UCU union members have called a day of action in support of victimised trade unionist Lee Humber.
Lee was suspended by bosses at Oxford’s Ruskin College after the union branch delivered a vote of no confidence in principal Paul Di Felice. The branch is asking supporters to share “solidarity selfies” to show support for Lee on Friday.
Around 50 students and workers joined a rally at the college on Wednesday demanding Lee’s reinstatement. Des McDermott, chair of Ruskin College UCU, told the crowd, “This is about standing up for colleagues and standing up for principles.
“We know we’re not alone. We are supported by the UCU nationally and we’re getting messages of support every minute.
“Many people supporting Lee don’t know him, but they recognise victimisation when they see it.”
Lee discovered he had been suspended on Monday, after suddenly being unable to access his work email last Friday afternoon.
He told Socialist Worker, “They have said I’ve been suspended for not attending three meetings. The real reason is that the branch passed a motion of no confidence in the principal.
“We had over 500 people sign a petition calling for my reinstatement in just one day. It’s an amazing response.”
Lee said the union has been challenging management to try and protect students and education at Ruskin. “Their strategy is to not recruit students so in July they can shut courses and say they aren’t viable,” he said.
“We fear they want to run things down so the college can become part of a for-profit group.”
UCU member Bec said that was a “clear link” between Lee’s suspension and the vote of no confidence.
“Staff and students have been raising issues about management,” she told Socialist Worker. “We can see problems are having a detrimental effect on students.”
Many students complained about the “incompetence” of college bosses. Pam told Socialist Worker, “They just don’t ever get anything right.
“I was going to do health and social care. But I was told it was cancelled four weeks before I was due to start. They said they didn’t have the numbers to run the course.”
Pam said bosses are “scapegoating” Lee for problems caused by bosses. “The tutors are the only good thing about the college,” she said. “Lee is speaking out because he cares about our education.
“We’ve got to get him reinstated.”
Access student James explained how Lee made a difference to his education. “I was just given the assessment criteria for a course and told to get on with it,” James told Socialist Worker.
“But Lee gave me some materials and clear guidance. He didn’t have to, but he cares about students.
“He’s a proud trade unionist in the college and management are against trade unions.”
Rachel added, “Lee’s my tutor and we worry about what’s going to happen to us now. We’ve been left in limbo.”
Like many, Rachel said Lee’s suspension is part of a bigger struggle about the future of Ruskin College.
“It used to be left wing here, and now they’re trying to make it more liberal,” she told Socialist Worker.
“That means people like me, people from estates, will never get a chance. When I came here I was a drug addict and I’d had lots of problems. Lee knew all that and he didn’t judge me. I’m 48 now and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for people like Lee.”
Des said the support for Lee has given workers and students at Ruskin confidence to fight. “It’s shown management that they aren’t just taking on our branch,” he said. “They are taking on the whole union.”