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

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

HELP SAVE CHESHIRE CAMPUS

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SIGN THE PETITION PLEASE

“Manchester Metropolitan University has informed all staff at MMU Cheshire of proposals for changes including the possibility of the permanent closure of the campus.
At a meeting in June this year the University’s Board of Governors and the Vice Chancellor ruled out the option of ‘business as usual’.  Managers have stressed their commitment to existing students enrolled on courses at Crewe, including to the quality of their experience of studying at MMU. 
There are just three options now under consideration: a reduced ‘focused’ presence on the existing site; a move to a Crewe town centre site, possibly in conjunction with new educational partners; and closure.  All options have extremely serious implications not only for the future of the Higher Education offer in the vicinity, but for current academic and support staff jobs.
The University has so far refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. 
UCU is opposed to compulsory redundancy and regional and branch officers have made this policy clear in every meeting with managers.   
The University Executive Group has commissioned a report by consultants Deloitte into the viability of a number of options and assessing the current operating position.  As part of the compilation of that report, Deloitte and Senior University staff conducted a process of informal consultation with staff, student reps and some local political bodies and businesses, although this did not include consulting on the possibility of the continued operation of the Crewe Campus as it is currently configured. No members of staff at Crewe has so far been informed that they may be made redundant.
The UCU branch at MMU is asking for you to sign our petition in support of the case for Crewe which we intend to present to the University’s Vice Chancellor and Governors in mid-November.  If you have a direct connection with MMU Cheshire, please don’t forget to add this to your signature. 

http://speakout.web.ucu.org.uk/save-manchester-metropolitan-university-cheshire-campus/ 

Please send messages of support to:

Julie Wilkinson – J.Wilkinson@mmu.ac.uk

 

Strengthening not retreating

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Talking truth to power. But what are the next steps to win the battle?

The HEC at its last meeting took a decision to pause industrial action and conduct an indicative ballot of HE members on the way forward. Here are some points from the Independent Broad Left Network regarding the next stage in the battle to achieve better pay, close the gender pay gap and end casualisation.

It would be easy but mistaken to see the decision taken by HEC on 14 October to pause industrial action on the 2016 pay offer while conducting an indicative ballot of HE members as a retreat. Looking at the achievements and difficulties of our pay dispute, and at the political and economic situation in which we have to go forward, HEC has chosen to move to decisions about next steps which will be informed by the judgement of the people who will actually have to implement them about what will achieve the most for us all.

Making tough choices
We are proud of what members have already put into the dispute, and confident that they will give serious and intelligent consideration to the risks and possibilities of seriously sustained industrial action this autumn. There is wide agreement that we have had an unsatisfactory offer from the employers, and that there is considerable appetite for continued campaigning on the gender pay gap and on casualisation issues, but real uncertainty as to whether industrial action at this particular moment will produce positive results. The HEC recognised that in considering the direction of the current dispute, members needed to be clear that any future pay campaign would be conducted under the new ballot threshold imposed by the Trade Union Act. Tackling pay erosion in future may be much more challenging, with early career colleagues especially likely to suffer the consequences in the medium to long term

Working together
As experienced activists we all understand that industrial action is a means to achieve change, not an end in itself, and that we owe it to ourselves to assess its possible dangers as well as its possible opportunities. Successful action is based on strong support and participation, and on confidence that there are reasonable prospects for the action. Since ‘the union’ is no more or less than all of us, it makes sense to involve all of us in building that support and confidence

Fighting smart and fighting strong
In taking the decision to hold a consultative ballot HEC is working constructively with members by asking them to make an informed judgement about how best we can all work together to make progress in very difficult circumstances. We are not retreating, but strengthening the trust, good sense, and ability to deal with tough situations, on which the effectiveness of union campaigns always depends.

 

Colleagues who have comments on this can get in touch and let us know your views by contacting: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Help our colleagues at Hull College!

 

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Jenny Prideaux who works at Sheffield College and is a member of the NEC, the Chair of the Recruitment, Organising and Campaigns Committee and FEC Vice-Chair, writes about a crucial campaign for the UCU in the FE sector.

 

 

This is a call to all members to support Hull College UCU in its battle to save the college, save members’ jobs and defend the union. It’s  time to stop Hull College bosses in their tracks!

On 25th August 2016 Hull College issued a notice that threatened over 140 posts at the College with redundancy  – including 60 lecturing staff
This is the sixth year in a row that job losses have been announced resulting in just short of 400 job losses

Staff at the College believe that

  • these job losses are short sighted
  • profit is being put first.
  • significant financial shortfalls are a result of years of mismanagement
  • what was once a great college is being run into the ground.

It’s also an attack on the union itself. 

The branch officers who orchestrated last year’s successful pay and lesson observation dispute have been threatened with redundancy. This includes the branch secretary, the vice-chair and our president Rob Goodfellow.

Our members at Hull, as you would expect from this branch, are determined to fight back.

They have a successful ballot for strike action and are taking strike action on Thursday 13th October

Actions you can take immediately:

Keep yourself updated by visiting the branch’s facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/ucuhull

Retweet its tweets

https://twitter.com/ucuhull?lang=en&lang=en

Sign the petition

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-hull-college-for-the-people-of-hull.html#.V_KNzKRiGFg.twitter

send messages of support to the branch secretary Dave Langcaster at

dlangcaster@gmail.com

Watch this space for details of where to visit picket lines

In full solidarity with our members at Hull

Jenny Prideaux

Maybe interested in the Independent Broad Left Network in UCU?

Monty Python had it right

….. “Are you the Judean People’s Front?    ###k off – we’re the People’s Front of Judea”

Well we’re the Independent Broad Left Network in UCU and as well as some good ideas for the union, we’ve also got a sense of humour. Why not come along, have a drink, in one of Liverpool’s most historic pubs, find out more, and let us know what you think?

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Hope to see you there!

Vicky Knight VP-elect answers your questions

Vicky Knight is a trade union studies lecturer at The Manchester College with 25 years active experience within the public sector, in both the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and UCU.

She was recently elected as Vice President of UCU and will take up this position at the end of the UCU’s UK Congress 2016 .

As well as her NEC membership and being an FE negotiator, she has represented UCU at the TUC annual Congress,TUC Women’s Conference and TUC Women’s Committee and has been chair of the TUC Women’s Committee for the last two years.

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Here she is interviewed by Douglas Chalmers, president of UCU Scotland, and quizzed on her ideas on the big issues facing UCU, particularly in FE in the next 2 years. It covers Vicky’s ideas on cuts, loans, lack of bursaries,ESOL, training, student development, area reviews, national bargaining, membership density, making the union more attractive to women – and many other things.

The video is approximately 10 minutes long, and thanks go to Janice Aitken Scotland Hon. Secretary for the camerawork! Sorry about the slight slippage in lip-synch at bits  – we’re working on that.

 

 

 

 

The Green Paper on Higher Education. What is says, and most importantly what it does not say

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. His thesis is an exploration of the possibility of a grassroots sociology that could contribute to radical democracy, and the limitations imposed by neoliberalism and the marketisation of higher education. David 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. 

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The Green Paper on Higher Education in England has been at the heart of UCU discussions since first published in November 2015. Although Education is a matter devolved to the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, many of the proposals have knock-on implications for the devolved nations. 

The briefing below is a condensed version of an original document for Coventry UCU, downloadable here.

As this is a long article, we have put plenty links in to allow you to navigate successfully!

Here is a link to a 9 Bullet Point summary

INTRODUCTION

This report is intended to give UCU members an analysis of the recent Green Paper, which was (it is now closed and the results are being processed) an ‘open consultation’ on the future of Higher Education. The Green Paper not only outlines the much anticipated Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), but also aggressively pursues some of the other aspects of ‘marketisation’ that were first introduced in Lord Browne’s 2010 Review, whose suggestions were subsequently ‘cherry picked’ for the 2011 White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System. Primarily, the function of this briefing is to help give a sense of what the future may holds for the sector if the government is successful.

The briefing is critical: (1) in terms of its stance towards marketisation as a whole and (2) in terms of engaging with the emerging critical views on the Green Paper from commentators. For maximum ‘impact’, the briefing has been divided into three main themes: marketisation, the Teaching Excellence Framework, and plans to further ‘open up the system’ to ‘alternative providers’ and remove the public interest from higher education altogether.

This briefing seeks to provide an alternative point of view and grounding for action in the coming year as the discussion around the future of HE continues. It is hoped that this report will help open up a constructive dialogue between the UCU branch committees, members we seek to represent, and those who can influence the future of H.E.

The briefing is a further demonstration that the UCU is the only voice for democracy in an increasingly anti-democratic academic landscape, both locally and nationally. Continue reading

Vote Vicky Knight for UCU Vice President

The UCU Independent Broad Left (IBL) network supports the need for UCU to make hard strategic choices about prioritising resources to meet the challenges we face in this ever more hostile environment for post-16 education. This requires a union leadership which puts members first, and seeks to involve them, and emphasises core professional and trade union issues – education, research, jobs, pay, conditions, equality and professional autonomy. 

With this in mind, we have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting Vicky Knight’s candidature as VP of the union. (Download her election address here)

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A message to all UCU members from Vicky:

“This Government’s ideological agenda is clearly hurting everyone in our communities. As workers, educators and researchers we are continually doing more for less, in increasingly stressful environments – over-worked, underpaid, our workplace rights eroded, increasingly precarious in terms of job security, our professionalism undermined, and terms and conditions constantly under attack with privatisation looming.

We also face the (anti) Trade Union Bill, designed to subvert our right to strike, congregate and demonstrate – all of which are fundamental trade union and workers’ rights.

We must maintain at all costs the right to withdraw our labour – an action which UCU members never undertake lightly. Our strength is our democracy, using our collective ability to negotiate and exhaust political alternatives rst.

In order to defend our members in the current climate, a vital objective and focus of the union must be the strengthening of our branches – the absolute foundation of our membership – including increasing our numbers, and thus empowering us to use our collective bargaining and negotiation skills to improve members’ lives.

If you vote for me, you vote for a strong independent voice working hard for, and responsive to, all UCU stakeholders, for the benefit of all, inclusively and equally, in both HE and FE.” 

Some aspects of Vicky’s experience.

She:

  • is a trade union studies lecturer at The Manchester College.
  • has 25 years’ active experience within the public sector, in both the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and UCU.
  • has a strong commitment to the principles of justice, equality of opportunities, fairness, inclusivity and a voice for all.
  • holds branch, regional and national representative positions in UCU, including NEC membership and FE negotiator.
  • is a member of the UCU Equality and Women’s Committees.
  • has represented UCU at the TUC annual Congress,TUC Women’s Conference and TUC Women’s Committee.
  • has been chair of the TUC Women’s Committee for the last two years.

Vicky believes that:

  • in the face of relentless government and employer attacks on further and higher education, our unity is our strength.
  • our union, funded by members for members, must use democratic structures to represent the needs and aspirations of all, working in all roles across our institutions – and not be used as a vehicle to progress the agendas of any external political organisation or grouping

See below for endorsements of Vicky and her approach from a wide range of UCU members.

Continue reading