A wrong move at Congress

The decision by UCU Congress to close down debate on, and then back the ‘organisation’ of women involved in prostitution rather than prioritise routes out of prostitution, is an example where those calling themselves the ‘UCU Left’ should be ashamed, says Michael McKrell, who has just retired from the NEC.

 

In 2009 the TUC Women’s Conference debated Motion 40 (The Commodification of Sex) – proposed by UCU – which demanded that Conference campaign to:

  1. i) expose the social causes of prostitution including women’s poverty;
    ii) review the residency status of trafficked women;
    iii) criminalise men’s purchase of sex rather than its sale; and
    iv) ensure that the commodification of sex and the objectification of women’s bodies is shown to be a contributory factor in violence against women.

The motion was carried.

Fast-forward to UCU Congress 2017. Motion 56 motion on ‘Education, sex worker safety and collective organising’ was passed – albeit with a curtailed debate – calling for ‘decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working and improved safety for sex workers’.

I have no doubt that this will be regarded by organisations involved in the fight against domestic abuse and violence against women, such as Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and anti-trafficking organisations with utter incredulity and dismay. How is it possible that a union which has until now sought to campaign against the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies has now come to adopt a policy which represents de facto collusion in the continuing wave of abuse against women forced into prostitution?

Rather than adopting the position of the TUC Women’s Congress, representing 3 million women, or the position of organisations who deal with the rape, deaths, and abuse of women involved in prostitution, Motion 56 – which was not taken to any of the Union’s Equality Committees before Congress – was pushed to a vote at Congress, debate having been guillotined. We are now stuck with a position that isolates us in the labour movement and effectively means we contribute nothing to the ending of the exploitation of women involved in prostitution.

It was good to see two men – Douglas Chalmers, President UCU Scotland, and Eurig Scandrett, a prominent member of the ‘white ribbon’ campaign in Scotland – speak against the motion. Douglas ably articulated the position of Rape Crisis and other groups opposed to legalizing prostitution. Eurig stated that if student poverty is driving students into prostitution then the answer is to end student poverty, not legalise prostitution!

But it was the deliberate and calculated move to close down the debate that shocked and angered me and which, in my view, brought discredit on the union.

For the only time during Congress the ‘move to the vote’ was called for before HE President Joanna De Groot and FE President-elect Vicky Knight (Chair of the TUC Women’s Committee) could voice their opposition to the Motion. And the manner in which it was done was shameful; it was galling to see a prominent member of the SWP/UCULeft go to the front of Congress where those waiting to speak sat, and say to those in favour of the motion ‘You should close down the debate, we’ve got the votes for it.’

Opponents of the motion had asked ‘where are the Pimps in this motion? Where are the men who buy women’s bodies?’ and had argued that prostitution was part of the cycle of exploitation and abuse women faced and should be worked against, not facilitated.

The answer in the debate, by one prominent member of UCULeft (and NEC member), was that ‘women do not sell their bodies, it’s just like work – which has unpleasant parts to it.’ This is an astonishing statement. Of course, all forms of labour are exploitative and alienating. But are we really expected to compare the everyday experience of workplace ‘unpleasantness’ with the situation in which, driven by economic desperation, women are compelled to endure the systematic use of physical force, threats and use of violence, psychological coercion, and in many cases crippling addiction?

One of the reasons I am angry at those promoting this policy is the callous ignorance of the brutal reality of prostitution, as outlined in The Independent some time ago ; a reality masked by the use of words like ‘collectivise’ and ‘organise’. A question for those who believe we can “support self-organised sex workers in their call for decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working and improved safety for sex workers” is this. Just who are the ‘organised sex workers’ going to negotiate and bargain with? Answer: pimps and gangsters (not exactly renowned for their unimpeachable adherence to fair employment practices) – lumpen criminals who risk nothing themselves but make huge profits from the exploitation of women.  

Drawing on the Independent report on the effects of the legalisation of prostitution, Megan Murphy writing on the Feminist Current blog pointed out that; “the only thing the Dutch government’s 12 year experiment with legalization succeeded in doing was to increase the market. The illusory labour-based approach, put forth by confused lefties, wherein prostitution is imagined to be ‘a job like any other’ hasn’t worked either…Rather than be given rights in the ‘workplace’, the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain. Under the “labour” model, assault and rape is no longer violence against women, but “an ‘occupational hazard’, like a stone dropped on a builder’s toe,”

There’s simply no reason for police to charge men for doing something they feel they are legally entitled to do. Talking about ‘sex work’ as ‘work’ doesn’t help women. It doesn’t help women leave the industry, it doesn’t create gender equality, it doesn’t stop the violence, and it doesn’t de-stigmatize prostitution. Reframing legalization as ending the ‘stigma’ has not only been shown to be untrue, but it distracts us from the reality that violence and inequality doesn’t happen because of stigmatization — it happens because of male power and systemic injustice.

Detective Superintendent Kajsa Wahlberg, Sweden’s national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings, is quoted as saying; ‘The problem is gender-specific. Men buy women.’ Which is why a feminist approach is needed’’.

Congress Motion 56 is tantamount to an endorsement of capitalism’s relentless drive to commodify every aspect of human relations and to condone the further alienation of the body from the self; the body and its most intimate functions are reduced to a means of production, a machine for producing a commodity in the form of a service – sex – the use value of which is appropriated by the (male) consumer, whilst the exchange value enriches the trafficker and the pimp. The way to tackle prostitution is by eliminating its material basis – the demand by men to pay for women’s bodies; exactly what UCU called for at the TUC Women’s Conference in 2009.

As trades unionists and progressives we should be seeking a way out of exploitative human relations, not facilitating their all-pervasiveness and entrenchment. UCU needs to move quickly to reverse the retrograde step it took at Congress this year, adopt an informed and gender-specific analysis of prostitution and drop this shockingly out of touch position.

Michael McKrell

Retiring NEC member

In the interests of debate, we would welcome any members of UCULeft or the SWP who proposed or backed this motion to write in and let us know what was in their mind when they did so. We’ll publish any contributions.

Contact: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Last day of UCU Congress features international solidarity

Congress demanded the truth about the disappearance and murder of Giulio Regeni

In addition to lots of discussion on taking the union forward domestically, the international flavour previously exhibited at Congress continued on the last day.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK addressed Congress, praising the union for the work we continue to untertake internationally, something further reinforced by a video from Huber Ballesteros from Colombia’s Labour Federation of Agricultural Workers who talked of the importance of international solidarity in Colombia’s peace process and in ensuring his freedom.

A photoshoot taken at Congress (see above),  again underlined our demands for a full enquiry into the death of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni an Italian Cambridge University graduate who was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt. Giulio was a PhD student at Cambridge and had been researching Egypt’s independent trade unions, and the demand for an enquiry follows the belief that the Egyptian police were heavily implicated in his murder.

The morning had seen decisions taken on how to take forward the General Secretary’s suggestion of the day previously that a commission be set up to look at our industrial strategy in the aftermath of the anti-trade union act. An emergency motion was placed before congress and narrowly passed, which limited membership on the commission to those attending the current congress, and agreed to the calling of an additional special Congress to discuss the recommendations.

Traditional timeline of industrial action – but is this sufficient? Some of the issues for the commission to discuss

Congress delegates from the devolved nations had felt forced to raise the ‘devolved blindness’ of some of the resolutions over the period of Congress, including on the last day a recommendation to vote Labour, although this is of course impossible in Northern Ireland since Labour do not stand candidates, and a delegate from Scotland suggested it was totally inappropriate in the Scottish situation. Whether or not we should recommend support to any individual party at all is of course an even bigger question since we are unaffiliated. This followed on from other resolutions passed investigating the creation of ‘one UK Education union’ although the unions mentioned did not operate either in Scotland or Northern Ireland. In a similar vein, motions calling for ‘national’ demonstrations, made devolved nations delegates wonder where the movers had been since 1999. Clearly the disregard of our nature as a union operating over different education and legal systems in different nations within the UK is something that needs resolved in future years.

Towards the end of Congress, an important debate was closed down by movers of a controversial motion which proposed our support for ‘the decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working’

This is of course against the position of the TUC women’s conference, and that of Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, and all UK Anti-Trafficking organisations. Rather than all speakers being able to speak on this, the movers suggested in mid debate that ‘the vote be put’ (the only time this happened in Congress), resulting in a vote being taken (in support of this controversial motion) without the benefit of all those sitting ready and willing to speak being able to do so. Not the best moment for democracy, and a terrible signal to women trapped in prostitution and who are not looking to ‘collective working’ but to routes out of this dreadful exploitation.

Other key resolutions were passed which will help shape our work positively over the coming year and can be found here on the UCU website. These included:  on racist interference in elected roles;  developing our anti-casualisation campaign (including a road show); the future of TUC education; work related stress; bilingualism of documentation for use in Wales; Electronic meetings and tele and video conferencing; developing the equality agenda; the disability pay gap and abortion rights.

The union will have its hands full, (in a good way) over the next year, in helping implement these decisions, and we hope the UCUAgenda blog will help as part of a forum to discuss how best to do this.

To take part in this debate, or to add your voice – please send comments, or articles to: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

The NEC will have its hands full implementing the decisions of Congress – a good position to be in

A whistle stop tour round Sunday’s H.E. Business

A personal view by Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and works at the University of East Anglia. She was kind enough to offer these personal notes about her HE Sector conference today.

After a slightly contentious start (there are clearly some differences of opinion about what our industrial strategy should be) a good natured and comradely HE conference was enlivened by delegates inserting pop lyrics into their addresses. This was only beaten by delegate Jimmy Donaghey who in the pensions discussion really did utter the almost mythical AUT slogan that it was ‘time to rectify the anomaly’. Speaking in the debate on pensions, I stuck to the script I had prepared myself however without bursting into song.

The majority of motions were passed with no significant opposition and throughout the day the opposing voices were in general seeking to strengthen motions which were agreed in principle.

The discussion around some of the motions made it clear that drafting a motion for conference is no mean feat and all the nuance and implications of different wording needs exploring.  For example motion HE17 was about ways to stand up and defend people against ‘inferior teaching only contracts’ and the ambiguity of whether the motion was against teaching only contracts as inherently inferior or against inferior contracts which happened to be teaching only was the subject of some discussion.

One item that caused discussion and led to a partial remittance (HE26) was that of the portability of REF outputs for which there are pros and cons.  This started a bit of a trend, the next motion HE27 was partially remitted as were a couple of later motions (HE41 and HE43).  Some of the issues leading to partial remittance are unlikely to have been solved by amendments but some of them might have been.  This begs the question whether motions later on in the agenda are less likely to be scrutinised for amendments and therefore more prone to needing partial remittance on the day.

It was a testament to the work of CBC and the Chair Joanna De Groot that all the business of HESC was covered before 6pm.  Now I’m off to the congress dinner ‘because I’m hungry like the wolf’.

Notes for readers: Today’s HE conference got through a considerable amount of business including motions on National and local action; Winning industrial action; Disputes at Manchester Met University; The Glass Staircase – (under)representation of disabled people at management level; Gender Pay in Higher Education; Capability policies; the campaign against privatisation; Teaching observation and assessment schemes; Funding and Widening Access to Higher Education; the Teaching Excellence Framework; Manchester Metropolitan University Compulsory Redundancies; the Use of Consultants in HE; a UK strategy for student-staff alliance; and Supporting Staff affected by Brexit.

All these should help guide the new HEC in carrying out our work over the next year.

Similarly the FE Sector Conference got through motions on areas such as: Pay and the Pay Gap; Anti-Casualisation activity; Equality data collection; Gazelle, Collab and AoC; Precarious employment; Equal opportunity and Equal Pay; Safe space for FE students and staff; Gendered Hate Crime; Agency workers; Area Reviews and Disabled Workers; Governance and Accountability; Transparency; Colleges as a Community Resource; Industrial strategy; UCU members as teachers in Prisons; Themed based learning; and No to compulsion in Further Education.

Like the HEC, the FEC is certainly going to be busy.

Vote for a strong team of National Negotiators

Sector conferences elect a team of National Negotiators who argue our position with UCEA in the case of Higher Education, and with AOC in the case of Further Education.

It’s crucial that we have dependable, and hard working representatives of the union in these posts who can take our campaigns beyond the rhetoric, and who can represent our members and work strategically with our sectoral executive committees and full time officials to help achieve the best outcomes for UCU members.

We suggest colleagues vote for the following candidates – with a proven track record in campaigning for the union.

In HE, we ask you to vote for: Julia Charlton; Paul Errington and Joanna de Groot.

In FE we ask you to vote for: Rob Goodfellow, Dave Langcaster and Richard Bathgate

Below you’ll find some details of the candidates, and what they stand for:

HE Candidates:

Julia Charlton – currently a national pay negotiator

Julia Charlton, currently NEC member, and member of Northumbria University  branch. Julia’s message to delegates is:

“I have been a national pay negotiator of 2 years. I have been Branch Chair for 3 years (current) & vice chair for 2 years, acting branch secretary for 9 months, branch assistant secretary for 7 years, and so I have been involved in many successful negotiations with management. I have spent years negotiating with a group of executive committee members and university management where we achieved our preferred outcomes not theirs in the majority of cases, and have seen management at its worst and best. I have a placid and introspective temperament which I believe equips me well for the rôle of national negotiator for UCU. As a member of the NEC/HEC I am well informed about the issues of concern to the broader membership as well as my local branch and I am able to work collaboratively with others to achieve best outcomes”

 

Paul Errington, currently NEC member and member of Teeside University branch

Paul’s message to delegates is:

I have previously been involved at all levels of the pay bargaining process, local and national in heavy industry with the ASB union which amalgamated with the GMB. As a lead shop steward and negotiator I was instrumental in negotiating local and national bonus payments and other pay related enhancements. Through my union I undertook training in negotiation preparation gathering valuable information through consultation with members which assisted in many of our bargaining table approaches. I have been party to national negotiations up to and including ACAS conciliation/dispute resolution discussions. I also have had prior experience of negotiating local incremental pay increases and on call payments within the NHS public sector with realistic aims and goals. I have experience of developing strategies of action and tactics with other members of the negotiating team ensuring that everyone fully understands their pre-assigned roles and important aspect of any team approach to negotiations.

 

Joanna de Groot, President elect of UCU and member of York University Branch

Joanna’s message to delegates:

I was a UK-level negotiator for UCU in 2011-13, and again since 2014, participating in pay bargaining and in pay related working parties involving fellow unions and management. Previously I was a UK- level negotiator for AUT.  I have been a branch negotiator since the 1990s, dealing with the Framework Agreement, statutes and policies, equality issues and harassment, performance review, and grading and promotion issues, as well as casework. This gives me a range of experience, knowledge, and insight to bring to our pay negotiations, as do my varied contacts with members as a national officer of UCU. I am committed to using negotiating opportunities to their full potential to do the very best for members. I believe in maintaining active links between negotiators, elected bodies, and the membership as a whole in order to maximise our strength and effectiveness when we combine negotiation with campaigning .  

 

FE Candidates:

Rob Goodfellow, President of UCU and member of Hull College Branch.

Rob’s message to delegates is:

As previous Chair of FEC I was a national pay negotiator for two years and am well aware how the AoC conduct themselves. I will strive for the best deal possible on behalf of all FE members and ask for your support in this. As your outgoing national President I have fought hard on behalf of members and have considerable experience in negotiations at many local branches as well as nationally and internationally. If elected I will negotiate in consultation with members.

Dave Langcaster

Secretary of Hull College Branch

Dave’s message to delegates is

I have been a National Negotiator for the last year, having been elected at Congress 2016. I am branch secretary at Hull College where I have negotiated successful resolutions to 2 major disputes since 2015 – in the first dispute, I led the negotiating team that got management to abandon a punitive, graded, zero-notice observation policy, and also persuaded them to honour a pay rise agreed in 2014. In the second, the negotiating team pushed management into agreeing to no compulsory redundancy for UCU members in the last round of redundancies. I also negotiate for individual members, with casework that includes negotiating settlements for resignation due to ill-health and redundancy. Currently negotiating to prevent detrimental changes to a redundancy policy

Richard Bathgate Chair of Gateshead College Branch

Richard’s message to delegates:

As a national further education negotiator and past member of the Durham Mechanics Association affiliated to the NUM, I know full well the importance of serious negotiation backed up by a campaign and industrial action as and when necessary. When taking up employment in the sector in 2004 I immediately joined the union and found myself embroiled in a bitter dispute with management implementing drastic contractual changes. As UCU branch chair I have been involved in negotiations at local level protecting members from constant attacks on terms and conditions. As regional FE chair/E.C. Vice Chair I see it increasingly important as we move further into attacks on trade unions and the very existence of comprehensive F.E.

I offer my experience and commitment as FE negotiator.

                     

Vote for a strong team of Pension negotiators

Pensions are a crucial issue for all of us, and the USS pension continues to be under attack – which is why we need competent, and combative negotiators to work on our behalf, negotiating the best improved deal from the pension authorities.

We strongly urge delegates to vote for the following candidates, who can be relied on to negotiate effectively for our interests.

We ask delegates to vote for Renee Prendergast and Amanda Williams, for the USS negotiating team.

Renee Prendergast is chair of UCU in Northern Ireland. She is a member of Queens University Branch of UCU.

Renee’s message to delegates is:

I am a Reader in Economics at Queen’s, Belfast with over twenty years’ experience as a Local Association Officer in AUT/UCU. I am an experienced negotiator on the whole range of local issues including UCU Recognition and  Procedures, Framework, Charter & Statutes and Local Regulations as well as being elected twice as a UCU National Negotiator on Pay.

The role of USS negotiator is a specialist one involving a steep learning curve over complex issues for which my professional training as an economist is helpful. Currently, I am a UCU alternate on the USS JNC and have undergone training for this role. Being a negotiator on USS at this crucial time means putting knowledge before slogans and examining detail forensically. Our priority going forward must be maximising the retention of defined benefits within USS and making it as good, if not better, than TPS.

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and a member of the University of East Anglia branch.

Amanda’s message to delegates is:

We need a USS negotiating team whose members complement each other.  We need shared values but distinctive skills and expertise.  My values are a commitment to:

  • the basic principles of Defined Benefit schemes to counter the ideologically based attacks they suffer, and
  • ethical investment in line with the social values of a trade union.

I am currently a member of the NEC, of SWG and on the USS Advisory Committee. I am a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser.  I trained in audit (including work on pension scheme audits).  Now I’m a Lecturer in Accounting.  I bring an auditor’s professional scepticism linked to commercial awareness. As a local negotiator the most public success was the university’s reversal on 100% pay docking after we obtained a mandate for local strike action.  But the most important team successes are behind the scenes, getting policies on key issues like FTCs and redundancy avoidance.

Saturday session starts Congress off

Congress observed a minutes silence in relation to the Manchester bombing

Congress started in a dignified manner with a minutes silence in memory of those who lost their lives in the Manchester bombing and then following a welcome address and speech from President Rob Goodfellow, moved into a discussion of international campaigns and solidarity work.
Vice President Vicky Knight then kicked off with a motion reminding delegates of successes we had achieved in solidarity with colleagues facing persecution abroad, with this motion being followed by others on Trump’s visit, against repression in Turkey, on the elections in France and other issues. Steve Boyce who represents prison educators in FE made a very moving speech on the dreadful persecution facing gay men in Chechnya. Other motions covered threats to the Central European University in Hungary, and on Israel refusing entry to pro-boycott U.K. Academics.

The main debate of the morning was perhaps the debate regarding the results of Brexit, together with consideration as to whether we should support Freedom of Movement in the post-Brexit era. Discussions here were in the main very measured, and were all collegiate, with Freedom of Movement being endorsed, but a proposal to support the holding of another referendum to consider Brexit terms being rejected.

The short video below perhaps gives a flavour of some of the issues raised.


Other motions were passed on Scotland’s ‘Just Transition’ approach to sustainable environmental and economic change, on climate change and airport expansion, on air quality and finally on motions on job sharing and also the National Pensioners’ Convention.
Prior to a private session where issues relating to finance were dealt with, Congress heard an address from General Secretary Sally Hunt who talked of the challenges facing the union, and the need to build both FE and HE sectors in order to face the challenges of the next five years. Sally’s speech was covered in TES here.
Motions throughout the rest of the day addressed the business of the UCU’s Education Committee, passing policy on amongst other issues, Apprenticeship reforms, Academic Freedom and Prevent together with anti-racist and anti-colonialist education.
Towards the latter part of the afternoon a video address from Mesut Firat the General Secretary of the Education and Science Workers Union of Turkey alerted delegates to what could be done to help colleagues there.

Overall a good natured and useful day, with some real differences, but also the ability to argue those and resolve them constructively

Congress 2017 motions – our suggestions

To help colleagues decide on what can sometimes seem to be an overwhelming amount of business, we offer below what we think are sensible recommendations on Congress business, based on the 2nd report of the CBC.

We think these recommendations would lead to useful policy that would strengthen the union over this coming year. But of course – we haven’t yet heard the debate – so like everyone else we’ll be listening to the arguments and voting accordingly!

Anyway – to find out our recommendations click this link here to take you to the page

Friday night debate – Strategies to build the union

Friday night of Congress started off with a fringe meeting looking at how to ensure that the union dealt with a wide range of issues in its campaigning and practice over the next year. Speakers from the devolved nations were Ann Gow from Scotland (UCU Scotland’s incoming President), Renee Prendergast, NEC representative from Northern Ireland who were joined by Vicky Knight, UCU’s incoming President Elect, and national negotiators Jo McNeill and Sean Vernell, with Mark Abel, a representative from the local (Brighton) branch also joining the debate.

A whole range of issues were raised during the meeting, which started with Jo McNeil who argued that in the face of the Trade Union Act, we could still have wins – she thought the NSS boycott had been extremely successful, and solidarity was key, an injury to one was an injury to all. She suggested we did not have a strategy for industrial action.

Ann Gow, President elect, UCU Scotland, drew on Scottish experience

Ann Gow took a different angle, talking of the lessons of Scotland, pointing out that it was a nation and not a region, and consequently worked in a different manner, education, being totally devolved to the Scottish parliament. UCU Scotland negotiated directly with government and in working with all parties in opposing the vested interests of University principals, had been successful on issues such as Governance of universities and also in achieving and retaining Scotland’s no tuition fees policy.  UCU Scotland came together however, with the universities on areas of common ground such as dealing with Brexit and had signed a common cause statement with them and NUS on this. The union also worked with the Universities to lobby the Scottish government on the budget for the university sector. In general UCU Scotland acted as a ‘branch led union’ which talked publicly ‘for the university community’ – not leaving it to university managements to claim this crown. This meant members identified with the union, and thus when industrial action was necessary then it got support. We had had serious industrial action – but this was where it was merited. Current priorities were gender pay and anti-casualisation.

Taking an angle that chimed with the points Jo McNeil had made, Sean Vernell suggested that Corbyn could win and the 9th June might see a Labour government elected. He then suggested the audience should remember the TV drama ‘A very British Coup’ and that we should be ready to defend a radical Labour government. He thought that the union wasn’t yet ready for that type of action and we needed to use the congress to build for this. He felt the concept of local or national was a false polemic, it was always both. Using a phrase that quite a few others  were to repeat during the meeting, he stated ‘You cannot casework yourself out of a crisis.’ He believed getting a 50 percent turnout in ballots was achievable and that ‘we have never had a real campaign’

Renee Prendergast suggested we drew on best practice wherever it arose

Renee Prendergast, looked at the specifics of Northern Ireland, and talked of how a successful union would learn from its different component parts. Regions, nations, and action locally could give positive examples. She believed that local and national issues were both important, although in practice some national actions had not been as successful as local ones. Today’s successful local actions could lay the basis for successful national actions – but that would be in the future.

Vicky Knight talked of the continuing unacceptable gender pay gap

Vicky Knight, current UCU VP and chair of the TUC Women’s Committee outlined the horrific situation women still face in terms of gender pay inequality pointing out that the gap is such that it was equivalent of women working all year, but only being paid up to October, and that the World Economic Forum suggested at current rates it would take 174 years to close the pay gap.

Mark Abel, from Brighton branch, referred to recent industrial action in the university, and how this had been achieved successfully.

In the discussion from the floor, Douglas Chalmers President of UCU Scotland suggested that there was a weakness in reducing what had been suggested by several speakers as ‘national action’ to strike action alone. Successful national action could be something totally different. He suggested that the gains Scotland had made had indeed been through national action, but not necessarily involving strikes. Rather the union had taken the ‘high ground’ and had been active on all sorts of democratic issues, which had won wide public support and support from union members thus achieving the basis for being able to run successful campaigns involving industrial action on the occasions when it was necessary.

Another contribution from President elect Joanna de Groot argued that we had to work smart as well as be strong, and we needed to think through how we worked. There was a huge range of actions we could use to win, so thinking smart about what better delivered jobs, pay deals, gender pay audits etc was crucial. We should work through this bit by bit, but as part of a UK wide strategy.

Other, interesting contributions from a range of strategic and political positions were also made, with the meeting going on for 30 minutes longer than had been planned.

Overall, the debate and discussion was an indication of some of the differences that do surface at Congress between UCU members who perhaps equated a successful union to one that above all saw industrial action – normally strike action – as the touchstone of success, and another, perhaps broader view that believed that the union had to be less ‘economistic’ and more strategic. A more strategic union, working to achieve success would use a whole range of methods, which above all could unite members, making the union a dynamic one which could actually be effective in the post TU Act era.

Thought piece – an Alternative Industrial Strategy

UCU Agenda welcomes ‘thought pieces’ on different aspects of union strategy. If you have any points on this or other postings please let us know by dropping a line to  unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

David Ridley  is a Lecturer in Media Theory at Coventry University and is also currently finishing his Ph.D in Sociology at the University of Birmingham. He is Branch Secretary of Coventry University UCU and has been involved in campaigns around casualisation, the use of subsidiary companies and most recently the civic responsibilities of post-92 universities. Here he puts a point of view about our current strategy following our most recent consultation on the pay offer from the employers. Recently his branch published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the situation in Coventry University and an alternative union view to management approaches. You can download it here.

An Alternative Industrial Strategy

On 19 May 2017 the results of the consultation on the 2017 pay offer were sent to branches across the UK. 65.6% of members want to accept the final offer of 1.7% and 55.5% would not be prepared to take part in industrial action after a sustained ‘Get The Vote Out’ campaign. 76.4% members do think, however, that UCU should hold a ballot on pay in Autumn 2017.

This indicates that members do not think that this is the right time to take action, and that 1.7%, still representing a real terms pay cut if inflation is taken into account, can be accepted in the short term so that energy can be focussed on addressing immediate problems members and branches are facing.

The Higher Education and Research Bill 2017 has now been passed. Not only does mean they introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework, but also many more ‘alternative providers’ (i.e for-profit colleges and universities) which will now find it much easier to enter the new HE ‘market’ that the Tories have finally managed to create after 6 years.

We will now see constant restructuring of existing colleges and universities to meet the demands of this new market. In order to create a ‘level playing field’, new providers do not need to emulate existing institutions, often a complex mixture of research and teaching. For-profit HE will be radically stripped back, fast-track, teaching-only, union-free, focussed purely on the bottom line.

In response, senior management teams of existing institutions will want to drastically cut costs and rationalise production. This will mean mass redundancies, increasing casualisation, outsourcing, experiments with corporate form, and in some cases where management are particularly aggressive, de-recognition of trade unions, especially UCU.

This process has already begun, at Manchester Met, Leeds University, University of Manchester, University of Brighton, University of Warwick, Southampton Solent University and Sunderland University, the list goes on and continues to grow. Many post-92 universities have tried to get ahead of the game, like UCLan’s dodgy overseas partnerships and Coventry University’s Sports Direct-like employment practices.

The good news is that so far, local branches have been very successful in mobilising members and forcing management to back off, for now. More importantly, at a local level, branches have been meeting the new prohibitive criteria for legal industrial action established by the Trade Union Bill, also recently passed.

What this tells us, along with the results of the consultation, is that members are feeling the effects of marketisation, along with the uncertainty for Brexit, more than they are feeling the pinch of stagnating pay. This may change as the pound continues to be devalued in relation to the Euro and inflation outstrips wages. But on an affective level, marketisation is felt through increasing insecurity, inequality, workloads and bullying, all leading to stress and sickness.

But let’s be clear, members are prepared to fight. The war is happening on the front lines, and we must support branches in fighting marketisation in the trenches, so to speak. We must also build for future national action in the long term, but taking action now while the hearts and minds of members are focussed on local struggles will result once again in disappointing turnouts and a disappointing offer, while making the union look weak

Successful local actions build confidence in our members. Every successful local action builds the union as a whole. Successful recognition campaigns show that the union can move forward within marketisation, not just taking the defensive. Public campaigns against gender pay and casualisation, very painful for management (reputational damage) also driven by local successes, build awareness of marketisation and show our most vulnerable members we will fight for them.

‘UCU Left’ will try to convince you that we need to take action now, but the Independent Broad Left network are offering an alternative strategy. We are not accepting defeat by accepting the pay offer. We are walking away from a battle in order to win the war. We are being strategic rather than ideological and stubborn.

The plan that was suggested at the end of last year’s disappointing pay campaign was correct. Regionally coordinated local actions centred on inequality (gender and casualisation, but also BME, LGBT and disability), and increasingly redundancy, outsourcing and attacks on terms and conditions. We believe the unpredictability of and local strength behind this strategy contributed to the increased offer, so let’s talk what we can get and keep fighting.

If we want to take national action in a post HE Bill, Brexit and TU Bill world, the priority must be building participation and confidence in both branches and our membership. We can talk again about national action in the not so distant future when we can deliver.

David Ridley