Jon Pike, elected opponent of the boycott on UCU Executive, resigns

Jon Pike to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU

Open Letter from Jon Pike to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU

Dear Sally,

UCU Congress last week adopted resolutions in support of an academic boycott against Israel.  As you know very well, the adoption of that resolution is in defiance of the considered majority view of the membership of the union. Whether or not such resolutions can be implemented, or have been declared void, their adoption is a violation of the democratic principle that the union ought to represent its membership.

It will be said that the UCU, on behalf of its membership, and on behalf of the academic community in Britain, would wish to push for an academic boycott of Israel, but is prevented from doing so by legal means.

This claim is entirely false. The members have not supported such a proposal, and they have not been asked their views.

Both Congress in 2008 and 2009, and a senior committee of the union have rejected calls for a ballot of the membership.  An amendment from my branch, to this year’s conference, calling for a ballot of the membership on this proposal was ruled out as a ‘wrecking amendment.’  It seems there is something incendiary about asking the members directly to express their views.  The call for a ballot has been rejected in the knowledge that, and because, such a ballot would lead to the overwhelming defeat of the boycott proposals.

When proposals for boycott of Israeli universities have been considered by branches of the union and its predecessors, they have been overwhelmingly rejected. Members at Reading, Open, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Bath, Warwick, UCL, Strathclyde, Lancaster, Kingston, LSE, KCL, Birmingham, Bristol, UEA, Sussex, Cardiff, LSHTM, The Institute of Education, QMWL, Aberystwyth, Swansea, Southampton, and others, have voted, at branch meetings, to reject such proposals. Previous similar proposals have been repudiated by individual branches, and overwhelmingly rejected by branch ballots of their membership.

The resolutions in question have been rushed through, in a way that has actively prevented the membership from scrutinising them.  Papers concerning the resolution have been distributed extremely late, with no explanation.  Legal advice, paid for by the members concerning the resolution has been withheld from elected representatives, branch presidents, and the membership.

The leadership of the union, and its Congress, which are both controlled by the Socialist Workers’ Party, has exhibited contempt for the views of its members on this matter, and on others, such as the crazy decision to ballot for industrial action, and the dishonest cover up by the SWP that has followed the aborting of this ballot.

In National Executive elections, less than ten percent of the membership now vote.  The NEC cannot be said properly to represent either the membership of the union, or the academic community in Britain.

If the union was a democratic space, in which the majority of the membership was able to determine policy, then there would be a case for remaining active in the union, and working for a change of policy. In its predecessor union, democratic mechanisms were available which allowed the overturning of a similar policy on April 26th 2005.

But the UCU does not provide such a democratic space, and the procedures available in the AUT were removed at the time of merger.

The UCU cannot be considered a democratic union, representative of its members.

This has the following consequences:

We have a union that is able to send its President on trips to the Caribbean, at the members’ expense, to “celebrate the Cuban revolution” but that is unable to organise a legal ballot on industrial action in defence of jobs.

We have a union that has produced misleading and dishonest statements to the membership, on matters of fact, about both the ballot for industrial action, and about its policy on Israel and Palestine, and in which opponents of such a policy are subject to threats of legal action, smears, personal attack, and exclusions.

We have a union that has consciously abandoned its role of representing academics professionally.

We have a union that has brought academics in Britain into disrepute, by its willingness to countenance and support violations of the Principle of Universality of Science and Learning, and by condoning and supporting attacks on academic freedom, such as the outrageous and discriminatory actions of Professor Mona Baker in dismissing two Israeli members of her editorial board.

We have a union that, since merger, has allowed the systematic distortion and violation of democratic norms.  This works through a complex system of reserved seats, fractional branches and unaccountable, unrepresentative ‘regional committees’ each of which helps to entrench an anti-democratic system of double counting into its decision-making.  All of this has been done in violation of the agreements made at merger.   The merger has been a disaster for academic trade unionism in Britain.

We have a union that has allowed the distribution of antisemitic material on its internal lists, and the peddling of antisemitic conspiracy theories by some of its members, whilst banning anti-racist and Jewish members who have objected to such material.

We have a union from which hundreds of members – many of them Jewish – have resigned in protest at the unwarranted exceptionalism of its attitude to Israel.  I believe that many more will do so.

We have a union that entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members. The UCU is now the most complacent public institution in Britain with respect to the current rise in antisemitism.

Members of the UCU will ignore the decisions of its Congress, and continue to engage in academic collaboration and research with Israeli and Palestinian colleagues, and Israeli and Palestinian Universities, and they will be right to do so.

Academics in Britain, will, of course, ignore the UCU’s policy on this matter, and they will, of course, be right to do so.

It would be good if academics had a democratic, effective, professional and serious union to represent them in negotiating with the employers and in protecting their terms and conditions of employment.

That is, sadly, no longer the case.

I therefore resign my seat on the NEC.

Dr Jon Pike

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

The Open University

Formerly Nationally elected member NEC (Pre-92)
The Jewish Chronicle report of Jon’s resignation is here.

34 Responses to “Jon Pike, elected opponent of the boycott on UCU Executive, resigns”

  1. David Hirsh Says:

    Jon, we are all grateful for the work you’ve done, and for your strength in putting up with the abuse and bullying that you’ve been forced to suffer. We are grateful for the time and effort you’ve put in.

    You made the arguments with as much clarity and with as much force as they could be made.

    You showed that the boycott proposal was wrong.
    You showed that the boycott proposal was antisemitic in effect if not intent.

    Shame on the members of the union who were too stupid or too stubborn to follow your reasoning.

    Thanks Jon.

  2. Jon Pike resigns from the boycotting union « Greens Engage Says:

    […] College Union National Executive Committee on an anti-boycott ticket, has resigned his position. Read his open letter to the Secretary General, Sally […]

  3. Eve Garrard Says:

    What David just said, and more. We’re all in your debt. If anyone could have succeeded in changing the UCU you were the person.. The fact that the executive has remained unmoved by your efforts, and those of others supporting you, is a measure of how far it has gone from the commitment to universal values of anti-racism and academic freedom which the members have a right to expect of their union.

    Thankyou for everything you’ve done, it won’t be forgotten.

  4. Matthias Varul Says:

    it was Jon Pike’s relentless work on behalf of the majority of the UCU members that made me rejoin the union – after the recent boycott decision i decided to leave never to come back… had i not done so i would do so now – the UCU without Jon is a lost cause
    thanks Jon, for trying so hard!!!

  5. Raphael Says:


    What Eve, and David said.


    Is there still a case to stay in the Union? I had just rejoined…


  6. David Hirsh Says:

    I’m staying in the union because I won’t be pushed out by antisemites.

    A couple of years ago we took “action short of a strike”. We refused to mark exams in order to put pressure on the employers for our pay claim.

    UCU members of my department discussed how we were going to implement the action.

    I refuse to be excluded from those discussions now or in the future.

    I won’t be pushed out of my union. I have as much right as anyone else to be a member.

    I have no faith in the union’s ability to campaign for education. I have no faith in the union’s ability to challenge antisemitism. I have no faith in the union’s ability to represent me if I come under pressure from my employers. I have no faith in the staff of the union who have excluded me from the internal discussion in a petty and arbitrary way. I have no faith in the leadership of the union who let them do it. I have no faith in those on the NEC who say they oppose the boycott but who failed to speak against it at Congress. I have no faith in the leadership of the union to protect the union from the Socialist Workers Party.

    I have no faith in Congress who, when asked, decided not to investigate why Jews were resigning from the union, citing antisemitism as a reason.

    But I will not be pushed out of my union by anti-Jewish racism.

  7. Alex Says:


    Thank you for all your hard work.


    I appreciate your sentiments in refusing to let the bullies win. I don’t have your strength. I will ask, however: If you have no faith in the UCU to act as a trade union, is there any point staying other than a desire to not let the bullies win?

    And back to a question I asked a few posts ago:
    When (for me, it is no longer if, but when) we leave UCU, what are our options regarding other unions?

  8. David M. Seymour Says:

    As well as echoing the words of David and Eve, it is the/my union that has the most to lose by your resignation.

  9. Saul Says:

    From what one reads and hear, I admire you for staying on the NEC as long as you did.

  10. Absolute Observer Says:

    Jon, a timely comment from the venerable (and mythical) university of Poppleton

    “The Voice of the Union

    Following the UCU annual congress, we welcome a guest column from the university’s UCU branch Secretary, Gerry Loadbearing.

    I take strong exception to the editorial in last week’s Poppletonian, which suggested that the current leadership of this great union “must have difficulty running a whelk stall”.
    Although it’s true that the UCU is making an economically absurd claim for an 8 per cent pay increase, and although it is also true that the ballot on industrial action to support this claim had to be cancelled for “legal reasons”, there is no truth in the rumour that the speed with which the ballot was cancelled had anything to do with the union’s belief that it would have lost anyway, and certainly no truth in the suggestion that we’re now falling back on the old chestnut of a boycott of Israeli universities in the certain knowledge that such a motion could not be implemented for “legal reasons”.
    Finally, there is quite definitely no truth in the scurrilous rumour that the union’s headquarters’ staff will shortly be unveiling a plague to “legal reasons”. I hope this clarifies the situation.”

    I think that say it all!

  11. Linda Grant Says:

    I’ve been a great admirer of Jon since he saw off the AUT boycott by reading the union rule book and discovering there was scope for an extraordinary general meeting.

  12. qw Says:

    I doubt the vast majority of academics in the union have a political bone in their body, or any idea what is being done and said in their name.

    I hadn’t a clue. I was stunned when I found out, from a colleague who reads the activists list, just how bad things were.

    I couldn’t just ignore what I found out, and keep paying subs to an organisation run by such terrible people. I was a hair’s breadth from leaving; it was that or put something back in. I didn’t want to not be in a union, so I got more involved. (And – top tip – I asked to cancel the union’s political levy on subs).

    Now I’m on our local committee, and do some casework, and I feel like I am able to make a difference on a fairly regular basis. There aren’t many active people in my branch, so every voice counts. But it’s a constant struggle, because the SWP young team are relentless with their spin and mind games.

    It’s disheartening to see that even Jon doesn’t see an end to it – he was a bit of a beacon, to tell the truth. But I think those who stay are just as justified as those who feel they must leave.

    A union is meant to offer strength on a large scale, but really it’s at the local level where so much good can still be done – once the politics has been stripped away.

    I never really wanted to get involved, and I still don’t really think it’s for me. But I can’t deny that it can be so clear sometimes that you’ve really helped someone out.

  13. Mira Vogel Says:

    What I’ve really valued about Jon’s presence on the NEC were the accounts, the careful analysis, the anticipation of different ways of looking at things, the clarity of explanation, the bullet point summaries. I learnt a lot. It was deeply disturbing, but that wasn’t Jon’s fault.

    As an ordinary member it seemed to me that Jon was the only person prepared to scrutinise the leadership and hold the union to its own standards on anti-racism, governance and academic freedom.

    So it’s this kind of thing which will be such a loss:

    “Take a bit of care, please. Don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes. Don’t try to rewrite history. We’re watching.

    And it’s our union too.”

    Well done Jon, and thank you for your vigilance. You’ve done more than your share.

  14. UCU Lose Another Trade Union Activist. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] UCU Lose Another Trade Union Activist. 2009 June 5 by modernityblog Jon Pike, long standing member of the University and College Union’s National Executive Committee (and one of its predecessors, Association of University Teachers) has resigned his offical position exasperated at the goings-on in UCU, please read his resignation letter at Engage. […]

  15. Ariel H Says:

    Thank you Jon for all your hard work and everything that you’ve done. As Eve said, it is the Union’s loss.

    At this point I have to ask myself if it’s worth staying in the Union. There are still – as David said – some reasons for, but as far as I’m concerned they are fast being outweighed by those against.

  16. Bob Says:

    thanks so much for working so hard to fight for democracy and decency in our union, with such integrity. It must have been an unpleasant task.

    Raphael and others-
    I am am staying in. I believe sooner or later we can retake our union. Like David, I refuse to be pushed out of my union by racists. The principles of trade unionism and the job of fighting for education, for our students & for decent pay and conditions in the sector, are too important to give up on.

  17. JG Campbell Says:

    Thanks, Jon, for all your hard work in recent years. As one of the others has said, you’ve done more than your fair share. And I’ve always been impressed by your sheer indefatigability!

    Alex, I found the ATL quite good during one of the periods when I left the AUT/UCU (and though I recently rejoined UCU, I imagine I’ll end up going back to them sooner rather than later). Most of the their members are teachers in schools and FE colleges, but they’re happy to have HE members – though I have to admit I was rather disconcerted a couple of years ago when the ATL rep giving me some advice didn’t know what the RAE was!

  18. Mikey Says:

    Like others, I appreciate the work that John has put in to the UCU against this relentless boycott campaign.

    What concerns me is how the membership of UCU have allowed a Trotskyite party, whose aim is a global revolution, to install a Marxist-Leninist ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ to take control of the union. Even if we ignore the boycott campaign, this situation is simply farcical.

    The SWP’s only interest in UCU, like Trotskyites interest in other organisations that they takeover, is to use it as a method for building their own political party so that this so called revolution can be brought about quickly. I certainly do not hope that they do succeed since their hero Trotsky not only supported terror, but as Alfred G. Meyer commented, “if Stalinism is to be labeled a totalitarian form of rule, no one favoured totalitarianism more than L. D. Trotsky.”*

    *Alfred G. Meyer, “Lev Davidovich Trotsky,” Problems of Communism, Vol. XVI, No.6, November-December 1967,p. 34

  19. David M. Seymour Says:

    Dear Bob,
    I think that it is important for UCU (like all unions) to take an active role in matters beyond those that you mentioned, including, of course, the conflict in Israel and Palestine. As far as I understand Jon’s (and Engage’s) position over the years is that such engagement should support and build upon the work currently being done in the region by those who refuse to be seduced by the allure of an exclusionary nationalism and offer an alternative escape from the current impasse.
    It is these, often fragile, connections that UCU should be attending to as a matter of urgency, and not the empty and damaging rhetoric of boycott.
    As Jon noted in one of his comments, the recent Congress motion represented yet another wasted by UCU to act in progressive and positive manner.

  20. zkharya Says:

    i’m really sorry john if i teed you off concerning chris williams. Thank you.

  21. Alex Says:


    Whether unions should take a look at broader aspects than their members direct concerns is an interesting issue. I’d argue that these concerns, if they are to be raised, should be done as an adjunct to “core business”. If taking an active role sees the union as both unrepresentative on one hand, and alienating part of its membership on the other hand, they should approach with as much sensitivity, understanding and inclusiveness as possible (ideally with large doses of democracy, transparency and accountability as well). I don’t think this is what UCU congress has been doing. Similarly, if what they are doing jeopardises some workers’ rights, either by distracting the union from proper negotiation with employers or, in this case, risking the academic freedom of those engaged in Jewish / Israeli / ME studies, it really needs to be done very, very carefully.

  22. David M. Seymour Says:

    I can safely say that I don’t think we disagree too much on this issue.

  23. Bill Says:

    This is a perfect example, unfortunately, on how relentless unchecked unprofessional behavior grinds down even the most stalwart champions of The Good. Many Thanks-and-Much-Obliges to Jon for his hard service, and continued heaping servings of the same to David for continuing to slug it out to try to remind the UCU that it is a professional organization and academic negotiating unit, not a political wing of the SWP or a vanity piece for overgrown teenagers.

  24. Andrew MacFarlane Says:


    I understand your decision, and I’m sorry that you’ve been put in a position where you feel that you must resign before your period on the NEC is up.

    Anybody heard that the government is cutting funding by 5 to 10% depending on the institution? Would it be to much to ask that our union actually deals with some issues which are directly relevant to their members?


  25. Fabian from Israel Says:

    Thanks for all your work, Jon!

  26. Clap Hammer Says:


    I really hope that your magnificent letter move other members of the UCU to stop the flow of bigoted decisions which have become so common in the UCU.

    It seems to be a classic case of a small clique of highly organised persons with an extreme political agenda ‘taking over’ what was once a respected body and reducing it to a mouthpiece for prorogation of their perverted ideals.

  27. Ray Noble Says:

    Thank you Don Pike for standing up for democracy and the members. The way Sally Hunt and the NEC have handled the Boycott issue has been a disgrace and they long ago lost my respect.

  28. john Strawson Says:

    Jon has been a principled trade union activist whose wisdom and leadership has been invaluable in both the AUT and UCU. He decision to resign from the UCU NEC in the wake on the congress votes yet again for a boycott of Israeli university is quite understandable; and like others here I wish to thank him for his all his efforts on our behalf. The congress votes and Jon’s resignation does mean that a new stage has been reached on the boycott issue and we need to re-think the strategy. Engage has played a major role in highlighting the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism and in coordinating and offering advice to academics in the AUT and now UCU. The analysis of the new anti-Semitism – and David has been quite central here – is not timely but perhaps even more rampant and insidious than many others of us had realized. The boycott activists are not just ruthlessly pursuing their agenda but are able to do so in a fertile environment. A poisoned public discourse based on the assumption that the creation of Israel was a mistake and that it is an irredeemably colonialist and aggressive state forms the environment in which the boycotters are able to appear mainstream. Thus in assessing how to proceed it is necessary to grapple with the wider picture in which UCU is just a small part. Jon’s resignation is a significant moment.

  29. Inna Says:

    John Strawson–

    I think you are quite right.


    You have been a voice of reason in your union of course but also it was great knowing (on this side of the pond) that there is at least one voice of sanity in the UCU leadership. I think that without your leadership, the UCU is heading down a very dark road at what is likely going to be a very bad time for education world-wide.



  30. themacgee Says:

    I am a member of UCU. I don’t want to be, but we have had a faculty strategy issued recently that looks likely to pursue major and unwelcome changes in our contracts, plus there’s the looming threat of redundancies. So I feel compelled to stay. Is there any move afoot to set up an alternative union, one that isn’t infected with UCL racism and boycott-obsession?

  31. Toby Esterhase Says:

    Who is motivated enough and talented enough successfully to set up the Bund of Jewish Higher Education Workers?

  32. zkharya Says:

    According to David T, Harry Goldstein is reporting Sean Wallis is now saying that all he meant was that the backers of the anti-Israel boycott campaign have LOST their money with Lehman Brothers.

    He’s had all week and that’s the best he can do.

    Why introduce Lehman Brothers in the first place? Unless you assume a co-(Zionist Jewish) identity between it and anti-boycott lawyers? And how is that not ethnic or racial stereotyping?

    But why then introduce “bank accounts that cannot be traced”?

    Not one of his published explanations of his words, early or late, provide this explanation in written form. UCL UCU SWP apparently bullied Harry Goldstein, Vanessa Freedman et al. into white washing Wallis’ remarks by threatening to pass a motion noting a conspiracy to defame Wallis.

    They should not have endorsed the motion, despite the bullying. They have betrayed their anti-racist and anti-antisemitic principles by letting Wallis off on this one.

    But I do not think he should be. Which is why I have published his actual words to as many in academic Jewish and Israel studies departments that I can. Let Wallis give them his new explanation.

  33. The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] principle that UCU should defend its independence from the courts and that it should defend its own democratic structures and its right to make whatever policy it chooses.  They will say that the Israel lobby is […]

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