Last Thursday, thousands of university workers took part in a further 24-hour strike as part of an on-going dispute about a further year of a real-terms pay cut. The shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt MP, decided to cross a picket line at Queen Mary University of London in order to deliver a lecture (ironically on Marx). Reports from the picket line suggest that he was asked not to cross the picket, and responded that he is not even a member of UCU. I hope that fellow Labour party members will also take a few moments to email or write to Mr Hunt. I have forwarded a copy of my letter (below) to my local Labour MP and also Ed Miliband. There can be no excuse for Labour elected representatives to cross picket lines – especially when many thousands of workers who earn significantly less than a shadow minister are prepared to make the sacrifice.
Dear Mr Hunt,
I am writing as a member of the Labour Party and Unite, and am writing to you in your capacity as a fellow party member and as an elected representative of our party. I am not a constituent.
I would like to express my anger at your decision to cross a picket line at Queen Mary University of London last Thursday. One reason for the existence of our party, and I accept it is not the only one, is to provide an electoral voice for organised labour. It is a sad and sorry indictment of our party when one of our MPs decides not to support colleagues who are participating in lawful industrial action. Whatever your personal view of the dispute, this is a lawful industrial dispute and Labour Party representatives should support the right of workers to take collective action. The elected representatives of the labour movement should support the working members of the labour movement.
Last Thursday thousands of university workers felt that their treatment is so unfair that they were prepared to sacrifice a further days pay, many of those workers will earn significantly less than a shadow minister. Your decision to continue ‘business as usual’ is a slap in the face for those thousands of low-paid university staff who are suffering another year of a real-terms pay cut.
That said, perhaps the most concerning revelation from last Thursday is that you are not a member of UCU despite continuing your role as a lecturer. I trust that you are a member of a trade union?
Finally, when lecturers such as yourself choose to go ahead with lectures and seminars during periods of industrial action they ignore the harmful effect on students who do have principles and are not prepared to cross picket lines and consequently miss out on valuable teaching.
I am forwarding a copy of this email to my own MP, Chi Onwurah, and also our party leader as I feel it is important that they know the extent of my anger with your decision.
I look forward to reading your assessment of this issue.