Dear Professor Kopelman,
I am writing you in my capacity as General Secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB). Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on your appointment as interim Vice-Chancellor and to welcome you to the University of London community. I can assure you that many of your outsourced workers are looking to you with hope that your appointment will signify a departure from past practice and instead represent a more rational and humane approach to dealing with the industrial disputes at your doorstep.
As you will no doubt be aware, the IWGB is the largest trade union at the Central University. We also represent the overwhelming majority of the outsourced workers. When it comes to the outsourced workers the IWGB is the sole legitimate voice with whom the University could in good faith engage. Unison, whilst undoubtedly able to boast high membership densities and a decent track record at other locations, for example, SOAS, cannot say the same at the Central University.
In fact they did such a terrible job that the outsourced workers left en masse to join the IWGB. To negotiate with Unison, on behalf of the outsourced workers, is therefore not only misguided, but is genuinely insulting to many in that workforce. UCU on the other hand represents direct employees on grades 7 and above and as such does not even claim to represent the outsourced workers.
With this background one can assess the University of London’s strategic approach to dealing with the IWGB, which over the past few years has been as consistent as it has been ill-judged. The University’s approach has been to respond to pressure from the IWGB in every instance (e.g. the 3 Cosas Campaign for sick pay, holidays, and pensions, the Back in House campaign against outsourcing, the triggering of the Information and Consultation procedures, etc.) by ignoring IWGB and instead engaging with the “recognised unions”.
In trying to look at the situation from an objective, analytical, and dispassionate- rather than partisan- perspective, I do understand the rationale. The University sees the IWGB as radical, unwavering, and generally as people with whom they cannot do business. The University views the recognised unions on the other hand as easy to work with, reasonable, and malleable. By doing a deal with the recognised unions, the University can drape any decision they make in the shroud of legitimacy and industrial relations best practice.
The problem with this approach is that ultimately it makes the University’s problems worse, not better. For the reasons explained above, the recognised unions have absolutely no mandate to do anything on behalf of the outsourced workers. So negotiating with them achieves nothing. They do not have the power to decide whether or not the campaign will continue nor do they have the power to make counteroffers that will calm the industrial strife.
Similarly, with the ICE example, trying to do a stitch up with the recognised unions instead of engaging with the IWGB in good faith resulted in two tribunal decisions against the University and uncounted wasted thousands in legal expenses. Further, every time the University does something which feels like a slight to the outsourced workers, it only serves to pour fuel on the fire of the campaign.
I trust that the people who surround you will be pushing a certain narrative and approach when it comes to dealing with the outsourced workers, their campaign, and their union. An approach that has been tried and failed time and time again. I am writing to encourage you to take a step back and think for yourself on this one.
The IWGB is not some group of radical crazies with whom good faith dialogue and negotiation cannot be undertaken. Our policies, approach, and actions are dictated democratically by the membership. To dismiss us as radical unreasonable ideologues is to dismiss the cleaners, security guards, postroom staff, porters, and other outsourced workers who keep the University functioning as radical unreasonable ideologues.
What I would say better defines our approach is a ruthless pragmatism focused on deploying those tactics which will most effectively and quickly achieve our aims. In the present case, our aim is to bring all workers back in house, asap, as our members believe it is unjustifiable to continuously subject the predominantly low paid, BME workforce to inferior treatment, terms and conditions. Unfortunately, experience has taught us that high profile pressure campaigns tend to get the quickest results in winning these sorts of things. If dialogue and negotiations were capable of achieving the same result they would absolutely be our preference.
I am therefore writing to make the same offer to you as I made to your predecessors: meet with us, negotiate with us, and we might be able to find a way out of the industrial strife. Alternatively, the campaign will continue- we are about to begin balloting for another round of industrial action- the negative press coverage will continue, the legal cases will continue, further pressure tactics will be deployed, and the end result will be the same because we won’t stop until the workers are brought back in house on equal terms and conditions as their directly employed colleagues.
Many thanks in advance for your attention on this matter.
Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee