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Senior Marxist academics accused of breaking boycott to give talk about Marxism

Hundreds have supported the protest against outsourcing jobs to companies accused of ‘harassment and discrimination’ at the University of London.

Protesters demand equal employment terms alongside MP Laura Pidcock outside University of London’s Senate House (IWGB/PA)
Protesters demand equal employment terms alongside MP Laura Pidcock outside University of London’s Senate House (IWGB/PA)

Leading Marxist academics have been accused of undermining a protest about workers’ rights in London to give a talk about a historian famous for his support of workers’ rights.

Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor Emeritus of history at Cambridge University, is due to discuss his book on Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm at the University of London on Thursday evening, breaking a boycott supported by hundreds which is advocating better employment conditions for cleaners and other outsourced staff at the university.

Martin Jacques, the former editor of Marxism Today, and Professor Donald Sassoon, who completed his PhD under Hobsbawm’s supervision, are also scheduled to talk.

“It is disappointing that these respected academics chose to ignore the boycott in order to talk about a Marxist historian that we are sure would be on our side in this struggle,” said Maritza Castillo Calle, University of London branch chairwoman of the IWGB union, which has organised the boycott.

Sir Richard Evans said he supported the cause of the protesters and will “bring it to the attention of the meeting”.

The other scheduled speakers  did not respond to requests for comment.

The event has received considerable criticism online, where one academic claimed that Hobsbawm would be “rolling in his grave” at the thought of a protest being undermined to discuss his work.

The talk has been organised by the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House, where it is being held, and Birkbeck University history department, despite the university’s student union supporting the boycott.

A statement from Birkbeck University said: “Birkbeck is strongly supportive of the University of London’s decision to bring currently outsourced staff into direct employment of the university – a process which is currently under way.”

An IWGB spokesman disputed the matter, however, arguing: “The bulk of outsourced workers – including maintenance, cleaners and catering – will remain outsourced at least until their contracts are up for tender in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

“At that point an in-house bid will be presented alongside other commercial bids, leaving the door open for the workers to remain outsourced indefinitely.”

Sir Richard Evans said: “I think it is right that outsourced labour should be brought under the aegis of the University of London and given the same working terms and conditions as those employed by the university directly. I understand the university is making efforts to do this.”

More than 400 academics and politicians, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, as well as academic institutions and other leading figures, are backing the boycott over the University of London’s “continued use of outsourced workers to provide essential services”.

Staff paid by outsourced companies are demanding equal terms of employment with those employed directly by the university.

Cleaners made allegations of unmanageable workloads, unfair contracts and “harassment and discrimination… based on gender, disability and race” by managers in a letter thanking academics for their support this week.

“Outsourcing engenders economic and social exclusion, in which we, migrant workers, are exploited in ways that would never be possible with the mostly white academics and managers that are directly employed by the university,” they wrote.

“The boycott was a last resort following countless strikes and after the university ignored all our calls for dialogue. We hope the stand taken by our supporters will make university management finally see sense,” said Ms Castillo Calle.

PA

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