Friday, 8 June 2012

Dispatches from the Front Line

Comrades, fraternal greetings from the Annual Congress of the Universities and Colleges Union. Ice-picks and kulaks must be left at the door on pain of internal exile to Stoke-on-Trent. Manchester is of course as wonderful as it always is. As soon as I stepped off the train, I was handed a free umbrella, better than the one I came with. It was to promote an advertising agency. Sadly (for them) I have absolutely no memory what it's called, nor any need to engage their services. But thanks anyway!

OK, I'm in a satirical mood, but I'm enjoying myself hugely. Running the gauntlet of the sectarian newspaper sellers at the door was hugely nostalgic - reminded me of my days in the NUS, sabotaging composite motions and introducing Trotskyists to Third Position Neo-Trotskyists and watching the sparks fly. What larks...

This morning I availed myself of the Morning StarThe Socialist, the Socialist Worker, the Socialist Appeal (the fact that the second Google result for that is 'split' tells you all you need to know about the Peoples' Front of Judea/Judean Peoples' Front nature of leftwing micropolitics) and - most ironically - Unity, the bulletin of one of the Communist Parties. For all my teasing, I find it utterly depressing that the various sects would rather spend their time explaining why the other sects have betrayed socialist unity than actually pursuing it. And then pursuing the Tories. I suppose it's a tacit admission that we lack the skills to persuade the public - bickering amongst ourselves is a form of displacement activity.

Everyone here is rather formidably magnificent - years of paper-selling, street-corner hectoring and of course lecturing have equipped them to deliver beautiful, pithy speeches designed to get us on our feet: one guy moved seamlessly from Marx to his toddler son. I contributed a very, very short and nervous declamation and retired, quaking. It may surprise some of you to learn that in person, we voles are shy and retiring creatures.

We've voted to reject the 1% pay offer (which makes it the fourth year of pay cuts, as inflation is much higher than 1%), to oppose the National Student Survey as methodologically flawed and capable of being used as a weapon against individual members and departments, and to achieve world peace, Cuban freedom and an end to sexism. Whether the outside world will act on these decisions is of course as yet unclear. But on the whole, it's wonderful to see people talking out important ideas seriously. Because we're all highly trained academics, we're both right on everything and good at arguing our points - but it's a bit sad that we're speaking into a vacuum. The really important work is the everyday casework and advocacy we do on our colleagues' behalf, that I can't tell you about.

OK, I'm off to a session of media training and political communication. See you on the barricades, comrades.

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