4 June 2013

Congress 2013 Report Back

Delegates vote for national campaigns over education and pay.

UCU’s Annual Congress last week saw lively debates, a mood among delegates to build resistance to austerity and cuts, and a range of policies adopted which can ensure the union mobilises its members to defend our pay and conditions and defend the education service.

Congress consisted of one day of separate HE and FE sector conferences followed by two days of Congress itself.

Delegates at both the HE and FE sector conferences voted overwhelmingly for a national strategy over pay and education. There was strong support for the view that to defeat the government’s attacks on post 16 education the union must develop a clear national strategy that involves all members.

As one delegate put it “We can’t beat this government’s attacks college by college or university by university – we need a national campaign that frames all our local disputes”.

Below is a report of the main issues that were debated and an outline of how branches can take forward the decisions made.

The report refers to:

  • Pay campaigns
  • Organising a ‘defend education’ conference Local branch campaigns
  • UCU financial strategy
  • UCU’s democratic structures
  • Equality
  • How adopted resolutions are implemented.

Pay campaigns – prepare for battle.

In the HE/FE sector conferences delegates voted overwhelmingly for industrial action to secure this year’s pay claims.

Further Education

In the FE sector conference delegates heard from Barry Lovejoy, Head of FE, that the AoC had withdrawn their offer of 0.5% because UCU national negotiators had refused to sign a statement which would allow employers to freeze incremental pay progression and implement performance related pay.

The successful motion put by Westminster Kingsway College called for a national ballot of all members to take place by the beginning of October.

Get prepared

Branches now need to prepare to ensure that we get a resounding YES vote for industrial action in the forthcoming ballot. This means:

  • Get branch membership checks in to the national office before the summer break.
  • Organise lunchtime protests in solidarity with the teachers’ unions strike action over pay on the 27th June.
  • Organise a branch meeting to gain support for conference decision for industrial action over pay.

1500 people have signed the FE pay petition so far. Please keep circulating the petition and encourage members to sign. Click here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/2013fepaypetition

FE delegates also voted to support the campaign proposed by the Further Education Committee and a number of other branches and regions to ballot for strike action where managements fail to implement the existing workload agreement with the AoC.

There was a lot of anger expressed towards OFSTED and to punitive observation policies in general. A motion calling for the abolition of Ofsted was passed unanimously.

Local FE disputes

At the FE sector conference time was allocated to UCU branches which are in dispute with their managements. Delegates heard from nine colleges over a range of issues that included; pay, sickness policy, contracts, jobs and lesson observations. Conference urged branches to send messages of solidarity. These branches are:

  • Sheffield College
  • Chesterfield College
  • Bradford College
  • Lambeth College
  • Lewisham and Southwark College Kirklees College
  • Grimsby College Croydon College Tower Hamlets College

Higher Education

HE Sector Conference delegates also voted to endorse rejection of the pay offer and to prepare to ballot for action in the autumn. Delegates were acutely aware of the substantial loss of pay which has accumulated in recent years.
HE Conference also voted to campaign in defence of the National Framework Agreement and oppose the use of the NSS to introduce performance related pay.

Education conference – for a national strategy

Congress delegates supported a motion from City and Islington College calling on the union to organise an Education Conference around the theme ‘From the cradle to the grave: Defending education for all’.

The movers of the motion argued that since the government have a national strategy to implement privatisation and marketisation of the sector in order to defeat them we also need one that engages the whole UCU membership.

They also argued that to be more effective when campaigning over jobs, pay or contracts we need to frame these disputes in a political defence of education. The conference’s objective would be to map out a strategy that can stop the government’s attacks. The motion called for UCU to approach other education unions to support such a conference.

As part of developing a national strategy in opposition to austerity and education cuts Congress also agreed to support a demonstration at the Tory Party conference in September and to press the TUC to implement its policy agreed at last year’s TUC conference to explore the practicalities of a general strike against austerity.

Workload, stress and bullying also figured very highly in delegates’ concerns and a number of motions were passed in both sector conferences about how to deal with these. Delegates expressed a great deal of outrage at the impact of welfare cuts and growing poverty.

Motions were passed to affiliate to the Benefits Justice Campaign and to support the People’s Assembly against austerity on 22nd June in London.

UCU Finances

One of the key debates at Congress concerned what measures should be taken to resolve UCU’s projected £2 million deficit by 2015. This has been caused by membership decline during the last 18 months or so due largely to retirements and redundancies.

In a very significant decision Congress rejected the NEC’s proposals for staff cuts and cuts to the union’s democratic structures. Instead delegates voted for the alternative financial

strategy set out in motions and amendments proposed by London and South East Regions and Brighton University.

Most Congress delegates were convinced that to rebuild the union’s national profile in defence of education, and in the process maximise recruitment to the union, we needed to reject a budget which would cut staff and undermine the very democratic structures which could facilitate national campaigning and increased recruitment.

The alternative called for an integrated strategy of cost reductions which do not undermine union democracy and member representation, recruitment campaigns in low density institutions especially, and raising subscriptions over two years by up to 5% above inflation as necessary (the ‘coffee test’). It also called for the creation of a new subscription band for those on £60k plus.

The key motion made explicit Congress’s opposition to any compulsory redundancies of union staff. A number of speakers stressed how any complicity in a compulsory redundancy policy for our own staff would compromise local branches and negotiators in their resistance to redundancies.

This motion, and its amendments, was passed by 205 to 151 votes, with 2 abstentions.

The decision made on the financial strategy means that the Treasurer must now produce a revised budget for the next two years based on the parameters that Congress has agreed.

Democratic structures and member representation

The reports from two Commissions on the size of the NEC were tabled at Congress. These set out a total of seven exemplars of different size NECs.

No decision was made on the floor of Congress. Instead, it was agreed that after discussion there would be a ballot of Congress delegates.

Strong arguments were put by a number of delegates for an NEC of sufficient size to ensure representation of the various sectors, special interest groups and different constituencies in the union and to ensure that there will be enough NEC members to carry out the work necessary to implement the decisions made by Congress and the Sector Conferences.

The outcome of the ballot was not known before preparation of this report. Any outcome other than the status quo will need to be brought back to Congress 2014 as a Rule change.

Equality

As an education union UCU has a particularly important role to play combatting racism, Islamophobia and fascism.

Congress passed a motion from the University of Hertfordshire on immigration which committed the NEC and the General Secretary to condemn any statements or speeches which pander to anti-immigrant racism, from whatever source they come.

The background to this was that during last year the NEC had remitted a motion condemning a speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband which pandered to racist views on migrant workers. This motion was an important corrective.

Congress adopted a composite motion which condemned the EDL, the BNP and UKIP and passed an amendment to this which donated £500 to the campaign to get rid of Nick Griffin of the BNP and Andrew Brons as Euro MPs in 2014.

Another emergency motion expressed condolences to the family of the soldier recently murdered in Woolwich. It condemned the EDL and BNP for seeking to inflame racist and Islamaphobic tensions. Delegates were urged to support the call by Unite Against Fascism to oppose forthcoming protests and demonstrations by the EDL and BNP.

Other successful motions called for UCU to work with the NUS and others to combat raunch culture and violence against women on campuses.

A Brighton University motion was passed to organise an official Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting at Congress 2014 and for UCU to publish its delayed pamphlet on anti-semitism.

Congress also agreed an emergency motion on the Bangladesh tragedy in which a garment factory collapsed killing around 1,000 workers. A collection was taken.

How motions are implemented.

After Congress and Sector Conferences have debated and decided the union’s policy for the coming year it is up to the NEC and its sub-committees to implement them. Congress delegates will rightly expect the incoming NEC to honour the motions passed and implement them in the spirit that they were debated and voted upon.

The next stage of your motion’s progress begins at the NEC in late June where the Secretariat (fulltime officials) will suggest which sub-committee (Recruitment Organising Committee, Equality Committee, Education Committee, or the Strategy and Finance Committee) will implement which motions. When that has been agreed the Secretariat charged with running each sub-committee will present plans on how to implement your motions. Progress is reviewed at committee meetings throughout the year.

It is at this stage that there have in the past been some rather loose interpretations of motions passed at Congress/Sector Conferences. To maintain the health of a democratic union it is therefore important that all members need to check on the progress of their branch’s motions and how they are being implemented.

You can do this by contacting your branch delegate(s) or your NEC member.

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