22 November 2014

UCU Left statement on the walkout at the Equality Conference

Laura Miles, NEC (LGBT FE) pc

On a range of indicators various groups of our members – BME staff, disabled  members, women and LGBT staff in particular – are disadvantaged as workers in educational institutions. The current very difficult period of threats to pay, jobs, pensions and working conditions is making this worse. Demonstrably, BME members are over-represented in job loss figures and subject to institutional racism in various ways such as being under-represented in terms of job security, career prospects and promoted posts. 

It is also apparent that many of the BME members in the union have felt that UCU is not taking these matters seriously enough and that Black members are considerably under-represented in the union at all levels.

It is important that members generally in the union recognise this background to the walkout by a number of Black members at the Equality conference last week and the conference’s brief adjournment which followed. This was not a ‘factional’ matter but an expression of the frustration felt by Black members which could lead to fragmentation and division in UCU if not addressed.

It is a pity that the presentation of a statement of concern could not have been negotiated with the Chair and organisers beforehand, since in the event a number of other Equality activists present clearly felt that the walkout which resulted from the refusal to allow such a statement to be made then became loud and disruptive.

A statement was later made clearly and effectively in the session about the concerns of Black members by the Chair of the Black Members Standing Committee which was listened to in a spirit of solidarity and respect.

It must also be a matter of concern for the whole union that only one nomination for the two Black Members NEC seats on the NEC has been received this year.

We urge the union leadership to address these issues urgently, initially through meeting with members of the Black Members Standing Committee as soon as possible.

We also remind the General Secretary and National Officers that the budgetary cutbacks introduced in early 2013, in which Equality representation and the number of meetings of the Equality Committee and the Members Standing Committees were substantially cut despite the strong opposition of UCU Left supporters on the NEC, were presented as measures with a limited duration of 2 years. Since UCU’s financial position has stabilised under the alternative budget proposed by us and agreed at Congress in May 2013, these meetings and the levels of representation should now be restored.

We urge the NEC to address this matter at the first opportunity. This may help to begin to recover some confidence among our Black Members that the union is serious about implementing its Equality agenda.

In addition, unless the union can demonstrate that it is able and willing to defend members’ pay, pensions and conditions, effectively defend our most disadvantaged members, and raise its profile as the key defender of post-16 education against austerity, privatisation and the encroachment of market values into education, it is understandable that sections of our membership will grow increasingly disillusioned with the union’s current leadership.

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