The Real Democratic Deficit in UCU

Adam Ozanne

This post – from NEC member and recent Congress delegate Adam Ozanne, gives a point of view, on how in Adam’s words “UCU in three days moved from being the most successful trade union in the UK – one that other UK trade unions look upon as leading the way in fighting back against the deliberate constraints placed on them by the Tory government’s 2017 anti-Trade Union Bill – to one whose Congress degenerated into chaos after its paid regional and national officials, who are members of Unite, walked out three times and declared a trade dispute with UCU as their employer, causing Congress to be suspended twice and then brought to a premature end with only a fraction of its business completed”.

UCU Agenda would welcome comments on this – e-mail to unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Congress should have been a positive and reinforcing event celebrating the successes of the past year, the union’s reinvigoration and renewed strength. So how was it that UCU trade unionists have found themselves in dispute with fellow trade unionists in their employ? Why did Congress 2018 degenerate into chaos? How can victory have been turned so nearly into defeat? And what role did UCULeft, a faction dominated by the Trotskyist Socialist Worker Party (SWP), and supporters of the Independent Broad Left (IBL) grouping play?

The post is set out in seven sections plus an appendix:

  1. The three contentious motions
  2. What happened at Congress – How Victory can be Turned into Defeat
  3. Analysis of the dispute
  4. A reminder of how the USS strikes came to an end
  5. The UCULeft faction and IBL network
  6. The real “democratic deficit” in UCU
  7. What is to be done?

Appendix: Branch tally for USS meeting on March 28th

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Coventry – help them on to victory

 

Coventry UCU have been at the cutting edge of defeating the union busting tactics of local university management.

This week, saw a second, significant demonstration demanding that the Coventry University scrap their ‘sweetheart union’ imposed on the university’s subsidiary organisation ‘CU Group’ – a company wholly owned by the university, but where staff are paid less, have no proper pension scheme, and inadequate time to prepare courses – not to mention to to give pastoral support to students.

This weeks demo, featured UCU President Joanna de Groot, with Douglas Chalmers, UCU VP speaking for the second time at Coventry and also backed up this time by VP elect Nita Sanghera. An outstanding speech was once again given by branch chair Stephen Cowden, who had previously given a video interview to UCUAgenda on the fight for recognition

Speakers from Coventry TUC who have also been outstanding in their support spoke again, demanding that the Board of Governors, who were meeting that day – tell management they need to sit down and talk to the UCU, on the basis of granting the full recognition that the staff have repeated shown they have demanded.

The branch have consistently worked closely with the local community, the media, the wider labour movement and UCU regional and UK officials to build up the type of unstoppable campaign that will undoubtedly ensure victory in this campaign. They’ve also been heartened by the widespread support from UCU branches throughout the UK.

It’s a template that other branches can learn from.

The USS Joint Expert Panel and more:

Report on UCU Higher Education Committee on 27 April 2018

Adam Ozanne, an elected member of UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC), its Superannuation Working Group and the USS Advisory Committee, has written the following account of the discussions regarding  the setting up by UCU and UUK of a Joint Expert Panel that took place in HEC on 27 April together with some observations about UCULeft.

Paul Bridge, UCU’s Head of HE, presented a report summarising the following:

  • the result of the consultative e-ballot: 64% of pre-1992 members voted on a 64% turnout (the highest in the union’s history) to accept the UUK offer of March 23rdand set up a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that will assess the validity of the 2017 valuation and investigate alternatives to the current DB/DC scheme;
  • subsequent discussions within UCU’s Superannuation Working Group (SWG) and with UUK; and,
  • the response of Bill Galvin, the USS CEO, to the agreement by UUK and UCU to set up the JEP.

The report noted that there was a meeting of the JNC at 3.00pm and made a number of recommendations that were accepted by HEC and can be summarised as follows:

  1. HEC approved the setting up of the JEP with three members nominated by UUK and three by UCU, as well as its Terms of Reference, operational timelines and reporting mechanisms.
  2. HEC delegated to the SWG the endorsement of an ACAS recommended Chair of JEP.
  3. HEC agreed that anyone interested in being one of UCU’s three JEP members may nominate themselves by submitting their CV and a 500 word statement, and that the SWG (minus the three USS Trustee Directors) would act as the selection and appointment panel and, in consultation with the HEC officers, take all other actions necessary to set up the JEP. SWG will seek recognised subject leaders with expertise in and knowledge of pensions, finance, the HE sector and the legal and regulatory context.
  4. HEC directed the USS negotiators, in the JNC meeting that afternoon, to vote to revoke the DC-only resolution reached at its meeting on January 23rd, and against any move by USS to trigger a consultation of USS members on Rule 76.4 before the JEP has time to complete its work on the 2017 valuation (Rule 76.4 says that if JNC does not agree reach agreement on how to deal with the results of a triennial valuation USS may seek to raise employer/member contributions on a 65:35 basis).
  5. The Chair of HEC and Head of HE will liaise with the Congress Business Committee with a view to providing time at HE Sector Conference for a report of the first meeting of the JEP and related matters.

All the above had been discussed and unanimously agreed by the Superannuation Working Group, which includes the four elected USS negotiators, the two alternate negotiators from the USS Advisory Committee (including myself) and the three UCU nominated Directors on the USS Trustee Board.

Several motions relating to the setting up of the JEP had been tabled by HEC members. One, that committed the JEP to robustly challenging the current USS valuation and methodology and HEC to pursuing changes in pensions’ regulations, was passed; and an amendment to the Head of HE’s report to include recognition of the equality and diversity implications of any changes in USS was accepted.

The proposers of the other motions were all allowed to speak to them, with no contrary speeches against,  but, after the main USS report was passed, fell either (as “consequentials”) because they were incompatible with the above recommendations or because they involved constitutional changes to UCU’s decision making processes that can only be made by Congress.

This, it has to be said, caused a good deal of acrimony with many formal challenges to the Chair by the proposers of the motions which had the unfortunate effect of reducing the time available for discussion of the main report and its recommendations – especially as the SWG members of HEC had to leave the five hour meeting after three hours to prepare for and attend the JNC meeting. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been better if all the motions had been withdrawn and if debate had concentrated on the main report together with, perhaps, additional amendments to its recommendations being proposed and considered; however, nobody suggested this and much time was wasted in unproductive argument and formal challenges to the chair..

Nevertheless, my personal view is that, despite claims made subsequently on the Activists list by some of those who disagreed with the above recommendations, the motions had to fall once the main report was accepted. This is because – despite claims that they “complemented” the main report – they all contained elements that were incompatible with the main report and/or UCU’s established democratic decision making processes.

For example, three of the motions sought to replace the elected HEC as the relevant decision-making body of the HE part of UCU with an ad hoc national strike committee or a branch delegate meeting with voting powers. Others would have delayed the setting up of the JEP until after HESC at the end of May, which would be too late given the time pressures we are under, or only allowed UCU members to be JEP members, which would unnecessarily exclude leading experts who do not work in HE. All these points were either incompatible with the recommendations in the main report, which had already been voted upon and accepted, or would have undermined UCU’s established decision making bodies. Logically and procedurally, it was not sensible to consider them any further.

In my opinion, therefore, the outcome of Friday’s HEC and the manner in which decisions were reached were appropriate. This is not, however, what you might think from reading some of the reports on Twitter etc. which seem to suggest that those who take a different view must be acting undemocratically or, even worse, are a “powerful right wing faction” in UCU that “believes in the deficit”. (Full disclosure: I first joined the Labour Party in 1976, and have never been a member of any other political party, though I have on occasion voted Green, Communist Party (for a friend was standing in a local election) and LibDem (after the Iraq invasion)).

I am afraid it is also the case that the conduct of some in the HEC meeting – disrespecting the Chair’s efforts to limit speeches in order to allow others time, shouting or speaking unnecessarily loudly into the microphone, showing obvious irritation with having to use a microphone and calling a point of order even after it had been called to an end, made the meeting unnecessarily drawn out and acrimonious and limited the time available for proper debate.

The chair had already had to draw attention at the start of the meeting to incorrect reports of the previous HEC on the activists list, which erroneously claimed he had not allowed discussion (13 colleagues had in fact taken part in discussion), and that he had ruled motions out of order (simply did not happen).

I find all of this deeply disappointing, and will go further by stating the following. UCULeft’s claims to being for a democratic and member-led union are inconsistent with its efforts on 27 April to undermine HEC as the legitimate decision-making body in the USS dispute, its opposition at the end of March to the e-ballot of all post-1992 members on the UUK offer, not to mention its opposition to local and national e-ballots and GTVO (Get The Vote Out) were when they were first introduced.

Just as there are good, democratic reasons for rules stating quotas and minimum numbers of days for giving notice of AGM and EGMs, so there are good reasons for using modern technology to enable timely member participation in decision making and for limiting the ability of meetings to change decision making processes and structures on the hoof (as in replacing HEC with ad hocstrike committees and “branch meetings with voting rights”).

Such rules prevent small unrepresentative but well organised factions from taking control of political organisations and leading them in directions the majority of members (who may be unaware of what is happening or too busy to attend in numbers at short notice) would not agree with. Similarly, insistence on the use of microphones when speaking is not a bureaucratic obsession but an equality principle that enables the hard of hearing to participate fully while rules prohibiting angry outbursts, repeated interruptions and shouting limit intimidatory behaviour and promotes free debate. Such rules and conventions are profoundly important for the well-being of the union.

What every member of HEC, regardless of whether they are a paid up member of UCULeft or not, recognises is the huge success of the USS industrial action. From GTVO trouncing the statutory ballot 50% turnout requirement to vast numbers of new members and the mobilisation of tens of thousands on strike, on picket lines and in vibrant meetings, UCU is leading the UK trade union movement in opposing the Tory government’s anti-trade union legislation. We are showing the way in reinvigorating trade unionism in opposition to the marketisation of the public sector and the erosion of traditional values of collegiality and public service that are the bedrock of the success of UK universities.

The setting up of the JEP is the next step in the defence of decent pensions in universities – and, indeed, elsewhere, because a successful JEP could well influence what happens to other pensions schemes, so we must get it right. The plan is for it to report in two stages: first, on the 2017 valuation in the Autumn, in time to forestall the USS making changes in 2019 based upon a disputed deficit; the second on alternative risk sharing mechanisms to the current hybrid DB/DC scheme. Friday’s HEC and the JNC the same afternoon set that process in motion and I for one am more than a little content with it and relieved that arrangements for setting up the JEP can commence immediately.

After the ballot – where are we now with our USS dispute?

What a fantastic and enthusiastic campaign this has been for our union. We have shown by our sheer determination, organisation and hard work, our ability to force the employers back to the drawing board, and to withdraw their decision to scrap Defined Benefit and impose Defined Contribution on us. Where do we go to from here? Below you will find some thoughts that we hope will be helpful. 

We got to where we are by combining the enthusiasm, commitment, and creativity of thousands of activists with the hard work of UCU staff,  the policy framework established by our lead elected committees, the persistent efforts of branch committees, and the seen and unseen work of negotiators.

While there has been plenty of friction between the different players ( not surprising in a complex dispute ) it is a fact that all have contributed to getting us to a point so different from where we were when the employers looked like getting away with imposing a DC version of the USS scheme.

Students were key supporters of our struggle

It’s important to remember that the proposal which a massive majority of members have accepted was shaped by the priorities made very clear by the branch representatives who rejected an earlier set of proposals emerging from ACAS.

Rather than seeking to add to or alter those earlier proposals  they wanted to focus negotiations on the key objectives of a full review of USS procedures and the defence of a guaranteed pension. Those priorities were taken into negotiations and are embedded in the outcome.

Of course the independent review is just the start of the next stage of our struggle for a better USS.

Support was widespread and enthusiastic

In accepting it members have shown not confidence in their employers (which is not great) but in our own ability to keep up the pressure for members’ interests, including future use of the industrial strength which we (and of course the employers ) now know we have.

Full involvement in the review will need to matched by unremitting vigilance by our branches, our elected committees and our industrial negotiators.

It seems odd and unhelpful that so much of the visible debate about the proposal and the ballot focussed on who said or did what inside UCU, rather than on our dispute with our employers or the interests of members.  In any dispute the participants will have such concerns but do let’s remember that we launched this dispute for a big industrial reason –  to challenge the employers’ outrageous and damaging attack on our pensions scheme which both threatened the size and security of our pensions and also pulled the rug out from under the co-stakeholder structure of USS.

SO – members took action because their wellbeing was threatened but also because this threat was just the latest step in the employers’ wrecking of the collegial and professional respect and co-working which should shape our workplaces, and they did this in the name of managerial authoritarianism and credit ratings. Many activists have said that the attack on their pensions was the last straw on top of a burden of managerialism, disempowerment, precarious wok, and excessive hours. Now they are energised to start organising challenges to this burden in  their institutions. Real issues to take up, not internal wrangles and sectarianism.

We balloted over 53 thousand members, over 33 thousand of whom voted on the proposal The dispute and the ballot involved members: it was about members. and the outcome allows members to continue to pursue the issues which they have said mattered to them.

Together we have achieved something for ALL members in USS whether or not they agreed with every particular view, whether or not they were at rallies as well as striking. There is a crucial link between these two because activists have used  both their power and their responsibility to use their commitment time and energy on behalf of our growing wider membership.

Lots to celebrate, lots to digest, lots to get on with. . .

UCU Strikes: The Ballot, what it means and where we go from here.

With permission, UCU Agenda has reprinted a posting by Jeanette Findlay, and Patricia Findlay two UCU members from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities (who describe themselves as ‘non-affiliated’)  on why they are calling for a yes vote in the current ballot. They make the point that it’s a ballot on the process and not the outcome. We think it’s a fantastic contribution to the debate. The original posting can be found here

Jeanette is Senior Lecturer in Economics in the College of Social Sciences at Glasgow University and Tricia  is Professor of Work and Employment Relations at Strathclyde and Director of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) 

“The following is our understanding, based on evidence cited in the text, and on our understanding of how negotiations work/how settlements are reached, of where we are and the nature of the decision we are being asked to take.  We are happy to debate any element of it if there are detailed rebuttals or alternative views on how things work, but we would ask for people to specify precisely how they perceive a settlement arising at any point in this dispute which does not involve a process the same or similar to the one that is on the table.  For the avoidance of doubt, we are neither part of, nor opposed in principle to, any grouping within the union”. Jeanette Findlay, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Glasgow. Patricia Findlay, Professor of Work and Employment Relations, University of Strathclyde

  1. We came out on strike because in January the JNC (UUK plus chair) forced through a decision, based on the November 2017 valuation, to remove all Defined Benefits – totally unacceptable.
  2. UCU position – (1) refuse to accept these changes, (2) want to open up the issue of the valuation to joint discussion and (3) protect a fair pension.
  3. We go on strike for 14 days – make no mistake, the strike and action to date has been successful
    1. Employers won’t talk …. Our action makes them talk
    2. Employers threaten ASOS deductions … our actions ensures that most don’t/won’t
    3. Employers assess that we won’t be strong enough to resist imposition of these damaging changes – but UCU grows in membership and activism
    4. Employers insist DB is unaffordable – our action forces a DB offer in March (not good enough, but still an offer the employers previously said wasn’t possible)
  4. We reject March offer and make plans for continuing action.
  5. Employers make an offer in relation to the valuation process and HEC decide to put this to a ballot of members (people have a variety of complaints about the process – whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it isn’t relevant to the substance of the decision on the ballot).
  6. What we are about to vote on is to agree a process, not to agree an outcome. Understanding this distinction is absolutely crucial. We/UCU believe that the USS valuation is wrong and have argued for 5 years for a different valuation process. Avoiding being in the same position every time the USS scheme is revalued means addressing the issue of valuation.  Some agreement over the valuation is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, of an outcome to the current dispute that is acceptable to us. We are now being offered a joint valuation process.
  7. 1st objective of UCU action has been achieved – the original (DC) offer is now off the table as implied in the UUK statement, confirmed in a direct answer to a question by Josephine Cumbo of the FT and then finally confirmed in the letter to Sally Hunt from Alastair Jarvis last Wednesday (day of Branch Reps meeting in London).
  8. So what are we being balloted about? The establishment of an independent panel to look at the valuation methodology and to have underpinning this panel a focus on DB and on ‘broadly comparable benefits’.  We are being asked to say yes or no to what we asked for ie the 2nd objective of the UCU action.
  9. We are NOT, at this point, being balloted on a set of pension arrangements – this will come later. We would not, therefore, be ‘giving up’ the current industrial action – though it is likely that we would suspend it (see point 20 below).
  10. The pensions regulator is on board and the USS board now needs to agree this.
  11. Assuming that the USS board agrees, then we have won the first round of this battle – we’ve had the unacceptable offer/s removed and have forced acceptance of the need for a joint process to address the valuation question.
  12. Yet some people are unhappy – why?
    1. Process of HEC decision – nothing to do with substance of what will be balloted on
    2. Because it came from the employers – not unusual in any negotiations process for one side to propose and the other to decide on the proposal (and remember, some members were equally unhappy about the March proposal for having come from UUK and UCU).
    3. Because they don’t trust the employer – if a lack of trust was necessary for negotiating and agreement making, few agreements would be made. We gain what we gain by strength in negotiation – and knowing when to deploy that strength.
    4. Because there are no specifics on what the final position will be – that’s because this isn’t a ballot on the substance of the pensions, but a process to generate information that will underpin future negotiations on the actual pensions outcome.
    5. Because there has been no specification of timings – lots of speculation about how this expert panel process is only for the 2020 valuation – but correspondence between Matt Waddup/UCU and UCU Glasgow makes it is clear that the joint expert panel is aimed at the current valuation – ie will be available in time to influence what happens after April 2019. It is our understanding that UCU will convey this shortly.
    6. Some are arguing for a guarantee of no detriment at this stage. But at this stage, there is no ‘detriment’ on the table. If people are arguing that employers should commit now to no detriment in future, this is unrealistic – and even if UUK made such a commitment now, they could abandon that commitment when the Expert Panel on Valuation concludes.  Whatever comes out of this valuation process becomes the next terrain on which to fight – or not.  Because either we were right and the scheme is sound and doesn’t need to change. Or we were wrong and change in benefits or costs will be proposed.  But even if we agreed increased costs were necessary, we could argue that they should be borne by the employers given they had a payment holiday some years ago – but we are not at that stage yet. In effect, some people seem to want to have the agreement completed before getting into the room with the other side! This is generally not how negotiations work.
    7. There are objections to mention of affordability and constraints of the existing regulatory regime – we can disagree in negotiations as to what is or is not affordable, but we cannot object to the concept of affordability in and of   Similarly, we may not like the regulatory regime, and we may wish to pursue separate discussions with the regulator to establish what room for manoeuvre there is, but we cannot pretend that regulation does not exist or oppose it in principle.
    8. Some objections are because the UUK proposal doesn’t address a much wider range of issues, or because there is no focus on UUK governance – on the former, there are wider issues to focus on with our new members and activists, but this dispute is about pensions, and mission creep doesn’t help us with this; on the latter (and notwithstanding that the governance of UUK is a car crash that has got us into this dispute in the first place), it is not the job of any agreement with us to review/reform UUK governance – we would be up in arms if UUK suggested an agreement over the internal governance of UCU. UUK governance is for Principals/VCs to address – and they should.
  13. We defer to no-one in our willingness to fight for what is right in the workplace. But we cannot get anyone to articulate – in conversation or on Twitter – what else precisely, at this stage of the process,  we are asking for.  The question being posed is simple at this stage – is the specified form and operation of an Expert Panel, focussed on retaining a DB scheme and broadly comparable benefits, acceptable to us at this stage in our dispute?
  14. Discussions – on Twitter and elsewhere – about problems with the vagueness of the current ‘offer’ are misplaced because we do not have a current offer – we have a proposed mechanism to underpin an offer at the next stage of negotiations.
  15. People say this should go back to the negotiators – what for? We have what we wanted at this stage – removal of the January JNC imposed changes – effectively returning us to the status quo for the time being – and (potentially) an agreed process.  In fact, UCU confirmed at the Branch Reps meeting that there will be a DB scheme for at least four years:  till April 2019 as is, and for the following three years (till next valuation) whatever DB scheme comes out of the current dispute – a scheme which we, necessarily and by definition, will have agreed to.
  16. There are lots of risks in the process and in the future. The UCU choice of experts is incredibly important, as is ongoing communication and consultation with the membership.  Being clear about what we will and won’t accept is crucial and needs to be understood by our negotiators.   But at the end of any agreed process, based on whatever valuation comes out of it, proposals will be put to the Trustees and we will be balloted on whether to accept or reject them.
  17. To reiterate – because this point appears to have been lost from the debate, certainly on Twitter – at this point, we are not agreeing to accept whatever comes out of this valuation process. We are not being asked to accept a ‘deal’ that specifies what our pensions will look like. We are being offered the process we asked for. To reject the process we asked for risks making us look ridiculous, alienating some members, and losing student and public support.  Members need to be very clear about the different stages of the process – negotiations will follow the valuation process.  The upcoming ballot is only about the valuation process. 
  18. A lack of clarity about what we are deciding in the upcoming ballot doesn’t help in informing members and makes us look divided and consequently weaker.
  19. Once the Expert Panel has concluded, we are back in negotiations about the content of any agreement. If at that stage we don’t like what we are offered, then we will take action to defend our pensions.
  20. If members vote yes in the ballot, and USS accepts it and the action is suspended, some people appear to feel that if activists ‘stand down’, they won’t stand up again. We have no reason to believe this (quite the reverse – we’re more likely to lose people if we try to keep them involved in action without clarity over why they are taking action). Not only are the employers unlikely to accept that industrial action continues throughout the valuation process (no employer would), but any strike action (or action short) would neither have a current objective (to get the employer to talk, because we’d be talking) or be timely for any ultimate objective – ie to influence an agreement, because we don’t have an offer of an agreement yet.
  21. If members vote no in the ballot, what are we saying? What comes next?  We can, of course, continue our action, but without a new valuation the November valuation will stand.  We cannot wish away external constraints in the form of the tPR timescales for the current valuation – and (whatever limited flexibility exists) these are not sensitive to our industrial action as they are not in the gift of UUK.
  22. To conclude, all disputes are resolved by a negotiated settlement. Our (UCU) position has always been that we want a joint process of valuation to underpin a negotiated settlement.  If we accept the UUK proposal, we would be agreeing to take part in the valuation process that at some point would (or wouldn’t) lead to a negotiated settlement that we’d be balloted on.  Engaging with the valuation process would be a necessary but not sufficient condition of a final agreement. We deployed industrial action to win round 1 – ie to stop the imposition of changes to DC and deliver the necessary condition (ie a fair valuation).  That valuation process would then begin.  When complete, we would negotiate on the basis of it (so long as the process had been robust), ballot on it and either accept it, or reject it – at which point industrial action would have an objective, which is to change the offer.
  23. We have a job to do while the expert panel is ongoing. We need to build our union and we need to stay united and keep the communications flowing.  We need to build capacity and capability for what might come next. We need to talk about and act in relation to all of the other problematic issues that we’ve discussed on the picket lines over the last month.
  24. We have been successful to date, but there is a long way to go. There are tactical considerations to be made about how best and when is best to deploy our collective resources. What would be an absolute travesty is for us to be disunited after this ballot on process – for us, that really would feel like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Response to Consultative Ballot Results

Demo

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)

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

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.