In a week when we have lost not one but two stalwarts of the trade unionist movement there is no better time for us to reflect on our own contributions and efforts. This sad news comes at a time when the trade unionist movement is being squeezed and suffers constant attempts to divide its members. At a national level we have seen the guise of austerity being used to demoralise, divide and demotivate the most vulnerable of us.
However and perhaps most importantly we are feeling the squeeze at a local level more and more. We have had a recent change over of senior management here at Bradford and I, amongst others welcomed this with positivity. I believed the noises being made were that the “new regime” wanted to work positively with the trade unions; I felt positive and confident that we would see better days at Bradford. If we are completely honest about it we need to see change, staff morale is at an all-time low, and cases of bullying and intimidation are rising. From my own observations and experiences it seems that there is a high percentage of us who feel that this is “just how it is” or that we “have to put up with it” or “at least we have jobs”. Somewhat worse is that some of us are so overworked that we don’t even have the time to reflect and process it, we are just trying our best to get through each day, week, semester and year. So what of the new management at Bradford? The first noises made were positive and then, we had the two hour strikes and the decision at Bradford to deduct a whole days pay for a two hour strike. Bradford was in a minority of national Universities when they made this decision. For me, this didn’t sit with the initial positive comments I had heard so somewhat disappointingly my optimism started to waiver. However, ever the optimist I thought that maybe there would be a change of stance on this. I was disappointed all over again when I received my last wage slip!
So, what’s the point of this blog? I believe that the water is being tested at Bradford; I believe that the opinion is that we as a local UCU branch can be overlooked and that we are not as strong as we once were. Unfortunately there is an element of truth in this; the strikes were not as well supported as we would have liked and although it was apparent that members were upset and angry at the attempt at bullying and intimidation this was not reflected in the number of members who supported the strikes. If we do not stand together as a branch and support the union then we do not look strong which in turn means we have less bargaining power in what is an extremely important and vulnerable time.
I have been a member of a trade union for many years whilst in employment and have worked at Bradford for 4 years. For the first time ever, 3 years ago I had to enlist the help of our union. I never thought I would actually need the help of any union when I initially joined, if I’m completely honest I’m not sure why I first joined , it was just something I believed in and looking back I don’t know if I knew why at the time. Now I can say with certainty the reasons why I am in a trade union, for me a trade union stands for fairness and equality. Of course I want to ensure that my rights are not infringed but more than that I want to ensure that everyone’s rights are upheld and that I and everyone else can work in a supportive and fair working environment free from fear of bullying, harassment and unjust working conditions. As I mentioned I had to enlist the help of our union and without that help I can honestly say that I would not be at Bradford now, I would not have had the strength to fight my case alone and I would have been one of many who had been treated unfairly and had not, for many differing reasons, been able to do anything about it.
However, the only reason that our union was able to help me was that we were in a position of relative strength and could enter into negotiations, could bargain and apply pressure where needed to ensure that policies were written and indeed adhered to. Will this be the same in five years’ time? Will we have the same power to do this? My honest answer to this is that I don’t know, my hope is that we will be strong enough but that is up to all of us as members of our union and I believe this is a critical time for trade unions and there is no better time for us to come together and stay strong because our union is only as strong as its members and those members are me and all of you. So, I would ask all our members, why are you a member of the union? If you ever have the misfortune of being on the receiving end of unfair treatment do you want a strong union to support you? Perhaps most importantly, are we all doing enough to support our union?