“For most university staff, the role of a trade union is first and foremost to secure members a good deal on pay and conditions, and second to ensure that their sector is run in the public interest – as was spelled out in a 2008 report written for the University and College Union by Jeremy Waddington, professor of industrial relations at the University of Manchester. Unfortunately for higher education staff, some members of the UCU’s national executive seem to view its primary purpose as bringing down the capitalist system or otherwise grandstanding in pursuit of impossible political goals.
The most notable example is the obsession with Israel. In the past, members at the UCU annual congress have supported resolutions calling for an academic boycott of Israel, which have been dismissed as illegal by the union on legal advice; this year, members voted to reject the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s working definition of anti-Semitism. None of this has persuaded Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders.
What it has done is create negative publicity for the UCU, here and around the world, and cause the resignation from the union of dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish members in protest. A recent swipe came from Nick Cohen in The Jewish Chronicle, who wrote that “[the union] – which represents intellectuals and so, inevitably, is the dumbest and nastiest organisation on the Left – refuses to accept any definition of anti-Semitism for fear that defining prejudice would restrict its attacks on Israel”.
Whatever one’s views on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, it is hard to argue that the UCU’s stance has paid off politically or furthered the workplace interests of its members.”