UCU holding a secret boycott strategy conference. Bongani Masuku to be a guest of UCU.

On Fair Play Campaign Group.

Bongani Masuku, the International Secretary of COSATU (the South African TUC), is touring the UK in the next few days. He, together with Ronnie Kasrils and Omar Barghouti, is speaking at SOAS, Leeds and Manchester Universities, and the Scottish TUC in Glasgow. The tour, to promote a boycott of Israel, is organised by BRICUP.

Bongani Masuku has made inflammatory and threatening statements against the South African Jewish community because of their support for Israel. Alana Pugh-Jones of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies says:

Specifically, Masuku had openly and repeatedly stated that COSATU would target Jewish supporters of Israel and “make their lives hell” and urged that “every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.

Ami on Harry’s Place highlighted more examples of Masuku’s threats, and ENGAGE reported that South African Human Rights Commission ruled that Masuku’s comments are Hate Speech. If Masuku does not apologise within 15 days, the Human Rights Commission will take him to court. The commission found:

The comments and statements made are of an extreme nature that advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and thus subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation. A prima facie case of hate speech is clearly established as the statements and comments by Mr. Masuku are offensive and unpalatable to society.

Fair Play can now reveal that Bongani Masuku is actually coming to Britain as a guest of UCU.

UCU is hosting a conference on Saturday to strategise on how best to boycott Israel. The agenda of the conference is a secret. The venue is a secret, as are the speakers and attendees. UCU has not told its own membership about the conference and has refused requests for further information – perhaps the conference itself was supposed to be a secret too.

However, we have learnt that Bongani Masuku is one of the invited speakers, along with Kasrils and Barghouti. The BRICUP tour is only an “spin-off” event. UCU has indicated that is paying for international visitors to the conference; this would mean that it is paying for Masuku’s visit to Britain.

We are shocked that UCU would host someone like Makusu, who incites violence against Jews in his home country, as an honoured guest. However, we are not surprised. At its annual conference this year, UCU voted not to investigate why so many of its Jewish members had resigned. One of the arguments against this proposed investigation was that it would undermine the Union’s ability to campaign for the Palestinians.

So UCU members’ subscription money is being used, we believe, to pay for Bongani Masuku to spread his incitement in the UK. UCU is trying to keep this a secret from its own members. UCU is running closed-door strategy meetings on a boycott of Israel, despite its own repeated legal advice that “making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation“ and therefore “an academic boycott of Israel would be unlawful and cannot be implemented“. And Bongani Masuku is a key guest at this conference.

UCU no longer has any credibility as an anti-racist organisation.

20 Responses to “UCU holding a secret boycott strategy conference. Bongani Masuku to be a guest of UCU.”

  1. Bill Says:

    “UCU no longer has any credibility as an anti-racist organization.”

    No doubt there, let’s get the more sticky question. This is a “secret” meeting (apparently “sunshine-free” even to its rank-n-file membership), and clearly moving to place the UCU on a collision course with the RRA (which it’s members must comply in their university jobs).

    One also has to ask if the UCU no longer has any credibility as a negotiating unit.

    If I’m a university administrator (be me an honest broker or… otherwise), and am facing a group this nakedly reckless with the law and their members across a table during talks, why should I even bother when they’re clearly acting in bad faith especially when it’s my deep pockets (or to be more accurate, my cash cows’ deep pockets) that are going to be tapped when it’s lawsuit time? It’s nice that a negotiating organization like the UCU should have good anti-racist street cred (as should any professional group), but when it backroom-proposes policies that, on the face if it, jeopardize it’s raison d’être…

  2. Sarah B Says:

    As a member of the Union is there anything useful one can do in response to this? Emailing Sally Hunt, based on past experience, does not seem particularly useful!

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Sarah B., ally with someone who knows Anthony Julius, and start a fund-raising drive to pay for the services of m’learned friends who will put the legal screws on the UCU Exec.

    Not that this advice is that helpful, but all the money being spent on these meetings and the expenses of the speakers may well be ultra vires – not permitted, not agreed to, even against the law, in lay terms (and no, I’m not a lawyer, just married to one).

  4. Sarah B Says:

    Thanks Brian – I also thought someone ought to write to the Times Higher to ensure more people in the union are aware of this. I’ll contact the ‘fair play campaign group’ – maybe they have already done this.

  5. UCU member Says:

    I have had enough. I have resigned.

    The UCU are evidently willing to play with antisemitism in their obsessive pursuit of Israel.
    The UCU have stood back whilst members have been bullied and harassed.
    Those that dare question the boycott have been told that the Union would be better without them; and, no action against that member taken.
    The UCU has allowed hatred to ferment and mature.

    The UCU have permitted comment that in any other forum would be seen to go against any and all standards that comprise civilised discourse and disagreement.

    They have made a mockery of all the standards of equality and freedom from discrimination that we, as a Trade Union movement fought so hard to have enacted.

    Throughout this entire period they have allowed the the low, background hum of antisemitism to continue unabated until its own executive officer chairs a meeting in which a person found guilty of race-hate speech is given a platform.

    This is not an organisation that I wish to support, morally, politically and financially.

    • Sarah B Says:

      Even though I completely disagreed with the boycott moves I think this new development represents a sharp further deterioration. So I am certainly considering resigning. I will however first email my branch rep requesting that a message about this meeting and guest speaker be distributed to my university’s UCU mailing list.

  6. duncan bryson Says:

    UCU member,

    Please, please reconsider your decision. I too am ammember of UCU, a branch officer and occasional delegate to congress, I too disagree with the activities such as those outlined on this site, but resigning is not the way forward. There is so, so much more to our union and its activities than the one eyed policies of a few about Israel. The fewer of us there are in the union arguing against these policies, the stronger the idiots will become. By staying you are showing that you can believe in trade unionism AND be an opponent of their discsiminatory policies. Don’t do it!!

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I sometimes think about how nice it would be to leave, but it would be a mistake to think that would give any respite. Moreover, boycotters in my union do casework for colleagues under threat of redundancy. It’s the best body of expertise and advocacy we have. That’s the split nature of this union, and the reason I’m still paying my subs. The boycott movement does not define UCU, it is a threat to and from UCU. Peronally I’d like people to join, attend their branch meetings (I exempt myself for the moment, I need to find the stomach again), and stop treating UCU like a charity.

    • Bill Says:

      Under the present larger circumstances, I have to agree with Duncan and Mira… Especially if someone like Duncan, a fair advocate, as your local contact. While the above misconduct compromises the UCU to a point where they hemorrhaging credibility (and Linda Hunt should be shown the door). Right now academics and univ. researchers in the US and UK are dealing with dodgy “furloughs” (w/o real changes to our formal expectations and thus, our end-of-the-day workload) and other cost cutting measures. The gory sad fact is that these overgrown teenagers are have held ethical and responsible members and associates hostage to a false sense of collegiality since they started this crap and now you need the UCU more than ever. They know that, and they’re relying on the fact that you’ve better things to do with your time (like uh.. your job) than fight them, til now.. Well… time to fight them. If you have a “Duncan,” fantastic, light a fire under his or her butt… if you have a boycotteer, then get the majority members on your side get rid of him or her and replace the boycotteer with someone who actually will represent ALL of your Unit. It’ll be nasty. It’ll be “uncollegial” but it’s necessary. But unless you have a back up negotiating unit that your administration recognizes.. .

  7. Bill Says:

    ouch bad typos… sorry bout that.

  8. UCU member Says:

    Thanks. I appreciate your time.
    However, the arguments you raise has kept me for the last few years, but this weekend a line was crossed.

    You write,
    “By staying you are showing that you can believe in trade unionism AND be an opponent of their discsiminatory policies.”

    From my point of view, by staying I am giving my political and financial support to what in effect has become a racist organisation, one that pursues and does not oppose racism.

    “There is so, so much more to our union and its activities than the one eyed policies of a few about Israel.”

    I am afraid that I have never thought that racism and antisemitism is a detachable part of an institution orororganisnation, that if we isolate that bit, then the rest is ok. The UCU’s current antisemitism goes to its core in both personnel (Hickey) and institutionally (UCU prioritising not just Israel but its boycott) as well as the manner in which, after years of effort, the UCU has not taken antisemitism seriously.

    Let me emphasise that I do NOT call on other members to resign. For me, personally, the line has been crossed. Others, equally disgusted, may choose to stay. I respect that. For me, sorry but no.


  9. UCU member Says:


    It is not nice to leave at all. I am of the left. I am a Trade Unionist. It was neither easy nor nice to leave. It was most unpleasant. However, I have no regrets in the sense of why I resigned.

    As I mentioned above, I cannot separate the “split nature” of the Union. If my job was under threat, do you really think I would feel comfortable going to a body that has for the past years bullied, attacked, insulted Jewish and non-Jewish members as well as pursuing a policy that makes a mockery of anti-discrimination legislation all in the name of a boycott of Jewish Israeli academics?

    Do you really think that I could pretend that the body represented is ok really?

    Do you think I would feel comfortable when that same Union remains silent when I was told (indirectly) that my union would be better off without me?

    Do you think if I was at UCL I could feel comfortable being represented by Sean Wallis?

    Do you think if I was at LSE, I could feel comfortable beingbeing represented by Michael Cushman?

    Do you think if I was at Leeds I could feel ok being represented by Gavin Read?

    When UCU show they take anti-antisemitism seriously, I will rejoin, and not before.

    As I say, I am not calling for others to follow my course.


    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Of course you wouldn’t feel comfortable. Nothing has changed. I’m very disgusted about my subs being used to fund antisemitic events. Indeed, I feel abused by UCU and my subs are all I have to withdraw. UCU is the source of most of my stress at work, but leaving UCU won’t sort that out.

      At the same time I’ve watched my branch representing colleagues in various vulnerable situations. There was nobody else to do it. I want to contribute to that part, and as you point out, it can’t be separated from the rest. I want there to be trade unions, and I don’t want them colonised by antisemitic activists.

      I feel very uncomfortable myself. You must do what feels right for you.

  10. UCU’s Blind Eye To Antisemitism. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] Update 1: There has been a steady stream of members leaving the trade union, UCU, over the past five years, another one has resigned: […]

  11. UCU member Says:

    I respect your views entirely. Thank you for respecting mine. I guess all I was saying was my decision was not easy at all. It is painful in many ways.
    Once the UCU have sorted themselves out and cease to host spokespersons of antisemitism, I will be back. It’s a 2-way street.

  12. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Dear UCU member, I fully sympathise with your feelings and your decision to leave. I was a member of Natfhe, the other half of the merged union, and I was for many years a branch officer. Fortunately for me, I retired and decided not to renew my membership as a retired member, deciding that my subs would be better used by Engage and similar organisations.

    I was lucky in other respects: the pressure to boycott and the (however submerged) hints of antisemitism were much fainter at that time (2004), although the pressure was beginning to mount. Thus, I didn’t have the choice that you (and Mira, David, et al) have every day (it seems): whether to remain true to one’s trade union principles (and to maintain the protection) or to leave.

    The only possible light at the end of the tunnel, it seems to me from the outside, is that the current leadership will so overreach themselves that they will be forced out, either by a grass-roots revolt or by losing a massive legal battle that they either didn’t see coming or they were too arrogant to anticipate.

    Trouble is, the latter will destroy UCU. Perhaps that’s what they want (if their arrogance let’s them think this way) so that they can (to paraphrase Brecht) “elect another membership”.

    Then, of course, managents may stop taking them seriously, because they are so bound up in essentially irrelevant activities as far as most members are concerned. In the end, the mass membership have to decide whether to walk away, as you are doing, or turn their views against the leadership: essentially, take Joe Hill’s apocryphal advice: don’t mourn, organise!

  13. duncan bryson Says:

    Bill, I like your idea of kicking out ‘boycotteers’ (nice new word, are you american?), but I don’t think it is practical. I argue a great deal about this with my fellow branch officers and other ‘activists’, most of whom are pro boycott, but we have a difficult time organising at branch level and lots of issues which are far more relevant to members’ day to day struggle. One of the reasons the issue of Israel / Palestine has managed to dominate congress and the union at national level is because of the disconnect between ordinary members and the superstructure of the union. The average member of my branch teaches vocational courses to local teenagers and faces year to year job insecurity. Most only know about congress because I tell them about it afterwards. They don’t care about boycott one way or another. Do you know how many links a provincial FE college has with Israel? None. What they want are committed branch officials who will fight their corner and those people are hard to find. Many of those people vote for boycott, but I don’t want to lose them from my branch and neither do the members.

  14. UCU’s poster of far right antisemitism « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] way UCU chooses to think about the Holocaust in relation to its own activities hasn’t been sufficient to keep it free of other forms of antisemitism. Posted in Holocaust, UCU. Leave a Comment […]

  15. UCU’s poster on the Holocaust « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

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