Academic staff naturally look to their union representation both at
branch and national level to represent them in the grisly task of taking
on university management. It is therefore particularly alarming that
the Academy Union (AU) management itself is facing mounting criticism
for intimidation of its own members. AU currently has around 114,000
members (and dropping) and is the largest further and higher education
union, dwarfing the rather rightist-focused Association of Teachers and
Lecturers (ATL) but both of course very modesty sized by comparison with
the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Unlike ACL and NUT, AU is
currently facing a severe internal crisis of confidence in its
management structure. Ultimately the buck stops with AU General
Secretary, Hally Sunt (pictured above).
and more members are beginning to feel that the gap between dedicated
campus campaigning and full-time union professionalism has become too
vast! AU is a vertical union representing casualised researchers and
teaching staff as well as “permanent” lecturers and professors. AU was
formed by the 2006 merger of the rather lame-duck Association of
University Teachers (AUT) and the somewhat more bolshie National
Association of Teachers in F/HE (NATFHE). That merger was itself
something of a conjuring act and the organisation which emerged from it
has not yet come to terms with the political and social rift in its
formidable, self-driven Hally Sunt was elected General Secretary of the
union in 2007. She has firmly consolidated her grip on power and has so
far beaten off all opposition by a combination of shrew political
maneuvering and a capacity to exploit the cleavages between the varying
shades of “leftism” which render AU largely impotent as a political
force. Faced with lukewarm “old” and campaigning “new” Left, what AU
have finally ended up with is a grandiose Hally…..The General Secretary,
with all her quirks, has shrewdly emasculated her Executive to
personally become the union!
is politically divided between the somewhat larger “broad left” whose
members are mainly part of the old AUT and the harder “left” or “real
left”, the more politically radical whose membership trace largely back
to NATFE. The result is an operational lock-jaw which prevents the union
from making a solid impact in its negotiations with university and
can be no question that the work of the union is vital and that much
professional and voluntary work is excellent. Apart from day to
day branch case-work, AU is noted for its opposition to privatization of
education, stopping academic casualisation, including the use of
temporary contracts and campaigning for equality. None of these
objectives have achieved much in recent years and the feeling among the
rank and file is that the polite middle-class slant of AU crusading is
something of a damp squid. Confronting AU demands at campus level is as
exciting as being mauled by a toothless sheep.
all of these areas AU have been attracting increasing dissatisfaction,
reflected in a fall in membership and apathy among members. First AU`s
track-record for case-work has been denigrated by the failure of so many
of the cases it has taken to tribunal. Casual members, who now
represent a growing proportion of the total membership, feel
disenchanted with the elitist attitude of the union Executive.
same unhappy sentiments are expressed by retired member’s branches.
Effectively the union has abandoned them because with their reduced-rate
subscriptions making up such a modest share of the union’s coffers, AU
senior managers frankly believe casualized or retired members hardly
deserve a voice! Indeed AU have been studiously trying to undermine its
own Anti-Casualization Committee, one of the few genuinely critical
voices at the heart of the union’s coal-face struggle. This has created
an increasing unity between casualized and retired members which cuts
across their ideological leanings. Ironically, it is among these poorest
unionists, many with no proper job, that the most sterling sacrifices
in time and effort have been made.
union campaigners have also been shafted. On intra-union equality, the
union’s black members have demonstrated against the union’s
apparent docility on issues affecting black comrades. It is striking
that in recent years AU have yet to champion a single grievance raised
by an ethnic minority despite overt problems in the university and
college sectors. Moreover since 2007, AU has been embroiled in
controversy for its policy of boycotting Israeli academia. Some Jewish
members resigned following claims of underlying institutional
anti-Semitism. The union which “self-promotes” preoccupation with
equality seems less equal than one might hope!
July 2011, AU was notified of a Jewish member’s intention to sue under
the Equality Act with the Employment Tribunal in September 2011 and was
heard in the Summer of 2012. While the complaint was rejected this
experience severely damaged AU`s reputation. The union’s own Equality
Chief, Helena Cardigan, has frequently been criticized for lack of
teeth, apathy with bread and butter equality issues, and being out of
touch with the maelstrom of college equality challenges.
under pressure AU’s stage response is to draft a new booklet- at a time
when members desperately want action. Faced with a mounting catastrophe
in both the Higher and Further Education sectors, the typical
AU solution is to do a new “stress survey” beautifully compiled with a
staff of dozens, and all from their five-star, politically correct
offices in north central London!
union has also been criticized for its reliance on e-surveys when
determining policy such as in the General Secretary’s proposal to
Congress in 2012 that the size of the National Executive Committee be
reduced from 70 members to a maximum of 40, to save money. E-surveys
were vehemently challenged at Annual AU Congress on the grounds that
they ‘encourage people to vote without hearing the debates first’. But
of course all Hally has cared about is carrying the vote, and so if
e-democracy gets another victory for Hally, then more e-democracy AU
shall certainly have! “To h..l” with the pseudo-democracy of Union
reputation has also suffered from a sense of being isolated financially
and professionally from the majority of its members who are now
casualized academic and academic-related staff. With the General
Secretary on a salary and benefits package worth a rough but impressive
total of £126,982, and the average salary and benefits of AU’s senior
management team at about £105,000 (levels now well in excess of even the
professoriate of the UK’s most prestigious universities) there is alarm
at AU’s salary bill.
are a great deal better in the working benefits of AU staff than in the
members the union serves. With many HQ staff saving their personal
money by largely working from home, there is also
increasing dissatisfaction that the range of perks, and the astonishing
professional average salary for an AU official (£61,000) is also well in
excess of the wages of the vast majority of the members it represents.
AU is committed to a policy of merging the former NATFE staff with the
higher AUT pay scales so that the only way for the salary bill to go is
up. The future trend is a union with a vastly paid and
benefit-pampered staff and a membership living on zero-hours contracts
and college agency hours!
facing an unprecedented financial crisis when its bank refused to allow
any further borrowing without drastic restructuring, AU took action.
However there was membership anger at a pay-off which led to a drop in
staff compliment of just 5, but cost almost £1 million, and allegedly a
single pay-off to a senior manager cost £350,000 and included his
immediate re-employment at the same grade. This seems to be an utter
moral contradiction of everything a trade union should stand for.
had previously been hammered for its decision to acquire new showcase
premises in Camden Town when it took over a decade for the union to sell
its old NATFE HQ in Britannia Street. When that building was eventually
sold, just recently, after costing the union more than a half-million
annually in security and up-keep, the sale was at a massive loss. This
is professional financial mismanagement on a colossal scale! It is hard
to conceive how the Executive could have allowed this mess to continue
with only the most paltry and feeble criticisms.
stark comparison, long-standing branch members are increasingly angry
that AU union bosses now lack the financial resources to represent
members legally and that the union has fallen into disrepute because of
its lax financial protocols. Many feel their subs have gone into fat
union pay-packets. To grassroots members it seems that the gulf between
the professional union officials and the vast bulk of lecturers and
researchers has got so vast, that AU have lost all moral authority.
Moreover with Ms Sunt and some of her immediate senior management team
facing accusations of bullying, many members are of the view that they
have no-where to turn.
can be no question that from the moment of achieving power, Ms Sunt
identified key staff as her “enforcers” of policy, but with AU losing
out to the employers so consistently time after time in recent years, it
seems that many members want to call time on Hally’s tenure. Heavily
reliant on the “enforcement skills” of her secretive organizational
mandarin, Saul Pottrell, many members have begun to question whether
they have a union democracy or a Sunt dictatorship. For many stalwart
unionists, Hally has long ago yielded totally and lost the moral high
ground! But as a sometime club bouncer General Secretary Sunt is quite
able to muscle her way through a decidedly luke-warm academic
ordinary AU members, especially those on the radical left wish to see a
more proletarian union grounded in the genuine democracy of members.
The elevation of a previous GS to the Lords (Baron Ties-man) is seen by
many of the grassroots as symptomatic of a union which has no
credibility and which is little more than a political platform for its
senior professionals. As AU’s supposed heavyweight, many rank and file
feel Hally has yielded totally to the employers, has lost the moral high
ground, and the only place where she throws her weight around is with
her own staff and the membership!
That approximately 86% of the union’s average budget now goes on
salary and physical plant, and a mere ballpark 9% on membership defense
and campaigning is viewed as a national disgrace. Finally, renewed
accusations of bullying and intimidation of members by the senior
management team, and the expulsion of outspoken dissident members,
points to a union in crisis, and which ill equips its membership for the
long fight against university and college employers.
is a work of humorous fiction and any similarities with persons or
places real or imagined is purely a matter of coincidence. If you’ve
been bullied or are unhappy with your union at any F/HE institution
don’t hesitate in confidence to E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org Victims may
complain without penalty under their college procedures or consider
making a complaint to their local police. Where the police are contacted
bullying usually ceases immediately.