London Met crisis: Racist immigration policy to blame, says Unison steward

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Over 2,000 international students at London Met have been threatened with deportation after the university had their ‘most trusted status’, allowing them to take international students, revoked by the UK Borders Agency. This doesn’t just effect new students, but also those coming to the end of their degree who will not be allowed to reregister and complete them. Mark Booth spoke to chair of London Met Unison and NEC member, Max Watson.

Max Watson

MB: Did workers have any advance warning that this might happen? Either from government or managers?

We had great deal of warning, we knew in July it had been suspended,  it was in the news. However the seriousness of the potential impact wasn’t clear then.

MB: You already had a big battle on your hands with the threat by university management to outsource services. What are London Met bosses proposing and how have you responded?

They are proposing to outsource the entire back office functions, everything from libary staff to the registry, everything that isn’t teaching will be part of a wholly owned private company. The branch has launched a campaign which has been very well supported;  a campaign of emails and publicity, t-shirts, seminars by experts on outsourcing, lobbies of the vice-chancellor’s office, and threatened them with a ballot for industrial action. We have had approval from regional office to go for a ballot for industrial action. You expect given the new situation this may be put on hold, we have a meeting tomorrow to discuss this, but my fear is it might be called off.

MB: Is it true that UKBA decision threatens London Met’s future?

Yes it is true. 20% of our income would be pulled immediately from us, and this would result in a downward spiral.

Labour MP Frank Field sparked outrage when he accused London Met and other higher education institutions of “letting in illegals” on Newsnight. Unison member Max Watson says he should be “expelled from the Labour Party”.

MB: Would you say this is about racist immigration policy as well as cuts? How did you feel when Labour MP Frank Field said London Met only had itself to blame for “letting in illegals”?

I agree it is also about racist immigration policy. I think Frank Fields is sitting on the wrong benches in the hosue of commons. He should be expelled from the Labour party.

MB: Are you making links with students? 

The campaign is student led. We have a coordinating committee made up of UCU, UNISON, the local students union and the NUS. We have met every day this week. Had a mass meeting on Monday and proposed a joint coordinating meeting, and we’ve already set that in place.

MB: What can students, lecturers and trade unionists in other parts of the country do to support your campaign?

There is an Early Day Motion 437 they should encourage their MP to sign. There is a petition they can still sign with 7000 signatures on at the time of writing. We’re going to have a mass meeting next week and rally at 5pm at London Met on Thursday 13th Thursday, all are welcome, and our branch is calling for a national day of action on Friday the 14th with lunchtime rallies at universities and colleges around the country.

Max Watson is chair of London Met Unison and a member of the union’s National Executive Committee. All comments made here are in a personal capacity. 

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