permitted to take its seat because the US was supporting the deposed Nationalist Chinese regime of Chiang Kai-shek that had taken refuge in Taiwan, and Russia was absent in protest of this refusal to seat the legitimate government of China, to adopt the resolution. The resolution to wage war on the Korean people was adopted in contravention of Article 32 of the UN Charter which calls for parties to the dispute to be present at the discussions of the problems. It is also in contravention of paragraph 3 of Article 27 of the UN Charter, which provides that a Security Council resolution is only valid if approved by a vote of Council members, including approval by all permanent Council members. Neither condition was met since, at the time, neither the Soviet Union nor China were present.

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