Today we received the results of the consultative ballot on higher education pay. The results show that 65% of members who voted are willing to settle this year rather than taking industrial action this pay round and accept the pay offer of 1.7%. This does not mean that members have taken this decision lightly, nor that they do not understand that the offer is a real-terms pay cut.
The turn out for this ballot was surprisingly high, the best since 2006 with no recommendation, despite taking place in the summer, at 48.6%. This is close to the new threshold of 50% set by the Trade Union Act, and so undermines arguments that this is not an accurate representation of members’ views.
Clearly, activists across UCU had enough time to ‘get the vote out’, and we believe that this electronic ballot is a valid representation of what members want. Some will say leadership should have been shown, however leadership is also about listening carefully to what members want.
We interpret this result as saying members are more concerned with issues arising out of marketisation such as restructure, deprofessionalisation, redundancy, casualisation, as well as long standing concerns with equality (gender, disability, LGBT+, BME) and pensions.
We do not think this indicates the end of industrial action – far from it, the fact that almost half members voting indicated they would take action if the membership voted to reject suggests that there is still support for a pay campaign in the future. We think that members are tired of striking nationally year on year with diminishing results.
At a local level, branches have successfully cleared the 50% threshold and pushed back on redundancies. There have been inspirational campaigns across the UK around the gender pay gap, casualisation, outsourcing and governance.
While we develop this strategy we can still engage in regionally and nationally coordinated local actions that will unsettle the management lobby and give us greater national bargaining power in the next pay round. It’s time to think differently, creatively about industrial action and strategy, and this decision gives us the breathing space to be able to do this.
We look forward to discussing next steps with colleagues at local, regional and national executive levels and we hope that not too much time will be spent wrongly lamenting the lack of militancy or leadership which we think would be not just a distraction but also a misinterpretation of what members are saying.
Members of the UCU Independent Broad Left network (NEC/HEC)