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Over 240 members of the University and College Union have signed a petition calling for a ballot of the union's membership to determine how to decide the issue of the boycott call of Israeli academic institutions.
The petition was initiated this week by two members of the union. Jimmy Donaghey, from Queens University, Belfast UCU and Jon Pike, from the Open University UCU, are calling all members to sign a petition stating that individual members have a right to a direct say on the matter and that a decision without a ballot first would be "wrong and disastrous for the credibility" of the union.
On the petition's Web site it says: "We want a ballot of all members of the UCU on the question of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. We want a direct say in our union's policy on this issue.
"Whatever members think about the issue of a boycott of Israel, we believe that members have a right to a direct say. Individual members should have a direct vote, just as we do on industrial action. A decision on a boycott taken at Congress, without a ballot first, would be wrong and disastrous for the credibility of the union."
The text of the petition reads: "We, the undersigned members of the UCU, call on the National Executive Committee to organize an indicative ballot of the entire membership of the union on the issue of an academic boycott of Israel."
In May, the UCU voted in favor of a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions at their annual conference but without determining a mechanism to decide the issue.
The UCU Left, a pro-boycott group within the UCU, strongly opposes a ballot and has so far managed to block it. A ballot, Pike and Donaghey say, would require them to stop blocking the direct expression of members' views.
"It's a scandal that a group within the UCU are blocking a membership vote on this issue," Pike said. "It sounds like they don't trust the members. But we should be a democratic organization, led by, and representative of its membership. This issue is damaging the union. We need to have a vote."
During the summer a number of UK universities called for a ballot. Imperial College in London, Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine all showed that a large majority of UCU members wanted a vote on the issue. Other union branches, including the Open University and the Northern Ireland Region and presidents of Liverpool and Swansea universities, and members of the National Executive also called for a ballot.
"The rationale for meetings and campus debates is to inform members of the arguments for and against a boycott," Donaghey said. "Once these are completed, and based on this information, members must be given the opportunity to decide. Anything else goes against the fundamental principle of trade unionism: democracy."
The UCU Strategy and Finance Committee is meeting on Friday and will face renewed proposals for a ballot.