Robust response needed to Queen Mary uni attack on right to protest

by Bea Gardner, UCU member

The University and College Union (UCU) offices at Queen Mary University (QM) were recently broken into by security who forcibly removed UCU posters displaying solidarity with Palestine (see ‘Gaza – Queen Mary uni management orders break-in of union office’).

The raid is a blatant attack on the right of trade unions to independently organise. It is censorship of the UCU’s democratic decision to protest the onslaught in Gaza.

Hostile management

QM management has a hostile approach toward the unions, and was one of those imposing a 100% dock in UCU members’ pay for participating in last summer’s marking boycott.

Queen Mary University protest
Queen Mary uni protest.
Photo: Nandi Shalita

As well as attempting to attack workers’ rights with ‘minimum service levels’ anti-strike laws, and the right to protest over Gaza, the Tories have made freedom of speech on campuses a flashpoint with the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act.

In reality, they mean freedom of speech for the bosses, warmongers and their defenders. They are attempting to assert authority within universities, particularly over left-wing students who are increasingly critical of big business influence in education. That now includes anger at the cosy relationship many universities have with the arms industry and their investment links with Israel.

UCU’s ‘Exposed’ campaign is directed at this divisive interference. However, to date the campaign has been limited primarily to an online webpage. Attacks such as on QM UCU demonstrate the need to actively mobilise to defend members’ rights, and to campaign for unity between staff and students. While the UCU general secretary has made some critical comments on X/Twitter, to date there has been no official statement condemning this incident.

National demo

Socialist Party members call on the leadership of UCU, as well as the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ Aspire-led Tower Hamlets council where QM is located, to condemn the actions of QM management. UCU and the wider union movement must make a robust response. We demand the leadership calls a national demonstration in defence of QM UCU and against the ongoing attacks to trade union organising rights and freedom of speech. See for a model motion for union branches and trades councils.

See also: Mass democratic struggle for Palestinian national self-determination and socialism

Gaza — Queen Mary uni management orders break-in of union office

by Nandi Shalita, Queen Mary Socialist Students

Queen Mary university security raided the campus office of the University and College Union (UCU), on 20 February, on the orders of uni management. They removed all posters and messages around the office showing support and solidarity with the people of Palestine and Gaza.

The previous day, management had requested access to the office. Management claimed the posters were having a “chilling effect on freedom of speech”.

The UCU agreed to allow them in, but explicitly said that all the posters and material should be left alone.

But instead, campus security broke into the office without permission and, before proper access was arranged, tore down any material in support of Palestinians or a ceasefire, damaging the office in the process.

Management’s defence was that prominently displayed signs may be misconstrued as the stance of the university itself, rather than the UCU. This is not even possible, as all these posters had a clear UCU logo on them.

This is a blatant attack on freedom of speech and freedom of association. Queen Mary management is infamous for its continuous attack on the rights of staff and students.

Just last year, Queen Mary management threatened to deduct 100% of pay from teachers taking part in a marking boycott, just one part of their job, and tried to have students snitch on striking lecturers. Queen Mary has a history of intimidating and threatening students protesting during rent strikes.

Queen Mary plays a national role for universities in testing and pushing these types of attacks. This serves managements on other campuses. They can say: ‘We’re only docking 50% pay, we’re not invading your union offices. So you should accept our ‘milder’ attacks’.

Students have been protesting Queen Mary university’s complicity in the slaughter in Gaza. Queen Mary invests in Barclays, a bank that provides financial services to arms companies supplying the Israeli army. In many on-campus student-organised protests, students have continuously called for our institution to divest funds from Barclays, and formally condemn what is being perpetrated by the Israeli state.

Of course, management just dance around these demands, and claim that this would be a ‘conflict of interest’, and that any condemnation of the Israeli state could be seen as antisemitic.

The Tory government has openly tried to stop students on campus from even talking about Israel-Palestine, not to mention protesting about it. And many institutions are following in their footsteps. SOAS university in London suspended several students who organised and participated in a rally in solidarity with Palestinians, before management was forced to back down.

This is a very clear attack on the democratic right of workers to organise. Rash and extreme acts such as this show just how worried university management and the Tories are by the collective efforts of students and unions.

We will not stand idly by as they try and strip us of these rights. Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, has recently launched the union’s ‘Exposed’ campaign, in order to challenge right-wing and Tory government attacks on free speech in education.

Jo Grady should go to Queen Mary, and tell the UCU branch that the whole of the union is behind them. Jo Grady should immediately release a statement, through the union, condemning this attack.

The UCU leadership should call and mobilise for a national demonstration in support of the Queen Mary branch, and against ongoing attacks on trade union organising rights and freedom of speech, as well as coordinating a solidarity campaign across the whole union. The student union should add its voice to mobilising people to oppose this attack too.

Queen Mary management can’t be allowed to succeed in this attack, and the whole of the student and workers’ movement must come to defend the UCU.

Staff and students protest

From the protest on 27 February, Nandi says:

“100 of us gathered. The actions of management shocked many people.

“Many people spoke of their disgust. Both myself and another member of the Socialist Party spoke. I talked about the pattern of this university management violating the rights of workers to organise and protest, be it about their working conditions or about global politics.

“Hugo Pierre brought solidarity from Camden Unison. Hugo talked about the importance of other trade unions to rally around and support Queen Mary UCU, and condemn the actions of management.

“Hugo also explained the need for education to be democratically run in order to protect our rights as workers and students, and for workers’ representation in parliament to back that fight.”

See also: