OK, so here's the good news first.
The AUT, the union which represents the academics in the most prestigious universities, has disowned the NATFHE boycott motion, and urged its members not to implement it. And it says it will press for the boycott to be dropped when the merger takes place on Thursday this week.
Here's the text of the AUT's press release:
NATFHE motion on proposed boycott of Israeli academics – an AUT statement
|At its recent annual conference NATFHE passed a motion inviting their members to consider boycotting Israeli academics under certain circumstances.|
|AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it.|
|In May 2005 AUT council overwhelmingly rejected an earlier decision to boycott two Israeli universities and reasserted its belief that freedom of expression, open debate and unhampered dialogue are prerequisites of academic freedom.|
|In addition, the meeting went on to set up a commission to investigate the whole issue of international boycotts. The report of the commission was agreed at May 2006 AUT council. It sets out a very careful, staged approach to boycotts which ensures that they are applied only in exceptional circumstances, are fully justified by the facts, and can be shown to be an effective way of furthering academic freedom and human rights.|
|The commission considered only the collective boycotting of institutions by the union's membership. It did not consider the boycotting of individual academics by individual union members. This tactic is fraught with difficulties and dangers and should not be followed by AUT members.|
On 1 June AUT and NATFHE join to form the University and College Union (UCU). The NATFHE motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will argue for the UCU to adopt the report of its commission. It will not support or cooperate in any way with any attempts to implement the NATFHE motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007.
OK, now for the not so good news.
There seems to be what may be the first of a series of struggles going on about whose policies will run the newly merged union.
Via an email circulated to AUT members at a university I know very well, there is an announcement that they've had to cancel a meeting at which an official from AUT HQ was due to address that branch's members. And the reason is that the same NATFHE Conference which passed the boycott motion has decided on a different policy to that previously agreed by the presidents of both unions in the current pay disputes.Those pay disputes are currently having a major impact on universities and colleges, with some students' degree qualifications likely to be held up by marking strikes.
The AUT officers feel the situation is so serious that they are having an emergency national executive meeting tomorrow, because that's the last chance they have to take any decisions as an independent union. Otherwise, it appears that they've got what they call "a bit of a constitutional problem" on their hands.
I've always taken the view that the merger of the unions was a disaster for our universities, and especially our most respected world-class universities. That's because NATFHE's structures over the years have allowed it to be completely dominated by far left and hard left activists with ultra radical and revolutionary agendas. Quite apart from their latest move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, they have adopted policy after policy which reflects that, from their fervent support of the Stop the War campaign to their latest fulsome praise of Chavez in Venezuela. And they favour flat rate equal funding for all post 16 colleges, so that the national budget for post 16 education would fund both colleges primarily providing artisan training and adult education and the likes of Oxford and Cambridge on an exactly identical allocation-per-student basis. This would of course put paid to our best universities as serious research institutions.
Before the merger was proposed, AUT's policies were largely uncontroversial, until last year's ultimately unsuccessful boycott initiative came along. But I noted that the hard left, in the shape of the Socialist Workers' Party, was proudly proclaiming the success of its efforts to gain control of individual university AUT branches. It may be some reflection of that that at its most recent conference, the AUT affiliated to the Stop the War campaign, passing a motion which included references to the "Afghani occupation". Presumably that means the AUT now regards Afghanistan as a country which should really be returned to the control of its former Taliban regime.
And whatever the press release says, the AUT's policy on boycotts contains "carefully staged" procedures, with their references to "occupied territories" which can only have been drafted to allow for another anti-Israel boycott or sanctions policy.
It looks the merger may be a signal for a very significant struggle. What needs to be borne in mind is that NATFHE's membership is much larger than the AUT's, and their leadership and branches are dominated by very experienced far left operators. There is an immensely arcane new voting structure, based on regional groupings, which seems to me to be likely to ensure that AUT branches will be outvoted by the much larger number of non-university and low prestige university colleges in each region.
What is clear is that the AUT hierarchy, and even the radical Paul Mackney, the NATFHE general secretary, are well aware that they could face very costly legal action if they encourage members to take discriminatory action, as the motion seems to be doing. Although Mackney made a dismissive speech about the organized action against the boycotts, as I discussed previously, he actually spoke against the motion that was passed.
But Mackney remains a passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause and in seeing the demonization of Israel as an essential component of that. Typical of his style of discourse is to refer to the Palestinian territories as " a giant open prison."
The merger of the two unions need never have happened. In fact, AUT members decisively rejected a merger some years back. NATFHE's track record in improving the salaries of its members is pretty appalling, and is worse than that of AUT.
It is in large measure due to the determined finessing at which Mackney is so skilled that the merger virtually went through on the nod.
I wish there were more concern nationally and internationally at the politics that this merger is bringing forward.
HAT TIP: Malachi