News Writer Dylan Morgen reports on the Guild’s All Students Meeting held on the 2nd of December, at which Guild support of lecturers’ strike action was discussed
The first All Student Meeting on Wednesday 2nd December, under new Guild democratic arrangements, discussed support for lecturers’ industrial action and reimbursements for reductions in services to students. The independent Guild scrutiny panel stated the Guild Officers have been doing a ‘really impressive job’ given the difficult circumstances.
The All Student Meeting is open to all students and can determine Guild policy if around 370 or more students attend. With only around 40 students at the meeting, the two resolutions go to an online vote, called a Preferendum. The industrial action resolution had been earmarked from the start for an online vote.
The Education Officer Jules Singh on behalf of the sabbatical team, explained the three options which students will vote on regarding the lecturers’ industrial action.
Option one would back the right of lecturers to refuse face-to-face teaching based on health concerns. Presently the University of Birmingham (UoB) can discipline academics for refusing to teach face-to-face. Were UoB to deduct wages from lecturers refusing to teach face-to-face, the University and College Union (UCU) would call a strike. The Guild would then support this strike by not crossing picket lines.
In option two, the Guild would support the UCU’s call for optional face-to-face teaching, but would not support a UCU strike.
In option three, the Guild would neither support lecturers refusing to do face-to-face teaching nor support a strike.
The Education Officer explained that the sabbatical team recommends students support option two. The resolution states the possible UCU strike is different to the January 2020 one, which the Guild supported. The resolution adds that the COVID situation means many more discussions are needed with the University on teaching, welfare, accommodation and sports issues. If the Guild were to support a strike, then not crossing the picket line would mean these discussions would be curtailed to the detriment of students.
Mikey Brown, Politics and Social Policy, objected to one part of the resolution, saying a previously accepted general principle of support for other unions might be deleted. He did not oppose a referendum but the general principle of union support should remain. Subsequently Mikey Brown told Redbrick that he was disappointed the Guild Officer group had rejected his suggestion. He said ‘I am backing option 1 on the preferendum. It is wrong the university punishes hardworking lecturers who decide to work at home based on scientific advice, rather than be forced to do face-to-face teaching. Additionally in January 2020, students voted for a 3 year commitment to support industrial action on a case by case basis. The present preferendum could scrap this 3 year commitment, not just the support for this one industrial action.’
The second resolution was put forward by Jasmine Joshi-Thompson, BSc Physics, a member of the Guild Campaigns Committee. It proposes that students should have a right to a tuition fee reduction and be able to withdraw from their course and accommodation without financial detriment.
Tobi Adeyemi, the Guild President said this motion was very open to discussion and amendments and the meeting would be looking for ideas and comments. After two break out discussion sessions, Rayphia Gabbidon, MSci Biochemistry, the Chair of the All Students Meeting commented there seemed to be ‘somewhat of a consensus’ that clearer, more specific reasons were needed for any tuition fee reduction. The Guild President commented there was a case to be made for students who withdrew during the present COVID time and didn’t want to lose out financially. The resolution will be further discussed by the Officer’s team.
Eleonor Thompson, BA Liberal Arts, Jessica Burton, LLB Law, Osione Oseni-Elamah, LLB Law reported to the meeting on behalf of the Guild Scrutiny Committee. Every two months or so the Scrutiny Committee members have a progress conversation with each Guild Officer. The Scrutiny Committee report is then posted on the Guild website.
The scrutiny members supported the work and achievements which had earlier been listed by the Guild President. Examples of Guild work included the creation of additional study spaces, inclusivity and diversity projects, the ‘don’t rush to rent’ housing campaign, the decolonising week project and speak out week.
The scrutiny committee members said that collaboration between officers had been made more difficult through online working and this was an area the Guild could work on. It hoped that with a reduction in COVID ‘damage control’ work, the officers would find more time in future to work on their own proposals.
The next All Student Meeting will be in 2021. Any ideas or resolutions need to be submitted in advance so that Student Guild Committees may first look at them and then possibly be passed to the All Student Meeting.
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