Response to Consultative Ballot Results

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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

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

Cradle to Grave conference tackles the new post-Brexit issues

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UCU conference faces up to the real issues we are facing in post Brexit Britain

A well attended Cradle to the Grave conference in TUC Congress House put the UCU once more firmly in the centre of the major issues facing us all in post-16 Brexit Britain.

A range of key speakers, from shadow chancellor John McDonnell, leading pro-refugee campaigners, Steven Hale, and founder of Care4Calais Claire Moseley, NUS President Malia Bouattia, political commentators Steve Richards and Melissa Benn, together with leading academics Peter Scott and Kalwant Bhopal, and our own UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt were joined from North of the border by Jenny Gilruth MSP, SNP Parliamentary liaison officer for education. A workshop on transforming FE also heard from academics Vicky Duckworth, Rob Smith and Sean Vernell together with Steven Exley, the Further Education editor of the Times Educational Supplement.

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John McDonnell pledged support for building an alternative coalition for education

John McDonnell’s speech which opened conference was, as might be expected wide ranging, although perhaps inevitably also dealt with the internal temperature in the Labour Party, something which resulted in some flack in the post speech discussion.

 

 

John supported the holding of an enquiry into the impact of Brexit in HE, and pointed out that the education sector did not feature on the current UK government’s list of negotiation priorities. He however, thought that education should be central to the debate on the principle that ‘another Europe is possible‘. He also pledged labour’s support to UCU in ‘building a coalition of opposition‘.

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The new joint pamphlet was launched at the conference

The next session of conference saw the launch of the joint UCU-Refugee Action pamphlet on ‘A Place of Safety’ where we heard Stephen Hale chief exec. of refugee action and Claire Moseley, founder of Care4Calais talk of the horrific conditions facing refugees and the disgraceful decision of the current Tory government to ditch the Dubs amendment. This government decision ended the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees at approximately one tenth of their previously understood commitment. Sally Hunt talked of why this area continued to be a key one for UCU, while NUS President Malia Bouattia also talked of the NUS campaign to support refugees drawing on her own personal experience to illustrate this.

Highlights in this session were the focus on the Let Refugees Learn campaign, with speakers pointing out that for many refugees it was at least 2 years until they could sit in a class room and study English. Claire also pointed out that there was no safe and legal route for refugees to claim asylum in the U.K., which put anyone aspiring to get to the UK immediately into the ‘illegals’ category.

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NUS President Malia Bouattia commended UCU on our work with refugees

Malia congratulated UCU on producing the pamphlet pointing out that refugees didn’t come here by choice. She invited everyone to the 12th March national summit on Trump, Brexit and Beyond, finishing by commenting that refugees were clear on who their friends were, acknowledging  ‘we are here because you were there

Peter Scott, the newly appointed Comissioner for Fair Access in Scotland started the next session on the challenge of Brexit and Trump using a powerful presentation downloadable here.  He considered the ‘many sides of populism’, and it’s link with education, or lack of it, what he believed had gone ‘wrong’, and ‘right.’  He then considered Picketty’s views on the rise of economic inequality, and the ‘achievements’ and ‘disappointments’ of mass education. He finished up by stating that re-asserting public good/ and the values as the core of the academy’s mission was the ‘unfinished business’ on the table.

Jenny Gilruth talked of combatting stereotypical role models

Jenny Gilruth talked of combatting stereotypical role models

SNP member of Scotland’s parliament Jenny Gilruth, then talked of how the Scottish government was trying to tackle widening access, including the important of contextualised admissions, and ‘taking direct action to create a level playing field’.

Peter Scott looks on as Kalwant outlined the intricacy of her latest research

Peter Scott looks on as Kalwant outlined the intricacy of her latest research

Leading researcher and academic Kalwant Bhopal looked in details at her ongoing current research on BME student experiences in higher education. This covered legislation in theory and practice, then the demographics, and degree attainment of BME students. Amongst the many invaluable insights that her research had uncovered was the fact that when BME students got good grades, they were less likely to be pushed to apply to Russell group universities. and when they did, less likely to get in. The role of social and cultural capital was also a key issue that BME students and aspiring students faced. The powerpoint images can be downloaded here

The FE workshop on Further Education – Education Transforms featured Vicky Duckworth from Edgehill university, Rob Smith from Birmingham City university, Stephen Exley from TES, and Sean Vernell from City and Islington College. Within it three main interlinked strands were highlighted:
Firstly, the need to seize the major opportunity opening up for Further Education in terms of the skills that will be needed in the post Brexit world. Tackled correctly, this could help win the argument that FE is needed more than ever.
Secondly Stephen Exley, the Times Education FE editor made the key point that we could not just ‘talk to ourselves’ and that we needed to win the arguments outside the UCU by ‘taking the necessary talk‘ in all the possible forums available to us.
Thirdly we needed always to celebrate how FE can and should transform lives, families and communities.
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UCU’s innovative Transforming Lives and Communities initiative

Vicky Duckworth and Rob Smith’s UCU project http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/  was a fantastic example of how to do this and those attending the workshop were asked to make full use of the UCU initiative allowing individuals to directly e-mail their MPs and call on them to invest properly in the recruitment and retention of more further education staff to ensure that more people can benefit from the transformative power of education.
Finally Sean Vernell arguing the case for making the curriculum more inclusive and effective rather than repeatedly setting people up for (re-sit) failure gave a compelling argument for ‘themed learning’ quoting the initiatives at City and Islington College and other London Colleges.

 

Steve Richards listens while Melissa Benn answered some questions from the floor

Steve Richards (right) listens while Melissa Benn answered some questions from the floor

In the final joint session of the conference columnist and commentator Steve Richards talked of his view of the insurmountable problems now facing the government due to the Brexit result, and how we might take advantage of it. He thought that her non-Thatcherite and indeed  non Cameronite or Blairite restating of the role of government and even the state in a modern society was one that campaigners needed to take up and use from our point of view.

Malia Bouattia talked of the work done with UCU on issues like the NSS survey and the need to recapture education for staff and students.

Melissa Benn talked of how the government was trying to reshape universities as temples of consumerism and conformism, and stated that the government were ‘tackling the wrong question, with the wrong people, in the wrong way’. She also made a devastating argument against current increasing Tory support for selection in schools.

Sally rounded off the conference talking of the battle against casualisation and the HE Bill

Sally rounded off the conference talking of the battle against casualisation and the HE Bill

Sally Hunt then finished the conference by talking of the battle against casualisation and the implications of the HE bill, and quoting Primo Levy’s words of the ‘would be tyrant waiting in the wings with beautiful words’ argued for the need to take back the language being used in the current debates against intellectualism and even experts, and restate the real meaning of truth and evidence.

At the end of the conference, a very moving film 722 TMX Engineering battalion looking at a refugee camp in the town of Alexandria in Norther Greece.

 

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

Convention on Higher Education looks at strategy to defeat HE Bill

 

UCU NEC member and President of UCU Scotland, Douglas Chalmers, took time out to attend the 3rd Convention on Higher Education, following the last HEC in London. Here are his impressions of this useful meeting

Malia Bouattia: "Those who say it cannot be done, are usually interrupted by those doing it"

Malia Bouattia: “Those who say it cannot be done, are usually interrupted by those doing it”

An audience of up to a 100 listened to speakers at the 3rd Convention for Higher Education in UCL’s Darwin lecture theatre today where educational experts, UCU activists  and others condemned the proposals in the UK government’s Higher Education and Research Bill.

John Holmwood opened events by a devastating critique of the proposals, declaring that ‘it’s the nature of the public university that’s at the heart of this discussion’. Member of the House of Lords and professor of public sector management at Kings College London, Baroness Alison Wolf,  went on to condemn the flimsy ‘cod’ market economics underpinning the proposals,  pointing out that what she called a ‘very underdeveloped form of economic thinking’ had come to dominate the debate’ which was ‘ a genuine step in the wrong direction’.

Martin McQuillan of Kingston University pointed out that the whole fees debacle which would now be exacerbated was a ‘question of intergenerational justice’, and he castigated the universities for being ‘on the wrong side of the public debate’.

Amber Rudd’s proposals to cut international students to all but Russell group universities were roundly condemned by all speakers – as were the efforts by some in the Russell group itself to lobby in support of these divisive proposals.

Malia Bouattia, NUS president suggested that the prospect of ‘market exits’ by some of the proposed new providers which would fail (as some inevitably would), might be seen by Teresa May as a sign that the ‘market was working well’.

She finished by saying the proposals could still be defeated, and quoted James Baldwin in saying “Those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by those doing it”

The conference also heard and condemned the current situation at London Met university, and also spent a useful session looking at the joint work that could be done in different areas, to help weaken the Bill and work towards defeating it.

 

Practical sessions mixed FAQs and ideas for future action

Practical sessions mixed FAQs and ideas for future action

The website for the Convention on Higher Education can be found here, and useful resources such as a letter writing pack, found here

Last day… but not least

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Friday’s copy of Broadcast can be downloaded here

Although this is the last day of Congress, it’s by no means the least important. As well as giving Congress the chance to demonstrate UCU’s solidarity with  Malia Bouattia, president-elect of the National Union of Students, and the first black and the first Muslim to hold that post – in which she has already suffered Islamophobic media attacks, and totally unjustified allegations of antisemitism, there are also important issues of rules and finance to be decided upon.

It is not our intention on the issues of finance and rules to give voting advice on all motions – although we point out some issues in Broadcast relating to some of the proposals before congress. We note that it’s to the credit of the Treasurer and the staff advising her that the finances are in a robust situation and this should be acknowledged and applauded. With some exceptions we would simply advise listening to the arguments in the debate.

One motion, however, which we suggest must be passed is 55, on model branch rules, (with or without amendment 55A). There have been bitter arguments on this topic at previous Congresses, and now we are essentially back to the situation at merger. These are of course, only model rules, and a number of branches may need to seek variations. But, given the current climate, we believe it is essential for the union’s protection that all branches have rules of this nature in place, and that they are lodged with the national office.

On the other hand, motion 56 from Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Committee would set a dangerous precedent with regard to the status of elected members of our national committees. The rules state that members must be, or have recently been, in qualifying employment in order to be nominated for the NEC. They do not require NEC members to resign if they subsequently retire – and that is because they are elected to represent a constituency of members who are employed, and they could themselves become re-employed. In the HEC, there has been a convention that members in USS branches do not vote on TPS matters, and vice versa; but the arguments for that are not strong, since all HE constituencies comprise members in both pension schemes – who are disefranchised if their elected HEC member cannot vote. Motion 56 would extend that disenfrachisement, and it would be the start of cake-slicing: for example, should only NEC members from the various equality strands be allowed to vote on matters relating to those strands? We think not.

As always – points of view on the above are welcome. And if anyone would like to submit a ‘think-piece’ or opinion piece on something that they think should be part of the ‘UCU Agenda’ – please do so to: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Build the Fight against the HE Bill and an effective fightback in FE

Fight vs HE Bill

Download Thursday’s copy of HE Sector Broadcast here and Thursday’s copy of FE sector Broadcast here

The determination of our union to fight against the Green Paper/ White Paper/Bill has already been shown at several fringes during congress, and 13 of our motions today in the HE Sector conference will look at how best to oppose this, and ultimately defeat it.

There are clearly some good motions here which will take the fight forward by developing the understanding of our members, students and the wider communities, and clearly there is everything to play for. However we suggest that there are a couple of points that conference should be wary of endorsing as they lack the specific details needed for a successful fightback – we give our suggestions in Broadcast.

It is to be expected that not everyone will agree on the strategy and tactics necessary to successfully win a substantial pay increase, and this disagreement shows in the resolutions tabled.

Members need to be congratulated however for what they have done so far, and given every encouragement to engage in tougher and sustained activity and sanctions, should they prove necessary.

However, what is most important is that Conference comes out of this debate with a united policy to take to both the employers and members. Statements which demean in members’ eyes the leadership of the HEC and the negotiators, and the action that members are already taking, actually undermine the union’s ability to pursue the dispute successfully. 

Today’s opinion piece in HE Sector Broadcast – on Health Educators is by Paul Errington a Health Educator himself at Teeside and an incoming member of the NEC.

Turning to the FE conference it is clear that the high quality motions on many of the issues from the 2015/16 pay claim, through the blight of the gender pay gap –  and the absence of equality monitoring on to the devastating effect of the area reviews, the cuts to ESOL, the Prevent agenda, and the de-professionalisation of the lecturer’s role, all show that our members are active and concerned on these key issues affecting the sector. It promises to be a high quality debate on these questions. The pay issue is one where differing opinions on the way forward exist. We suggest that calling for ‘national’ strike action on the question of ‘pay’ over and over again is however, the wrong strategy – it’s misleading and counterproductive. There is a way to organise, build and support confident, campaigning and unified branches and FE Sector Broadcast suggests some ways we can achieve this.

Elsewhere in each Sector Broadcast you’ll find the Independent Broad Left Network’s general take on some of the other key issues Congress looks at today. As a network, we don’t have a ‘party line’ on policy, and unlike Monty Python neither are we looking for the Holy Grail. So let us know what you think – e-mail unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

 

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?

Grpahic network 1

Hope to see you there!