This year’s UCU Annual Congress held in Manchester was shaped by disputes on pay, the Ukip vote in the Euro and local elections, and the question of union democracy.
This academic year Higher Education have had a major pay dispute with 6 days of strike action last year that has resulted in a 2% pay rise. A majority of HE delegates supported motions which expressed the anger and frustration of many members that much more could have been won and that it had been a serious mistake to call off the January marking boycott. There was also a lot of anger that the union had failed to respond in any effective way to the employers’ threats of a lock out. HE delegates passed a motion of censure on the outgoing Higher Education Committee.
Stand up to Ukip!
UCU is the first union to meet since the Euro election results came out on 26th May. Congress passed motions expressing full and unqualified defence of migrants and opposition to the racist Ukip. An emergency motion was passed first at the NEC and then in full Congress (attached). General Secretary Sally Hunt is now a signatory to the newly-launched ‘Stand Up to Ukip’ campaign.
Regions should now circulate this motion on Ukip to all members and launch immediate initiatives to involve members and use our expertise as educators and trade unionists to expose the myths of immigration and the dangers of Ukip. Regions will be holding their final meetings of the academic year over the next few weeks and we urge you to attend these report back sessions and discuss ways to promote resistance to Ukip and how we can progress other policies agreed at Congress.
The largest fringe meeting during Congress was on fighting fascism and anti-semitism at which Weyman Bennett, joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism, and Manchester Labour councillor Aftab Ahmed spoke about the successful campaigns to prevent the two BNP MEPs from being re-elected and about the impact of the Euro elections and Ukip’s successes, particularly the way in which Ukip’s success can make racism more respectable and can shift the whole political spectrum to the right.
The defence of union democracy
- Congress notably rejected changes to local branch model rules and regional standing orders that would have undermined union democracy and made it harder to organise resistance to austerity and the defence of education.
- Additionally, a rule change was passed which ensured that changes to local branch rules would be the responsibility of Congress, , UCU’s supreme body, not the National Executive.
- Unfortunately, the outgoing NEC had also taken a decision during this year to cut Annual Congress from 3 to 2 days. This left just one afternoon to discuss and debate a large number of motions and amendments in both the FE and HE sector conferences, making proper democratic discussion almost impossible. One FE delegate memorably described the resulting stampede through motions as being ‘a bit like speed dating’!
- However, an emergency motion was passed asking the new NEC to reinstate a 3-day Congress next year.
Lambeth College and other disputes
There are a number of very significant local disputes happening – Dundee University, Kings College London, CONEL, City and Islington College- but the Lambeth College dispute had pride of place at Congress. As of Tuesday 3rd June they are now on indefinite strike in defence of jobs and contracts.
Please send messages of support and call on their branch to send speakers for a tour of your college today!
FE Annual Sector Conference report
The imminence of the Lambeth College strike was a major backdrop to the FE Sector Conference. As a local dispute of national significance for the union it is crucial that we deliver maximum solidarity and ensure a victory. A victory at Lambeth will be a victory for us all.
The pay campaign
Delegates went into the FE Annual Sector Conference having received an offer of just 0.7% from the AoC in May. The AoC said that they were likely to improve this offer later and that this year’s offer came without strings. This is much better than last year when the employer came to the table intending to try and introduce Performance Related Pay.
The December 3rd strike last year had clearly been effective in raising the prospect of a serious national campaign on pay, one that challenges the marketization of education and the acceptance by the employers for the need for austerity, and the AoC clearly had this in mind as well as the fact that we still have a live ballot for strike action on pay.
For effective national bargaining and a national pay strategy
Conference held a serious, if time-restricted, debate on pay and how we can win nationally binding agreements. A key debate was whether to join the teachers on strike in July. Local government workers are balloting with a recommendation from Dave Prentis of Unison to move from anger to action. There may be up to 1 million workers striking over pay this summer.
The vote at Conference on an amendment to strike on July 10th with teachers and other public sector workers was very close, being lost by only 4 votes. This shows the pressure that exists to fight on what is a key issue for the trade union movement.
The next National Joint Forum (NJF) negotiation meeting will be on June 18th. If the AoC will not improve the offer and meet our claim for 3% then we should call on the incoming FEC to use the live pay ballot to launch a campaign to coordinate action with other unions and be part of the growing momentum.
Another amendment committed us to support for the TUC demonstration ‘Britain needs a pay rise’ on October 18th, and the Peoples Assembly march against austerity on June 21st.
Threats to FE jobs
The immediate threat of 2000 job losses in 50 colleges in England was reported to FE Conference. The resistance at Lambeth College and others shows that members are willing to fight if a lead is given quickly, but a strong theme at conference was the need to ensure we have a national plan to challenge the huge scale of job losses. If your college is hit by job threats we need to move immediately to ballot and attempt to coordinate those campaigns.
Save Adult Education
Conference passed a motion calling for UCU to launch a Save Adult Education campaign to urgently address the existential crisis in Adult Education which is in the frontline with 20% cuts over the next two years. The impact of FE loans has badly damaged Access to Higher Education, especially women and those from BME backgrounds. This was widely condemned and must be part of our campaign to defend Adult Education and drive back the introduction of loans in FE.
In addition to Adult Education cuts younger learners will find that as well as a lack of jobs, funding for 18 year old students has been drastically cut. The government strategy to encourage young people to stay in work, training or education is completely hollow. This cut has targeted FE colleges where more 18 year old students are likely to try to progress onto courses to complete their studies.
Motions were passed to ensure we highlight this attack and seek to reverse it. A silver lining is the fact that due to the negative reaction the government partially retreated on this offering a year’s transitional protection. We now need to use this space to ensure that thousands of young people from poorer inner city backgrounds are not shut out of education.
The Black Members Standing Committee brought forward a motion calling for more support and development for BME members within the union. The UCU needs to reflect the diverse teaching population and work to encourage black members to take leading roles.
Attacks on FE funding and our members are disproportionately affecting black workers. It was shocking to learn that in one college there is clear evidence to suggest BME workers have been awarded lower lesson observation grades. We need to also put our employers on the spot about how the impact of austerity is undermining workplace equality.
Abolish Ofsted, campaign over lesson observations
Matt O’Leary’s research report on lesson observation on behalf of UCU and the news that many colleges are scrapping graded observations has given new impetus to the call for a national campaign to abolish lesson observations.
Congress passed a motion to abolish Ofsted and for non-cooperation with it and its Welsh equivalent. This was one of the most popular motions of the Congress! This will be a key theme for next year, please let us know about your campaigns on observations.