1 February 2012

USS conference report, January 31st, 2012

Written by Malcolm Povey (personal capacity)

The USS negotiators’ motion to suspend our industrial action in return for talks with the employers won the day against the 15 other motions arguing for continued or escalation of action. The supporters of the negotiators’ position were generally very pessimistic about the prospects for escalation of the dispute.

Our campaign in support of continued industrial action included the production of a 13 page document analysing the TPS and USS disputes, a spread sheet pensions modeller and an email campaign amongst activists.

Around 25 of the 100 or so delegates attended a pre meeting to discuss the TPS and USS disputes and to plan how best to keep the industrial action going. A number of branches took a position of opposition to the negotiators report including St. Andrews, Leeds, Stirling, Cardiff, Leicester, Birmingham, UCL, Sheffield, Institute of Education, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary College and Hull. There were no branch motions in support of the negotiators position.

From the initial challenge to the Conference Business Committee (CBC) report where we argued that the maximum position of escalation be taken first, rather than the minimum position of suspension, to the final 66 to 41 vote in favour of suspension of action, the meeting was polarised between those branches whose leadership were building action and those who were not.

Despite the very unfortunate decision to suspend action, every amendment to the negotiators’ position was passed, ham stringing the negotiators in ways they perhaps did not like. We mandated them (a) “not to compromise on our rejection of an inflation cap to revaluation and to insist that conditions of agreement are not worse than those agreed for TPS”; (b) “we should be prepared to respond quickly and decisively if the review does not deliver improvements for our members in a timely manner”; (c) “agree a timetable where negotiations on these core issues are completed prior to the UCU conference in June 2012 and (d) … the (so-called) Independent Chair of the [USS] JNC, Andrew Cubie’ … who used his casting vote to side with the employers, enabling them to impose their changes, should be excluded from further negotiations. We need to hold the negotiators to these conditions and be prepared to requisition another Higher Education Sector Conference if they backslide. One other motion urging a general continuation of campaigning, building links with other unions was also passed. We were promised that defence of ‘Final Salary’ was still on the negotiating table and that a report on negotiations would be provided at the Union Congress in June.

It is essential and urgent that the Left now build a network of activists in the ‘old’ universities, previously a bastion of the right wing, which can challenge the view that there is nothing for it but to give in. This means standing as departmental representatives, committee members, branch officers and branch secretaries. It means people talking to each other and meeting each other regularly, locally, regionally and nationally. Local meetings of UCU activists already take place in Leeds, Liverpool and Scotland, this needs extending more widely. We need to link disputes together, build solidarity with other workers in struggle and link together all those who wish to fight against ‘austerity’. This needs to be done urgently in the run up to the UCU HE Conference and Congress in June, together with a campaign to get the vote out for the left candidate for General Secretary, Mark Campbell, in the pre-92 universities.

We were correct to fight for unity with the TPS unions, we might have lost this battle but there is still all to play for and the battle is far from over.

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