You may recall in the General Election campaign of 2001, John Prescott was hit with an egg by a protestor. In a copycat incident on York University campus a student decided to do the same to me. Unlike the Deputy Prime Minister Having been attacked with flour the previous day, I was rewarded by a local newspaper editorial saying that all I needed now was some milk to be a living Yorkshire pudding!
I tell the story because it is one of many occasions that I have been campaigning at York University and had cause to be grateful to the porters. The duty college porter helped clean me up that night, but on many others they have pointed me in the right direction or assisted in the staging of meetings. For many generations of students away from home for the first time, the porters provide a great sense of safety and security. Their reassuring presence I know is valued by many parents .
Given all this I am dismayed that once again the University appears to be in confrontation with this vital section of its staff. Some years ago the campus authorities seemed intent on abolishing 24 hour portering all together, provoking the only student occupation I know of at York. This time porters are facing radical changes in shift patterns. For those used to working at night, a change to day shifts will destroy childcare arrangements. The University have offered talks with affected staff but the macho management style is having an effect on morale and absenteeism. I am advised that on one recent weekend night there was no night time cover at four college lodges.
For me 24 hour portering is a crucial part of The University’s vision for the future. On Friday December the University court, of which I am a member, meets to hear annual reports from the Vice-Chancellor, YUSU’s President and the President of the Graduate Association. I hope to hear all three acknowledge the importance of the porters as a crucial part of the collegiate system. In the meantime, I would ask those academics and provosts of colleges who have told me privately that they sympathise with the porters to at the very least make their views known to the campus personnel managers. Now is the time to stand up and be counted!