16 October 2012

UCU Left Statement on HE Pay Ballot Results

The HE pay ballot outcome

UCU members voted 56/44 against strike action over pay, and 70/30 for action short of strike (ASOS), on a respectable 32% turnout.  Unfortunately the national negotiators, meeting on Friday 12th, recommended by a vote of 6 to 2 NOT to implement the 70% vote for ASOS, and this was then accepted and so decided by the officers of the HE Committee.

This has caused a good deal of consternation and anger among members. The ballot outcome did NOT conclude that members want to accept the 1% offer. Indeed nearly half those balloted voted for strike action, and a substantial majority voted for ASOS in pursuance of our claim. On Saturday 13th, Yorkshire and Humberside HE Committee decided to advise branches on how to call for a Special HE Sector Conference in protest at the decision and to discuss ways forward. North West Region HE committee similarly expressed itself in favour of a recall Higher Education Committee meeting.

Dismay and anger

Many members will rightly be dismayed by the muddled reasons proposed by the majority of negotiators for refusing to sanction action – in particular, that members locally would not be able to take strike action in retaliation for the imposition of punitive deductions in pay or victimisation of individuals when ASOS measures are implemented. Of course they would. That would have been a matter of balloting locally and immediately over a separate dispute – pay stoppages!

Moreover, there had been no advice to members on the ballot form suggesting that a vote against strike action meant that ASOS would not be implemented if strikes were not sanctioned in the ballot. Had there been, many members might well have voted more readily for strike action, even if only as a potential backstop for an ASOS campaign.

The majority of national negotiators, nevertheless, decided to throw in the towel on pay this year despite our rapidly declining living standards and rising workloads. Real wages have fallen by nearly 14% over the past four years, and this conjoined with a privatisation assault on the sector.

The negotiators’ decision has now put UCU at odds with Unison, the EIS and Unite members in HE who all won their ballots for action. It marks a setback for UCU. Although HE members are being asked to take ‘demonstrative action’, e.g. lunchtime rallies, poster protests etc. for 23rd October, when UNITE are planning a strike day, this is a pale substitute for the action we should be taking.

The way forward

We should be building on our overwhelming ASOS vote. Activists must argue for HE branches to call on NEC members to support a recall Higher Education Committee meeting immediately to review the decision of the national officers.

Crucially, branches need to call for a special delegate HE Sector Conference for January or February which can debate how we ensure

  • that this mess never happens again,
  • how we can achieve pay restoration in our 2013 claim,
  • a defence of the achievements of the Framework Agreement, and
  • link pay and defence of the public university to working hours and workloads.

We should encourage all HE members to sign a protest petition. There is no doubting the anger over pay cuts and austerity, and the impact on universities and students of student fees and the marketization of education.

USS and a green light to attack jobs

There are real dangers in the decision taken by the majority of negotiators. Regrettably the decision not to authorise action risks giving a green light to employers preparing to cut jobs because of the 54,000 under-recruitment in HE this year. It tells the employers that UCU is a union whose leadership is not prepared to implement a substantial national vote for action over pay.

The pay ballot result followed sporadic industrial action, stretching back to the beginning of the USS pension dispute. This was declared in November 2010, when the employers imposed an inferior Career Re-valued Benefits scheme onto new entrants, reduced benefits and increased pension payments for existing members of the scheme, and capped inflation protection for payments to all pensioners.

At a recall conference in September the campaign of inaction over last summer unsurprisingly meant that the leadership were able to win their position to call off the pensions action and go back to negotiate the fine print of a defeat with the employers.

TPS and the exhaustion of one-day strikes

UCU members, some of whom had taken four days of strike action in 2010/2011, were wondering where their loss of pay was getting them.  The UCU had been trying to get other public sector unions, particularly the teaching unions to join in the defence of pensions. Activists in the UCU argued vigorously for escalating strike action alongside other unions. Unfortunately, these calls did not produce the required response. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that there was a narrow vote against strike action.

Democracy and accountability

That did not mean, however, that members were voting to take NO ACTION, and thus to concede acceptance of the employers’ offer! Just as it is the job of the HE Committee to implement Conference policy, so it is the job of the HE officers to find the best way to IMPLEMENT the members’ decision in a ballot, NOT to substitute their own views for the decision of members.

The defence of education and survival of the UCU

Unfortunately, we seem to have a national leadership that is more concerned with rhetoric and with electoral strategy in an internal union debate than with the business of organising the defence of members’ pay, pensions and conditions, and the defence of education itself.  UCU should be at the centre of these campaigns.

The UCU has just launched a membership recruitment campaign triggered by declining membership from a wave of redundancies.  We need to remember that when we took industrial action over the past five years, and showed our members we were fighting back, our membership rose – against the trend in other unions. Now that our leadership appears to be waiting for a Labour victory at the General Election, and tracing the retreating footsteps of the Labour-affiliated unions, it will become harder to recruit members.

Managements are also planning to break the National Framework Agreement (NFA), signed in 2006, in which Staff Development Schemes depended on career development and continuous career advancement. Now the employers are introducing ‘Performance Management’, and downgrading career development, in breach of the NFA.

UCU must step up to the mark

All is not lost however.  The ‘work to contract’ in the pension dispute proved popular in some places, giving members additional control over their work processes, and acting as an irritant to management. This form of ASOS can also increase workplace confidence, and local branch leaderships can link it to demands over working hours and workloads. Argued for nationally, work to contract could be a popular and effective sanction, since there is widespread opposition to increasing workloads.

This has to be part of our armoury in the future, as do assessment and examination boycotts. They will involve a major battle with the employers but unless the UCU is prepared to organize them, and to prepare branches for them, it will be marginalizing itself in the face of the employers’ offensive from which all members are suffering.

This, and presenting an early pay claim in the New Year along with a very tight deadline for response by the employers, can regenerate confidence among the union’s HE membership, and create the momentum for a more effective response by the union. It could restore the union’s potential to take joint action with other public sector unions over pay and conditions in the Spring. Holding an HE sector conference in the early Spring would also dovetail with Unison’s intention of holding a similar conference of their members in HE around that time.

What we need to do

All members should:

  • e-mail your NEC representative, copying in your branch’s Regional Committee representative, calling on them to support an immediate recall HE Committee to reconsider the officers’ decision;
  • pass a motion to this effect at your branch meeting;
  • pass another motion calling for a Special HE Sector Conference in January or February to discuss four things, and the kind of action needed to secure them:
  • that this mess never happens again,
  • how we can achieve pay restoration in our 2013 claim,
  • a defence of the achievements of the Framework Agreement,
  • the linking of pay and defence of the public university to  working hours and workloads.

 

1 comment

  1. Robert Poole said:

    This ballot result is the predictable consequence of the UCU’s divisive behaviour over recent years. So was the debacle of the campaign over pensions, over which members were pretty much united in principle – until you lot oversold a strategy of strike or bust. As expected you got bust as your imaginary followers melted away. Yet you still go banging on as if nothing had happened, demanding into empty space ‘that this mess never happens again’. Actually, that’s up to you. Don’t you people ever learn?

    23 November 2012 at 11:09pm

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