Picket crossing: Tristram Hunt’s reply to my letter

Dear Rhiannon Lockley,

Thank you very much for your email and expression of disappointment. As someone who has worked very closely with trade unions in Stoke-on-Trent on a number of issues – as well as meeting with UCU members about issues at Stoke-on-Trent College and zero hour contracts at the University of Staffordshire – I have enormous respect for the role of trade unions in civil society. I also absolutely support their right to withdraw their labour during an industrial dispute.

However, I am not a member of UCU (I am a member of other trade unions) and so was not party to the dispute this week. To take part in unofficial, secondary industrial action would not have been compatible with my post as Shadow Education Secretary – not least when we are asking teachers not to join in forthcoming industrial action by the NUT. I am deadly serious about the Labour Party getting back into office and – at certain points – there will inevitably be conflicts between (hoped for) ministerial responsibilities and broader duties to the Labour movement. I am meeting Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU, to discuss the issue further in the coming fortnight.

Thank you again for getting in touch. I appreciate this response might not have tempered your disappointment, but I do hope it provides some context.

Very best,

Tristram

On a positive note, he did reply and he is going to meet with Sally Hunt so maybe he will understand what he has done then (struggling to take much else positive from this).

As a parent I find the news “we” are asking teachers not to fight for their working conditions frankly terrifying given the scale of attacks on the education system and what they will mean for children.

I also know the line that will go with it – “think of the struggling parents who will struggle to get childcare” and as someone pushing within the trades union movement for a focus on low paid and part time workers with care responsibilities (and a part time worker with care responsibilities who has struggled through redundancies and supporting a partner through retraining) it makes me want to vomit.

Allowing attacks on working conditions to go unchallenged might help working parents for the day they will be affected by strike action, Tristram, but in the long term it leaves us even more screwed.

It strengthens the ethos that we should all just be grateful to have jobs – the same ethos that leaves our rights to flexible working at employer discretion, the same ethos that keeps our wages down, the same ethos that leaves women with a 21st century wage gap that is still eye-watering, the same ethos that if this whole extended school day comes through will mean parents working hours get longer and longer – it might not affect you Tristram but it will affect me.

As a parent, yes childcare is an issue, but I’m glad that teachers are standing up for my children under a regime that is trying to take away their teaching assistants, their time to play, the morale of the people who should be inspiring them, their access to diversity in the curriculum – and that sees it acceptable for them to be labeled as failing at age 5.

I don’t know where the “we” in encouraging teachers not to take action came from, because nobody asked me.

Edited to add: on the point of secondary action – he knows as well as I do that he could legally get round any accusations of secondary action by joining the union on the picket. As a lecturer he qualifies for membership.

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8 comments

    • Alan

      Clearly the man’s a careerist who lacks two principles to rub together. What sort of idiot, with whatever number of degrees and publications, joins unnamed “other unions” but not the one that actually represents people doing his job in his workplace?

  1. Rob C

    Does refusing to cross a picket qualify as secondary industrial action? I always thought that secondary action was where one group of workers took industrial action to support another group of workers in a different workplace or bargaining unit. Sounds like he’s trying to argue that legally he had no choice. Personally, I don’t buy it. Well done on getting the response though.

    • 100milesfromthesea

      It would be secondary action if he was employed there and didn’t join – but if you don’t cross a picket you join the union on the picket line which is legal so long as you qualify for membership (i.e. a lecturer or academic related staff). If he worked there in a different role e.g. as a security guard it would be illegal but then it would also not be picket crossing really as he would not be providing any labour to fill in in the disputed area i.e. teaching.

  2. mike cushman

    Rhiannon

    You might point out to TH that since he was not going into QMUL to undertake work as part of a contract of employment he would not have been ‘engaging in unofficial action’ he would have been exercising his right as a citizen not to engage in a political action to undermine an official trade union dispute.

    I cannot bring myself to comment on his urging NUT members to scab.

    • 100milesfromthesea

      Mike – I believe he is employed by them as a lecturer (seems a long way from Stoke but maybe he arrives weekly by parachute). though yes that’s an important point if he isn’t employed by them. If he is, he could join on the picket and be legally protected anyway.

  3. John Mason

    Let’s get this straight. Hunt is citing as a reason for crossing the UCU picket line that he is “asking teachers not to join the forthcoming industrial action by the NUT”. There’s a name for people like him.

    Industrial action is the only reasonable response to the coalitions’ assualt on living standards, pay and conditions.

    We need to organise independently of Labour we clearly can’t rely upon them to fight our corner.

  4. Peter Phillips

    He clearly doesn’t know the difference between not crossing a picket line and secondary picketing. Shows how out of touch labour has grown with its roots. After all the unions formed the labour party. Now the party consists of people like two job hunt with no idea of real life. Should join the Tory party

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