Monday, 28 February 2011

An Employment Tribunal

It's been an extraordinarily long time coming but the day is almost upon us. This bloggard would like to invite one and all along to Tuesday's Employment Tribunal. To those who for a variety of reasons cannot or would prefer not to attend, they can keep abreast of events as they miraculously unfold by referral to this esteemed and venerable website. 

Employment Tribunal
The Extraordinary case of one
Dr Gary Paul Duke 
(represented by the indomitable Mr Eric Longley)
University of Salford
10am prompt!
1st and 2nd March 2011
Alexandra House, the Parsonage

Thursday, 24 February 2011

An Employment Tribunal (or a second attempt)

But M'lud... I have it on good authority that Dr Duke 
despite his whiskers, is a contemporaneous shite!!
'The law is the law and we can't change it!'(1)

I received yet another interesting bundle of documents yesterday from the irrepressible Mr Matthew Stephenson who's located in Information Governance at the University of Salford. That I received them well beyond the provisions laid out in the Data Protection Act - they should have been with me in the third week of January - and several days before the the Employment Tribunal has been noted and will be raised with the Information Commissioner as part of my current complaint against the University. That Vice Chancellor Hall has yesterday written to me and reiterated the same excuse for the delay - that it was due to 'the number of documents, and recent staff moves, and was therefore unavoidable' - is a bit like J-walking across a busy road slowly and complaining to the ambulance driver that your hideous and expansive injuries were due not to your laggardly behaviour, but to the number of feet you had and the fact that you'd recently rearranged your shoes. Let us be clear. Putting aside for one moment that a good deal of the documents provided were copies, this is a clear breach of the Data Protection Act and no form of window dressing will alter this.

A huge imbalance of resources

Considering the vast imbalance in resources (I am a litigant in person currently unemployed and have no financial resources to draw upon in contrast to the University, and allied to this I have been barred from accessing my union branch offices and resources by the University as they are located on University grounds), in the interest of fairness and natural justice, one might have assumed that the University would have made every effort to provide such information that I am legally entitled to, by the specified deadlines. The University of Salford are after all a major local employer with not insignificant resources. They are also aware that I have made past official complaints to the ICO with regard to similar issues in the run-up to last year's aborted Tribunal. Thus, I find Hall's talk of 'delay' less than convincing. Moreover, Stephenson and eventually the University lawyers received reminders from my good self promising all manner of potential calumnies including a threat to ask the Tribunal for an adjournment. The following morning, and amidst a cloud of discord and barely repressed grumblings from an overburdened postwoman, four bundles of documents duly arrived.

What then did Registrar Graves mean in his statement?

It does rather beg the question as to what Dr Graves means in his recent witness statement to the courts where he specifically stated that "[b]oth Professor Hall and myself do not wrongfully keep from staff or the wider public information to which they are entitled. Indeed, it is firmly one of our aims to improve communication throughout the University."(2) Ultimately both Graves and Hall are responsible for adherence to the Data Protection Act 1998. Professor Hall is after all the Chief Executive Officer. But have not the University kept from me information I was entitled to receive within specific time limits set out by the legislation? Given the esteemed Dr Graves' sworn statement and past interest in all matters Freedom of Information related (with regard to myself), it is unlikely that he is unaware of my most recent Subject Access Request. Yet it was a nice personal touch receiving the letter from the Vice Chancellor in which he gave his personal assurance that '[t]he University has provided you with all the information to which you are entitled under the Data Protection Act 1998...'. Thank you Professor Hall.

Ye won't tell anyone will ye?

Sir! As animals go cats are rum 'uns

Is it a delaying tactic as some have suggested? If so it's rather unavailing as I'm quite adept at reading through swathes of documents and emails and recognising exactly what's pertinent and what will be going into the bundle for next week. There are indeed some juicy titbits. However, I must hazard personal caution as I'm sure that certain members of the Felidae family whom themselves are no strangers to the sack, will attest vigorously that it would be wholly imprudent to raise the content of some of these emails and documents prior to the ET.

Short of being served with a libel claim prior to these proceedings by the UoS, which as a tactic is of course expected, all in all, this Employment Tribunal promises to be an interesting, and metaphorically speaking, a fireworky affair. As such, you are all welcome to attend!

Employment Tribunal
The Extraordinary case of one
Dr Gary Paul Duke 
(represented by the indomitable Mr Eric Longley)

University of Salford
10am prompt!
1st and 2nd March 2011
Alexandra House, the Parsonage

(1) The police versus Sir Topham Hatt, Courtesy of Thomas the Tank Engine
(2) Witness statement signed by Dr Graves and provided to the Court in the case of University of Salford v Dr Gary Duke, dated 3rd December 2010.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Intrinsic Asymmetry of a Position Taken

All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
T E Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Just to show that I'm not just some sort of Marxian serial oppositional type or part of a fanciful wider campaign that is likely the by-product of paranoia-induced wet-dreams, I'd like to say publicly and for the record that I agree with University of Salford Vice Chancellor Martin Hall. Ignoring for one moment the wholesale cacophony of nasally ralphed Aldi's Fruit 'n' Fibre, my concurrence with Hall is ever so slightly contingent. Clearly some elaboration is necessary.

The meat and two veg of it

I've received in my inbox a recent article penned by Martin Hall which raises some interesting themes such as (but not exclusively) academic freedom, dissent within the Higher Education system and suppression. The article concerns an audit report conducted by the South African Council on Higher Education (CHE) on the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) which has rather lamentably been suppressed by the CHE after a complaint of bias in the report by the University's Vice Chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba. This was alluded to in a previous post on this website.

Hall explains that "[t]he ostensible reason for abandoning the audit was the leak of a letter I wrote to the then chairperson of the HEQC a few weeks after our audit panel finished its work -- the letter was published in The Mercury in January 2009." He argues with considerable justification that the leaking of his letter to the press was not enough on its own to provide the excuse to suppress the Report. The timeline indicates that Hall who chaired the UKZN Audit Panel in October 2008, at the request of Makgoba delivered an oral feedback session on completion of the report that was widely circulated and published online prior to the writing of his letter. It was delivered from a fourteen page summary of the report. Now this sounds oddly familiar.

Culture and Discipline

Some of the findings in the report were critical of UKZN citing a 'culture of hostility' and the use of disciplinary action against staff who raised worries about academic freedom within the University. Hall writes "We had recommended that, rather than taking disciplinary action against staff complaining of violations of academic freedom, UKZN’s council and executive management should take a conciliatory approach." Weeks later, the University decided to instigate disciplinary action against two academics, professors Nithaya Chetty and John van den Berg who were delegated by their colleagues to bring their concerns about the erosion of academic freedom within UKZN to the attention of the university senate. Despite several failed attempts to have their case heard at senate, in discussing the issue with their colleagues was enough for the management of UKZN to instigate disciplinary action citing the old chestnut and catch-all  'bringing the university into disrepute' as grounds for the disciplinary action. For Hall, this was '... a direct affront to the audit panel and to the HEQC.'(see below at 1)

This Martin Hall wants the UKZN report released
Benefits of releasing the report

Hall is clear on what the positive benefits to UKZN would have been if the report had been released in its entirety:

"Were it to have been released, our audit report would have been found to be a thorough and balanced evaluation of one of South Africa's leading universities. It details and commends significant achievements and presents a range of evidence-based recommendations for continuing improvement. The report’s reasoned and evidence-based findings on institutional culture and academic freedom would have helped the university move on from a difficult phase in its history. The Higher Education Act of 1997 seeks to "respect and encourage democracy, academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression, creativity, scholarship and research".

Hall's final sentence is rather apposite considering he has come under recent criticism on his own blog for what are seen by some as attacks on the rights of free speech at University of Salford. Nithaya Chetty and John van den Berg provide a carefully nuanced analysis of the wider trends in HE that have provided the medium for the development of a culture of bureaucratisation underscored by discipline at UKZN:

"The context for this particular scandal is a trend that has engulfed all universities over the past few decades — the bureaucratisation of higher education... [e]lected deans and old-style administrators have long gone. They have been replaced by executives and managers. Some vice-chancellors fancy themselves to be CEOs... [f]ound wanting, they distrust rational debate and decision making. Faced with obstacles, they turn to orders and threats. Beset with problems, they resort to bureaucratic systems. Collegiality is consigned to the dustbin and an industrial labour relations model is imposed. Academics are no longer senior members of their institutions, but employees dictated to by lawyers in industrial relations departments... [b]ureaucracies take on lives of their own. Excessive paperwork, endless inquiries and perpetual organisational change have demoralised and marginalised academic staff. The long February 2006 strike at the university was as much about this as pay. And, above all, bureaucrats dislike public scrutiny, so clamped down on links between academics and the press."(3)

What's sauce for the goose...

Apart from managers at UKZN, few would disagree with the thrust of Chetty and van den Berg's arguments. Writing in the Mail and Guardianon the 28th January Shirley Brooks argues that the recent disciplinary action and the suppression of the full report is indicative of a culture of managerialism which now pervades UKZN:

"The audit panel's chair, professor Martin Hall, has made known his unhappiness with this outcome and argued that by agreeing to gag the report the CHE is complicit in suppressing important information that is legitimately required by the UKZN community and the public... [o]ne aspect of the problem lies, I feel, in the enabling environment created by the increasing hold of managerialism on South African universities. Managerialism provides the space for top management to make use of legalistic processes to stifle dissent within an institution. The individual who is critical of the direction in which the university is going, and attempts to engage others in the institution as well as top management about this, finds him or herself in a parlous position... "(2)

My Dear Dr Argonaut, your request for bona fide information concerning 
the Golden Fleece is deemed both vexatious and silly so shit off

...should be sauce for the gander - shouldn't it?

On Friday 18th of February I received from Head of Information Governance Mr Matthew Stephenson an email. It read:

"Dear Dr Duke, I write in response to your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 received by the University on 21 January 2011. The University considers that this request is vexatious and is therefore not required to provide the information requested in accordance with section 14(1) of the Act..."

This refusal concerns my January FOI request for the Executive Summary of the TCM Group report. Readers of this website will recall that for several months I have been seeking access to this report which was conducted at the behest of the Vice Chancellor Martin Hall into appointments in the Salford Business School. It was instigated by Hall because of anger and concern among staff in the SBS as to the probity of the appointments process within Salford SBS. Having been sacked for raising the issue of a relationship between Head of School John Wilson and then student and part-time member of staff Xiang Li (now a full-time lecturer) in the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters (deemed as bullying and harassment), I am of course keen to ascertain if other staff have raised concerns about this relationship in the report. From notes taken from the Executive Summary and entered as evidence in the recent court hearings into allegations of defamation made against this writer by the University of Salford, it would appear to be the case.

Another report under wraps

Now I can't for the life of me understand why the University would wish to keep this report under wraps. I've applied to the Tribunal for a document disclosure order. These requests have been vigorously contested by the University's lawyers and refused by the Tribunal judge. It's even more odd given Professor Hall's position over the suppression of the UKZN audit report.

Like Hall's oral presentation at UKZN, the TCM summary was delivered by UCU branch president Chris Sheehy to a roomful of UCU and UNISON reps in September 2010. I would argue that it's therefore in the public domain. To suggest otherwise would be to concur with Makgoba's intepretation of Hall's oral delivery of the audit summary where he says that "[o]ur oral feedback was not public but privileged communication...". Is this a view that Professor Hall shares?

This Martin Hall hasn't yet released the full TCM Group 
report into appointments in the Salford Business School
Hall is clear when he states that "The report’s reasoned and evidence-based findings on institutional culture and academic freedom would have helped the university move on from a difficult phase in its history." Could the same not be said for the unexpurgated version of the TCM Group report? Hall is rightly critical of the above suppression yet remains remarkably restrained with regard to the current unreleased status of the TCM report.

I therefore agree wholeheartedly with Hall. The UKZN audit report should be released in its entirety. It's called transparency and its suppression in any modern democracy is a disgrace, more so in a Higher Education  institution that espouses enlightenment values. Yet might an outsider, particularly one with the surname of Makgoba, raise an eyebrow at the non-appearance of  a report directly commissioned by Hall, one that Salford bosses appear to straining every metaphorical sinew to ensure stays firmly under wraps? For the sake of consistency the TCM Group report should be immediately released in its entirety as should the Executive Summary. Failure to do so will only fuel claims that the culture of managerialism highlighted by Chetty and van de Berg at UKZN has gained a foothold at the University of Salford. It would also demonstrate an ongoing and clear commitment to transparency and in Vice Chancellor Hall's own words would "encourage democracy, academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression..."

Related Articles:
(1) "One of the panel's conclusions had been that the university was at risk because of widely held perceptions that academic freedom was in jeopardy. We had recommended that, rather than taking disciplinary action against staff complaining of violations of academic freedom, UKZN’s council and executive management should take a conciliatory approach... Within a few weeks of our making this recommendation known to UKZN's vice-chancellor, the council of the university decided to continue its practice of disciplining senior academic staff who complained about violations of academic freedom. As chairperson of the audit panel I had felt obliged to bring this to the attention of the HEQC."

"We reported that "interviews with cross-sections of staff and students as well as with external stakeholders suggest that there is what has been described as a 'culture of hostility'" and "that some aspects of this situation are expressed as lack of academic freedom at the university". We had "found evidence of stifled debate about institutional matters and of debates conducted in ways which obfuscate rather than elucidate issues". We concluded that "one of UKZN's greatest transformative challenges is to rise above the ingrained, destructive tendencies that are stifling debate and to create a new culture of participative and democratic debate that supports academic freedom in its broader sense". Sourced at

(2) Sourced at
(3) NITHAYA CHETTY and CHRISTOPHER MERRETT: Feudal academy is on the road to suicide, 15th Feb 2011, sourced at

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

For a few dollars more...

Go ahead punk... make me pay
Oh dear. It would appear that the original figure of around £14 million believed owed to unsecured creditors of Ian Austin's former law firm Halliwells, was a little on the... well low side. According to the article in The Lawyer, it seems that the original figure has been revised up ever so slightly to a figure just shy of £200 million (£191,521,921.)

It's not known if this sum has been rounded to the nearest pound and whether there are any outstanding pences owed. It's also alleged in the article that from this figure £4.3 million is owed in tax and £1.2 million in VAT to HMRC. The article goes on to say that £17.7 million is owed to the majority state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS and other creditors have formed a committee to try and retrieve this debt. It's widely accepted that HMRC are known to be rather aggressive in recouping money owed to them.

Many strings to his bow

Ex-managing partner Ian Austin of Halliwells, who 'where appropriate, uses alternative forms of dispute resolution (including mediation)...'(1) like a concert violinist, has many strings to his bow. As well as having given his 'life to that practice' (meaning Halliwells) insodoing, found a novel way to remove his socks.(2) The former executive chair of Halliwells is currently sharing his second life between Heatons LLP and the University of Salford, where he sits as Chair on the Audit Committee

Ian Austin
Austin has spent many years specialising in commerical litigation. More recently, having carefully re-rosin-ed his bow, he's branched off into another area of law in the libel action instigated by the University of Salford  against Dr Gary Paul Duke. Austin thus sits on the University Council as a member of the UoS, and is currently acting for the University in his capacity as a solicitor representing Heatons LLP.

Libel proceedings

As well as the one witness statement provide by Registrar Dr Adrian Graves, Austin has provided his own two signed witness statements to the court as well as the contentious 'List of Information and Documents to be Produced by Witness' sent to Rat Catchers of the Sewers blog host Automattic Inc (Wordpress - see previous post).(3) It was this evidence - including IP addresses - provided by WordPress in breach of their own Privacy Policy, that acted as the basis for the UoS Court Order to Virgin to release details of the account holder of one particular IP address to the University's lawyers. To date, the University have yet to serve the claim form and move the libel proceedings forward.

An Employment Tribunal is scheduled for the 1st and 2nd March in Manchester, where this writer's claim for unfair dismissal will be heard.

(Table courtesy of The Lawyer)

(1) Sourced at
(2) Sourced at
(3) 'User access log records and writings... which evidence and identify each IP address (including date and time of use of said IP address) associated with and/or used at any time by any person in relation to creating or modifying or posting to the Account.' 
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Monday, 14 February 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to the revolution...

Ancient Egypt's post-industrial paradigm meant
this Pharaoh had to build the pyramids by himself

Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt are an enduring reminder that revolution continues to play a central role in a globalised world despite the many epitaphs and obituaries afforded to it by academics, political pundits and the literary mouthpieces for global US domination.

The spectacle of Western political elites such as David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, lining up to publicly affirm their commitment to liberal democracy and their obvious sincerity in their wish to see democracy take root in Tunisia and Egypt is only marginally preposterous when we consider the public and political support that these Western 'democracies' have consistently provided to the very same leaders and regimes. While Mubarak and Ben Ali murdered, imprisoned, tortured their own civilian populations, the US and UK governments punished them with trade deals and rather large sums  in US aid ($1.3 billion a year according to The Guardian).(1) Despite the attempts of previous British and US administrations to bring down Mubarak by the use of extreme friendship, it took the active engagement of a non-friendship strategy and the democratic mobilisation of hundreds of thousands if not millions to end his rule.

The cacophony of the democratic 'transitionals'

Although somewhat a sceptic when it comes to believing anything reported in the mainstream media, this writer thought it a little odd that some journalists should feel a little in the way of surprised that a little hostility had been shown to them by the crowds. To anyone with half filled cranium, one might have viewed this as perfectly understandable given the above support of the British and US for the soon-to-be-vanquished dictator and his bloodthirsty state machine. That the press have to a considerable degree indulged in the same sort of cack-fence-hand-balancing act that has characterised Cameron's recent vacillatory bleatings has not been lost on the ordinary Egyptian activist.

At the root of this is the West's concern that the usurption of their man in Egypt may not sufficiently dissipate the anger and opposition of the mass of Egyptians, and may act as a brake on the formulation of any government sympathetic to Western aims in the region. One other paragon of democratic delight in the region is also mightily concerned as should be the case. The expansionist state of Israel, which represents such a healthy example of what a vibrant democracy and economy should look like, that it stolidly refuses to accept the $3 billion or so in aid dished out to it by the US government every year is taking recent events very seriously indeed.(2) The Egyptian regime has been a vital ally of Israel. Without the pro-Israeli Anwar Sadat and his successor Mubarak, it is unlikely that Israel would have been able to consolidate its positions in the Occupied Territories, wage a bloody war or two against another democracy in the region - Lebanon - and commit gross human rights atrocities daily against the Palestinian peoples to say nothing of its war crimes against the population of Gaza. Thus politicians of all colours and the Western media are pushing the idea of 'transition' which for them means business as usual, and for the Egyptians, after a few democratic frills and thrills have been added to their creaking constitution, back to the business of squeezing every last drop of profit from Egyptian workers which brings us nicely to the point of this article.

Apparently, due to a shift from industrial to knowledge
production and services, this lot don't exist anymore
(striking textile workers Malhalla el-Kubra 2009)
What's that you say... the working class... not in my post-industrial paradigm!

There is however a more fundamental problem for Western political and business leaders which has loomed like veritable spectre that may yet return to haunt Europe. They are currently busy ramming home neoliberal policies and massive cuts in social provision across Europe (Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the UK) in order to stave off economic collapse and further enrich the already rich at our expense. Mubarak's been in the vanguard of a similar set of policies which he's been happily visiting on his own people for decades, like some latter day global reincarnation of the Exodian plagues. Thus, the speed with which events in Tunisia and Algeria hopped across North Africa showing utter disdain for national borders and engulfed Egypt, has sent a shiver down the collective spines (if one might be found) among the Western ruling classes. It would appear that Trotsky's theories on permanent revolution have never been so apposite.

Post-industrialism -  a theory of the middle class by the middle class, for the middle class

There has been a corollary in the forcing of the Washington Consensus policies down the publics' collective throats for decades. They have also been ideologically bludgeoned into accepting the common sense notion that the working class as a force for revolutionary change in the world, belongs to a long-buried past. It's a past lazily epitomised by many now-cynical once left-ish academics and vox-pop political commentators as the failed 'actually existing socialism' and 'communist' experiment of the former USSR and its satellite states of Eastern Europe. For much of the press and media, because of the almost hegemonic status of this view, this most recent (and ongoing) revolution must therefore be characterised as 'middle class' because to them, the 'other lot' only inhabit the footnotes in dusty tomes in the British Library or have slipped down the social scale and now inhabit a Sub-Dickensian cider-sodden underworld  three clicks away from Cannery Row referred to increasingly by the same media types and social analysts as 'the underclass'. Besides, if we believed the press, the entire revolution was achieved by a single FaceBook savvy post-graduate with a laptop and over-ambitious sebaceous glands.

This is not to willfully avoid the obvious fact that much mass middle class discontent (unemployment and the end of 'jobs for life' in the civil service for middle class university graduates) has played an important role within the revolution. Rare are the revolutions that consist of a single class actor. But how often have we been told by the likes of Ronald Inglehart and his merry band of post-materialists that it's by and large the working class whose demands tend to centre on the material while the middle classes protest about the environment, nuclear disarmament and chlorine-free tampons?

The roots of the revolution

Yet the recent social mass explosion that has led to Mubarak's political demise, should not be seen in isolation nor as the consequence of the ire of an increasingly disenfranchised and powerless middle class. It should viewed as an extension of mass working class opposition to both the regime and the neoliberal policies of the West eagerly pursued by Mubarak resulting in increasing numbers of strikes that have raged in the industrial centres of Egypt for many years. "What rot! Why haven't we heard about these strikes?" I hear you chime. It's quite elementary my dear Watsons.  It's a sort of self-fulfilling logic (based on simple cause and effect) which goes something like this: because the working class no longer exist or at best, are few in number, why report the activities of a small minority. People have money in their pockets, may own their own homes (ex-council) have computers, mobile phones and go on holiday at least once a year. It's a very good indicator to social mobility. We're all middle class! (or at least lower-middle class). Thus reporting working class strikes isn't particularly relevant or popular (and might give people the wrong idea) and as such, they're about as welcome on the BBC teatime news or Newsnight as a poorly timed methaneous emission at a canary testing factory. Rare unless it happens to be on British Airways and has a detrimental impact on the holiday plans of social class grade B and C1.

British Airways cabin crews prior
to being post-industrialised out of history
Malhalla el-Where?

So it's no surprise that the wave of strikes that have defined Egypt for the past three to four years, particularly around the huge textile mills of Mahalla el-Kubra,(3) have made hardly a dent in the scheduling of BBC news or the wider press. Why would reporters wish to cover this? Strikes are only ever about material things after all - 'knife and fork' issues. They're never political are they? It's a general rule of thumb among many used to determine what's newsworthy and what's not concerning all things industrial. And it is of course entirely wrong. And exactly who are these people who the 'determining'... the people who have not only accepted the 'post-industrial' paradigm but have acted as the vanguard in convincing us that the working class really have 'ceased to be' in cod Cleesian terminology? They accept the ideology and feel the need to convince us the same should we feel the need to organise and resist the magnetic attraction of this perfectly natural phenomenon known as 'the market'. As most are drawn from the middle class, educated at the elite universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, they rarely go on strike. It's hardly surprising that they should hold such views. Besides, they don't want their weekend breaks ruined in a bout of wildcat action by baggage handlers at Stanstead.

The new middle class
But the evidence shows that that the Egyptian working class have consistently been at the forefront of the fightback against the state, rising prices, unemployment and for key political demands for many years. Alexander has written extensively on the importance of working class resistance to the market reforms of the Mubarak regime and provides in her analysis a level of continuity between events over the last few years and those of today.(4) Their actions have provided the space for such recent political demands to be formulated. They have consistently confronted Mubarak's state repressive apparatus head-on and have given wider Egyptian society (with the Tunisian masses) the confidence to take on the state machinery. In contrast, the FaceBook analyses provided by the Oxbridge elites and political journos and commentators have proved largely ahistorical and frankly wanting.

An example to test this ridiculous assumption

Last weekend (5-6th Feb), the British news media appeared to have placed the Egyptian revolution lower down its list of priorities for reportage. Indeed, after the violence of the counter-revolution in the guise of the plain clothes police thugs and pro-Mubarak supporters on camel-back charging through the throng, if one was to believe much of the news coverage, it was all pretty much over and the most that the protesters could expect was many more months of Mubarak in power until a orderly 'transition' to civilian rule could be organised. Yet within one or two days, with the spreading of strikes across Egypt and the active participation of the working classes in the vanguard of the protest movement (it was noted on the BBC news around the same time how many middle class activists had been driven from Tahrir Square by the violence of the pro-Mubarak forces who had taken the streets, to be replaced by even greater numbers of workers)(5)

Enter the dragon

By Tuesday and Wednesday it had all changed. BBC news reporters and the press had switched from endless pictures of mass humanity in Tahrir Square to pictures of striking workers on the Suez Canal,(6) to reporting strikes by doctors, lawyers (the respectable end of the strike movement) striking rail and public transport workers.(7) In Cairo, hundreds of 'electricity workers stood in front of the South Cairo Electricity Company, demanding the ousting of its director.'(8) Few could deny the political relevance of this act against a government appointed bureaucrat of a state-owned company. Railway workers wishing to strike across the country were asked to remain at work to enable protesters to travel by rail to the major protests being organised, a striking example if any of the potential power of sections of the working class in 'post-industrial' society.(9) With the growing participation of increasing numbers of striking workers in key industries, the movement was emboldened, given a fresh impetus and wielded real power.(10)

The same old tears...

The example of events in Tunisia and Egypt are there for us to draw from and learn. This will not be lost on our own ruling political elites (and the elites who exert dominance over every minute of our lives but are never elected - the capitalist ruling class and the unaccountable managerial elites who exercise power on their behalf) who behind the cloak of 'democratic legitimacy', savage our welfare, health and education systems, throw hundred of thousands on the scrapheap and impose more WTO and World Bank prescriptive measures upon us in the form of sell-offs and forced privatisations. Expect a tightening up of the British legal system as our own homegrown security police apparatus adopt the 'Mubarak methodology' as tens and hundreds of thousands take to the streets to oppose to these vicious and damaging policies.

TUC Demonstration Against Cuts, Saturday 26th March 2011, assemble 11am Victoria Embankment, London, march to rally in Hyde Park,
As such, it is beholden upon us to join our Egyptian brothers and sisters and exhort our trade union branches to provide coaches for the Demonstration Against Cuts.

(1) Source The Guardian, Friday 4th Feb 2011,
(2) Counterpunch sourced at
(3) Sourced at
(4) Alexander A, Inside Egypt's Mass Strikes, International Socialism Journal, 03 March 2008 sourced at
(5) Source The Economist at
(6) Sourced at
(7) Sourced at
(8) The Globe and Mail, Feb 09 2011, sourced at
(9)Sourced at
(10) Tehran Times 11 Feb 2011, sourced at

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Etymologist's dilemma and a butterfly of words

If there's one thing academics and lawyers have in common, it is an adherence to a certain code or form in writing and speaking that involves precision in the use of terms and language, although some might argue for very different ends. For Tiersma discussing the use of language in the legal profession '...technical terminology promotes communication in the profession by allowing lawyers to express in a word or short phrase what would otherwise require a much longer explanation.'(1) Within academia the opposite is more usually the case. Language can appear purposely convoluted and texts often impenetrable, crammed with the jargon of the day which seem to make opaque and confusing that which they should be making transparent and intelligible. There are a variety of reasons for this although Thomas remarks that "[a]cademics often disguise their own confusion by means of wilful obscurity..."(2) New scholastic appellations are endlessly created to replace their simpler (read more easily understood) now outmoded lexicographal* forerunners. Simple ideas and basicly Engly twentyfido** are often shrouded in a series of arcane phonological acrobatics that would confuse the most rabid post-enlightenment linguistical luminaries such as the late and revered Professor Stanley Unwin.

Prof Unley Stanwidlyo

The etymological rationale

There is of course a perfectly good reason for this. Why would one wish to make simple what are oftenly complexidlo theoratum?*** After all, the road to becoming an academic is a longly, arduouosee and a now very expensively businesslyo. With this comes a certain responsibility to ensure that unintelligibly conceptua are translated into philological incoherencies. Some have suggested that the Daedelean-obscura that passes for academia-speak is purposely linguistically convoluted and discursively Machiavellian in order to buttress academic elitism and an artificial divide between the holders and interpreters of knowledge and the vast mass of citizenry that do not partake of University education. There may be an element of truth in this. However, if we are to avoid what Judith Butler(3) sees as a retreat into the language of 'common sense' (as opposed to good sense), then framing new concepts and confronting common sense ideas in the field of knowledge and theorising inevitably demands a certain linguistic 'comprehensivity'.(4) But a word of warning: there is a world of difference between having sharp tools and talking a lot of incomprehensible cobblers.

My dear Dr Duke. You are on
record as talking unmitigated shite

Avoiding the Butterfly Effect

At this juncture I would like to raise my hand as being personally culpable of committing the most heinous of crimes against the English language, to which my long-suffering former PHD supervisor and other more than patient academic friends will attest. It hasn't yet been made a disciplinary offence but I'm sure there's still time. It's also highly likely I'll commit a few more over the coming months on this blog for which I apologise in advance.  There is however an important point to this brief exploration in linguistical elaboration. It concerns absolute precision in the use of language when issues of a legal nature are raised publicly, particularly one might add, when academics are involved. In addition to precision, brevity or caution are more usually exercised as the slightest deviation from the letter can induce a veritable allegorical 'butterfly effect' and potential calumnious feedback. Considering this, I reprint a recent exchange from the Vice Chancellor's blog in response to a comment/posting left by one Rupert Bayer of Paris on his . It read:

"Professor Hall,

Your response to the other contributors is disingenuous in part and omits to respond to some salient points put forward. First, you do not address Longley’s charge that the University sought personal details of private individuals who were not subject to any allegations of defamation. Apart from the fact that this is an attempt to breach both the right of free speech and of privacy, it also amounts, in my view, to cyber bullying. You therefore need to provide a detailed explanation of why the University sought to breach fundamental rights of some anonymous individuals. You also need to explain why this does not amount to cyber bullying.

You do not appear to accept the right of anonymity. This can be particularly important where those being critiscised [sic] are in a position to be vindictive and punish their critics. Unless you publicly support the right of anonymity then you will be charged with siding with the forces of oppression. Democracy is based upon the absolute right of the secret ballot. Similarly, the right of free speech relies absolutely on the right of anonymity. Are you prepared to guarantee the right of individuals to free speech at Salford University?"

Professor Hall stated categorically:

"I’ve made my position on anonymity quite clear. In addition, the University of Salford has not sought, nor will seek, the identity of all people posting to any site. We have rather requested through the courts the minimum information necessary to identify those responsible for specific postings for which there is a prima facie case of defamation."

The honing of one's tool

Before I venture any further, it might be worth dwelling for a moment on the more general achievements of the Vice Chancellor. Hall is a well published academic of some deserved repute. Like many of his peers he's achieved this partly through years of intensive training attained during his studies as a Cambridge undergraduate, through working in the field and years of academic research and writing. As such, Hall is no doubt well versed in the precision use of language as a vital adjunct of analysis. As noted above, he has also added another string to his bow of repute: with Registrar Dr Adrian Graves and University Council Chair of Audit Mr Ian Austin acting for them, he has embarked upon the issuing of libel proceedings in the High Court against someone not a million miles from... well me.(5)

Compare and contrast...

This is not the post to go into the highly pertinent issues of rights of anonymity and freedom of speech. There will be plenty of time for this over the coming weeks and months. What is of interest is the use of language and the precise meaning of words, particularly those in his above reply. I would like to draw readers' attention to the two exhibits below (para 8). The below documents, stamped by the  UK courts, were sent by the University's lawyers to Mr Toni Schneider at Automattic Inc (host of Wordpress).

Exhibit A

Er... exhibit B

I'm sure Hall has chosen his words very carefully given his previously discussed academic training allied to the vast practical and theoretical knowledge on matters of a libel nature held by Ian Austin and an extensive pool of highly paid law firms he can draw from if he so wishes. But I'd like to draw your waning attention to the wording of paragraph 8. It is true, the University (such an impersonal term) did not seek the identity of "all people posting to any site..." as he states. According to the legal document drafted carefully by expert commercial litigator Ian Austin of Heatons with one assumes the full knowledge, understanding and authorisation of Hall and his corporate subordinate Registrar Graves, it would appear that the University merely sought the 'minimum information necessary' which according to their own document submitted to the UK courts translates to the: 'User access log records and writings... which evidence and identify each IP address (including date and time of use of said IP address) associated with and/or used at any time by any person in relation to creating or modifying or posting to the Account.'

You tomato and I say... well tomato

Vice Chancellor Hall's interpretation of the word 'minimum' sits oddly with my own interpretation of the word a point that was raised in court last December. Moreover, in the context of the Vice Chancellor's above statement and the court papers, other than the spelling, I can't for the life of me discern any significant difference in meaning between the word "all" and the word 'any'. I don't relish the thought of being drawn into a war of interpretations as I'd probably end up being accused of being anti-semantic, but if  "all"... sorry 'any' of you would like to contact me and let me know the difference, I'd be most grateful. 

* Note: I think I've just made this word up.
**Courtesy S Unwin
*** Also made up.
(1) Tiersma PM, Legal Language, Chicago University Press, London, 1999

(2) Thomas Mark L, Review of The Idea of Commmunism eds Zizek S & Douzinas C, Verso, 2011, in Socialist Review, February 2011
(3) Butler J, A Bad Writer Bites Back, New York Times March 20 1999.
(4) I thought I'd just dreamed this one up but apparently it does already exist... it means 'comprehensiveness' but gives an idea how jargon-ese is disseminates promoted by a new generation of social scientists and academics.
(5) Legal proceedings have been instigated but the Claim has yet to be served.