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Chris Knight Suspended For Organising Alternative G20 Summit

By Pat Corcoran 

05 July, 2009

Prof Chris Knight who is Chair of the University and College Lecturers Union (UCU) at the University of East London has been suspended from work for "gross professional misconduct".

His crime was to proceed with organising the Alternative G20 Summit despite the University managements decision to close down the University at the last moment. Chris now facing likely dismissal on July 10.

The UCU, both locally and nationally , had asked Chris to organise a response to the G20 London Summit scheduled for April 2nd 2009 at the ExCeL centre a few hundred yards from his University campus. The university management at first gave permission, and chris and others assembled a line-up of climate scientists, economists, social scientists, artists, activists and others to speak at the Alternative Summit. When management at the last minute instructed him to cancel everything, Chris was both ouraged and astonished:

"I could hardly believe it. Cancel Tony Benn? Cancel Oliver Tickle? Cancel Richard Wilkinson? At this late stage? What were my employers thinking of? Besides, the Summit had been called for and organized by my union, not by UEL management. It was not theirs to cancel." Chris Knight

Chris felt unable to obey the instruction along with a string of accompanying instructions - not to speak to his trade union comrades.

They wanted to ban me from speaking to any of my long-term friends and colleagues at my own place of work, to any of my students, to anyone who might be a journalist etc. etc. This seemed equally absurd and impossible. Only a university modeling itself on a police state, surely, could expect literal compliance with such draconian restrictions on my personal freedom? My conscience urged me strongly not to collude. Chris Knight

The Alternative Summit was opened by Tony Benn on the afternoon of April 1st. The passionate lectures and other contributions were delivered as planned, except that the 300 participants were forced to meet outdoors in the central plaza, management having closed off the entire campus. Ironically, the university canteen remained staffed and was offering hot drinks and food - although exclusively to security staff and police.

Chris illustrates how this is not a normal industrial relations actio by management, rather it is a political attempt to silence lecturers with radical views. It is an example of how UNiversities operate when they are under Corporate control:

My presence in my union capacity on my own campus on that April afternoon has since been deemed by my employers an example of ‘gross misconduct' under Section f) in Appendix B of our Staff Disciplinary Procedures: ‘Serious insubordination and/or refusal, without reasonable cause, to carry out legitimate instruction given by an authorised member of staff'. Likewise, words attributed to me in my Government of the Dead street theatre role - ‘Eat the bankers!', for example - have been taken out of context and interpreted by my management as literal incitement to violence. Such intentional misrepresentation and disproportionate punitive action would have been inconceivable had Professor Martin Everett remained in his post as UEL's respected Vice Chancellor. Neither is it conceivable that Martin Everett would have thought it appropriate to cancel our Alternative G20 Summit - he'd have helped publicize and celebrate it. Unfortunately, the free market ideologues now seeking to suspend and dismiss me are the very corporate team that recently suspended and then dismissed Professor Everett in a secretive operation condemned by the University and College Lecturers' Union as a corporate take-over.

Chris now believes that UEL management will try to dismiss him at the hearing on July 10. But he remains unrepentant and will fight on:

Although I have been suspended for my union activities and am now facing probable dismissal on July 10, I am pleased to report that the Alternative G20 Summit proved a memorable and inspiring occasion. While I believe UEL's current management should hold their heads in shame, I am proud of my university community, my passionate and committed students and my trade union colleagues who are now vigorously resisting my victimization. I also remain proud of my own role in defending academic autonomy and freedom of speech and assembly at the University of East London and beyond.

You can help Chris. Send the following message to:

To: Professor Susan Price (Acting Vice Chancellor) and the Senior Management Team at the University of East London

We, the undersigned, regret your action in seeking to cancel the Alternative G20 Summit which was due to be held on the Docklands campus on April 1st. We congratulate the main organizer of this event, Professor Chris Knight, for his insistence that despite your damaging intervention, the planned summit should go ahead.

We urge you to reconsider your decision to suspend and press disciplinary charges against him. We demand his immediate reinstatement.


Pat Corcoran   is active in the following organisations: Anti Fascist Action, Hands Off the People of Iran, Choice Ireland (pro-choice group), . He can be reached at

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