Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Update on attempt by MMU to suspend Ian Parker (2)

Here is the rest of the account regarding events surrounding Ian Parker at MMU in the UK:

“The worst outcome for the neoliberal university is that it fails to persuade its staff that anyone who complains has a problem, and MMU has done its level best to make it seem that the problem here was that individuals had misbehaved. They insinuated in the charge of ‘gross professional misconduct’ that there were other misdemeanours that staff and students knew nothing about. Neoliberal capitalism calls on each individual to become economically self-sufficient, and it also requires that those who act collectively to defend their interests be pathologised and excluded. A common mistake is to see neoliberalism as a mere theory about how people sell themselves and their products on the open market, and this overlooks the necessity for strong disciplinary structures to enforce separation of individuals from each other and adaptation to the rules of the game. In this case, mass collective protest through the petition, the sharing of letters and meetings to discuss strategy were essential to success of the campaign.

The disciplinary panel tried to blame Ian for orchestrating the protests, for example, and it showed contempt for the self-activity of students and trade union members in MMU. But the panel had to reduce the charge to ‘serious misconduct’ and the penalty (which first looked set to be dismissal), was reduced to a ‘final written warning’ and a demand for a letter of apology as a condition for Ian’s return to work. It is an indication of the desperation of MMU management to get this ‘wretched affair’ over and done with (as an email from the head of department of psychology to staff put it), that his very limited and specific apology – a letter that did not concede an inch on the right of trade union members to challenge management – should have been accepted. He was then ordered with two days notice to ‘return to work’.

Ian was right to apologise for the wording of specific emails (and one naming another colleague who was looking particularly sick with stress was sent accidentally to the whole department – he felt he needed to apologise again for that), and to dispel the idea that the problem of management practices at MMU could be reduced to the nastiness of one particular manager – the head of department – who then felt undermined when challenged. In fact, this manager would even have good grounds for complaint against MMU for being made to carry out their bidding. This manager had told Ian when they crossed a picket line he was attending earlier in the year that they feared losing their job, and their crime during this year is largely no more than that they were willing to be an obedient servant of the university apparatus. It is not so much a case of good individual against bad, but of individualising forces of power against collective forces of resistance.

Ian is appealing against the ‘final written warning’ designed to muzzle his trade union work, and he is asking that he should be allowed to return to work in another faculty (not the one that he now has a formal grievance against MMU bullying and harassment for, and from which he is currently away from with a medical note for anxiety and stress). Ian is also demanding that the Vice Chancellor retract his comments about the case made to a group of students and international visitors delivering the petition on the morning his disciplinary hearing was taking place (where the VC claimed it was one of the most serious cases he had dealt with and that not all the facts will be made public, and he has now referred Ian’s complaint about that to the appeal panel). The appeal date is set for 30 January, a date for the grievance has not been set, and MMU are refusing to reply to the request for a transfer. For them to give way clearly risks sending a message to staff in the department that it is possible to protest and negotiate conditions of service with management.

Isolation or mobilisation

MMU had to acknowledge in their disciplinary panel report that Ian had the right to question management procedures as a UCU representative (and so for that questioning no apologies were needed), but now management is on the attack again; it is using a new charge of infraction of email etiquette as an excuse to threaten other union activists (in one case, would you believe it, a branch official has now been accused of being ‘passive-aggressive’ on email). A danger now is that the negotiation about his fate is conducted one-to-one, that an attempt to strike a deal will replace collective public debate about how UCU members should defend themselves in the university, and how those who are isolated and frightened by management should be encouraged to join the union and speak out together about what is being done to them.

In November, while the protest was at its height, another member of staff in the psychology department who is not a UCU member (the colleague specifically named by Ian in one of his May emails about workload stress) had enough, and resigned without another job to go to. Within a day his office was empty, there was no leaving event for him (and the head of department sent an email hypocritically announcing his departure with fulsome praise for all the good work he had done). The warning here is that a strong state instituted by the university will crush individuals acting alone, and instead we need to develop a strong united response.

So still now, and more than ever, we face a choice between covering up and speaking out, between strategies of isolation or collective mobilisation. The struggle against the discipline implemented as a necessary component of the neoliberal university is a trade union struggle, but it is clear that it needs to link with self-mobilisation by students and international solidarity. Something different was opened up during these events, and the lesson is that resistance is not futile. Some significant gains were made, but the activity that made possible an alternative now needs to built upon and extended. What happens to Ian now is one question. What happens next at MMU will set the terms for all our work.”

This account (parts 1 and 2) was first published at:
http://socialistresistance.org/4398/neoliberalism-at-manchester-metropolitan-university-and-an-alternative

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