03 July 2008

UCU conundrum - remarks of an outsider

David Hirsh, with whom I never disagree (doesn't pay off in the long run, you just end up being shown wrong - mercilessly but politely, as is the way of a true academic) published a call to the UCU (British trade-union of university and college academics, lecturers, trainers, researchers and academic-related staff). Follow three main requests professor Hirsh makes in this article:

The UCU should act quickly to stop Jews and antiracists feeling that they are being driven out of their own union. UCU should:
  1. commission research to find out how many resignations there have been which are connected to the boycott campaign
  2. launch a serious investigation into institutional antisemitism in the union
  3. stop supporting and hosting the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community
To my chagrin, I must relate to the futility of this call. Point by point:
  1. No bureaucracy will willingly publish the true numbers of people leaving it, when the said numbers are the only real measure of its standing and, indeed, its livelihood.
  2. For more or less the same reason (bureaucracy heal thyself is good for science fiction, but not for real life), UCU will never investigate its antisemitism - due to the simple fact that it comes chiefly from its main functionaries.
  3. The boycott campaign, as above, is not exactly a grass-root phenomenon, it comes from the same functionaries who justify their otherwise unhelpful leadership by generating an illusion of activity with these, largely senseless acts of hate.
As for the call to anti-racists and Jews not to resign from UCU, here are my two pennies:

First of all, from what I understand, UCU is not a successful trade-union in the sense that it's mostly unable to negotiate better terms and better work environment for its members (hard to blame them really, since it's a sad fate of all academic trade-unions - no tools to apply pressure). A trade-union that doesn't produce results expected by its members is hardly a thing to hold to.

Precisely for this reason, UCU functionaries have to show some "action" in areas where their impotence is less relevant (still relevant, though, but about it later), such as the boycott, largely supported by UCU medium and low-level apparatchiks.

To the boycott itself: it will have little impact on cooperation between British and Israeli scientists (the real ones, I mean). Of course, I am basing this on hearsay, but coming from the horse mouth in many cases. The main (negative) impact the whole hullabaloo is having is on the Jewish and anti-racist members of UCU. This is what Eve Garrard, an ex-UCU member says, this is what my gut feelings were from the beginning, and this is a very strong argument to do precisely what David objects to - leave UCU to escape the poisonous atmosphere.

Unfortunately, when David calls on UCU members not to resign, he is unwillingly assisting the "Union which is hostile both to its Jewish members and to its non-Jewish members who support the existence of the Jewish state", the union that is largely impotent where it's main role is concerned, the union that will not be swayed from its mostly toothless but belligerent anti-Israeli stance.

Now to the vox populi*: while some of the Jewish and anti-racist members are remaining in UCU, it's clear that many support this move. Here is Dr. Jan Schnupp:
I never joined AUT or UCU because I think that their shambolic and offensive anti-Israel policy is just a symptom of an organisation that is not fit for purpose. The UCU has become a home for wannabe "activists", rather than a group of professional negotiators capable of commanding respect and getting the best deal for academics. I wish Engage would stop dissuading people from doing the only sensible thing, which is to leave the UCU and go elsewhere. Unions are in principle a good thing, but this one sadly ain't!

But, after all is said and done, there is this statement by Eve Garrard:
This Union is no longer a fit place for those who think that Jews have the same rights of self-determination, self-defence, and national identity as other peoples do, and I hereby resign from it.
Moral imperatives and all that, you know...

(*) "Vox populi" is a bit of a misnomer when you consider the population in question, so I hope Dr. Schnupp will not be angry with me for using this term on him and others.

(**) Just loved the shot. Something I have been never able to accomplish.