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Victory against bosses at Keele
Staff at Keele University have won a modest victory at a time when working conditions are being attacked right across the higher education sector. It shows that even when management are fighting from a position of strength, they can be forced to retreat by determined, united action.
Six months from when Keele management announced its "non-negotiable" plans for closing courses and axing posts, news came through that the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) had forced the Vice-Chancellor Janet Finch and her management team to the negotiating table.
The dispute began shortly after the start of the Christmas holidays when management announced the closure of the Centre of Health Planning and Management and the School of Economic and Management Studies.
These were to be replaced with a smaller Business school that would be, allegedly, more in tune with the higher education market place. Out of 67 staff, 38 would have been made redundant, including ten of the 12 staff belonging to the SEMS Industrial Relations group.
SEMS is a major academic resource for the labour movement, training activists and officials, and providing commissioned research for trade union bodies. All this sits uneasily with management's corporate vision for Keele as a 'business-friendly' institution.
On 3 April around 250 people demonstrated their opposition to the closures as council, the university's governing body, met to decide the fates of the threatened departments. Unfortunately on that occasion management were successful, their plans were endorsed - the two student representatives being the only ones to vote against.
Union members decided to step up our action. The union's objectives were very modest - to negotiate the terms of the redundancies and the course content of the new business school. To that end UCU members refused to carry out certain bureaucratic procedures.
Staff in SEMS carried out a marking boycott and from 13 June, the national UCU was going to enforce an international 'greylisting' of Keele - an academic boycott of journals and conferences based at the university.
The day before the boycott was due to start the union announced that under pressure management had caved in to the union demand for meaningful negotiations.