Women’s Voices being heard – UCU Equality conference in Manchester

http://instagram.com/p/vV9K7aoi5l/In my spare moments I am the Equality Officer for the local branch of the UCU at the University of Southampton.  I haven’t been in the role very long and they have very kindly sent me all the way to Manchester to the Equality Conference.  I am always intrigued if I attend non-educational techy events because I see how people would normally talk/present.  Normally there is Powerpoint but the speakers just got up and talked (using notes but that’s fine).  If they’d had used electronic media we could shared their talks and you’d had been able to comment too.

The conference is over three days and I am here for the Women’s conference which was today and the conference for everyone tomorrow. The UCU Women are very passionate and have talked frankly about issues that are of huge importance.  The conference today has provided me with mixed emotions from listening to Diane Marsden an employee of Care UK the people who won the bid or as she put it the won because they were the ‘lowest bidder’ the poor employees are victims of the gradually privatisation of our NHS.  She told us stories of incidences of inappropriate staff attending to people who could suffer because of their lack of experience, she talked of having her pay cut by 23%.  23% whilst her new boss is on £800,000.  She said they went on strike because they believed in what they did, they care about their work, they worked in the NHS because they wanted to help people.  But Cameron came in a sold it off to people to make money from the sick.

Next up we heard about Sex workers and how the policies and practices put in place have had a negative impact on their lives and their safety.  It seemed we had two speakers with two differing (not completely different) viewpoints.  One represented Object and the other represented the English Collective of Prostitutes.  Horrible stories of mistreatment of victims, criminalisation of sex workers has led to terrible things happening.

Then Julian Blanc was mentioned. I’d never heard of him until today and I wish I hadn’t. Apparently he thinks he’s a stud and he can show men how to pick up women.  One method, hugely successful, is to show men how to grab women and attack them, #chokingwomen (literally) by the neck and put them in an armlock.  Nice.  I’m sure he’ll live happily ever after.  15 minutes of fame and all that. I’m not even going to bother linking to articles about him. It made me angry to think that he hasn’t been sectioned.  I don’t wish him harm. I wish him help.

More importantly, the issue was raised about our pensions and how equality is an issue here.  Many women work part-time, earn less than men (because they are women) and are on zero hours contracts.  A perfect cocktail for no pension fund.  What little pension they may get is being looked after by men with lots of money and higher salaries who have little regard or insight into their circumstances. I’m paraphrasing but feelings were running high and the mood was that equality hasn’t been very high on the agenda in the fight against the destruction of the pension scheme (in the press or otherwise).

One last thing, the NUS Womens Officer, Susanna Antubam came along.  She has been working on a report called Lad Culture (actually the title was ‘What she said’) she has been raising awareness about things people say, its not just about going out and getting drunk.  It’s about making comments and the impact words can have on people. Something positive to end the day really because she said what she has been doing has been making a difference.  The campaigns included “I heart consent” raising issues around what consent is at university and other education institutions.  The focus should be education not punishment.

Now, enough.   It’s nearly time to go and meet more people and chat about making a difference. Which is why I’m involved in all of this in the first place 🙂

‘Unions – the People who gave you the weekend’

I thought I would share some rambling thoughts I had whilst on UCU training this week.  For the first part of the week I attended UCU Rep training.  The UCU is the union that represents academic staff within FE and HE, so thats my Union.  The others are Unite and Unison.  I was recently elected to be on the Union Exec committee, not something that I had ever had any aspirations of doing, but when they announced that there were vacancies, I thought why not?  and I’m glad I did.

I don’t have a particular axe to grind with Southampton, I love working there.  I love the people I have met, have made lifelong friends, and found some amazing and inspirational people who have the same passion that I do for teaching, and for innovation.  So being on the Union exec for me, isn’t about being angry or creating a fuss, its about looking after those people, and making sure that they have a great place to work and ensuring that we all have our voices heard.  Academia is a wonderful creative space, its not a regular business and understanding that makes a huge difference.  I just read this blog post (below) and it explains a lot about how Unions operate, as collective and not individuals:

“Trade unionism is not about blocking change, it is not about preventing people making money; it is about ensuring that the people who make the money play fair by those who are essential to the process of it being made. A healthy/happy workforce is a productive one; trained, skilled and well-paid workers are more likely to stay. Those treated badly or unfairly lower morale for all and whilst they may leave, few benefit from their departure, at least in the short-term.” ( Impolite Conversation, Dom Kingsmill-Stocker)

The training we had was excellent.  I met some really interesting people and learnt a lot about how unions work and actually some of the skills that we were taught are also very useful for me within my own work across the University.   I went with another colleague from the University and the training helped us to see how we can all work together, as a union for the benefit of the colleagues at Southampton.

One thing that stood out for me was that we really have a very well organised UCU local branch.  Many institutions don’t have a room to meet in, let alone a house!  We have a brilliant Branch organised by Amanda Bitouche, with great colleagues on the Exec.  The training has geared us up to be more proactive and bring a focus to our roles.  It was really good and we hope that we can find the time to maintain the great community feel to the UCU in Southampton.


I think being in the Union is a cool thing to do. #getinvolved!

As an aside, its disappointing, but essential that members come together to support the Strike on December 3rd.  Full details are here. #FairPayinHE – All three Unions have come together, this isn’t a selfish strike.  Many of the people on strike want fairer pay for all levels of staff.