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27 June 2020

UCU Left response to the General Secretary’s levy announcement

Cancel the levy!

The General Secretary has yesterday announced a £15 levy of all UCU members to replenish the union’s Fighting Fund.

Many members are rightly infuriated by this decision and are asking why they’re being asked to contribute this amount at this time.

This levy was proposed by Douglas Chalmers (President) and Steve Sangwine (Treasurer) at a special NEC in February following the first wave of HE strikes alongside proposals to reduce the daily rates of strike pay and the maximum amount claimable by any member involved in the union’s industrial action.

The cutting of strike pay proposed in February would have been disastrous for the union’s ability to mount the planned second wave of action in the HE disputes. UCU Left members of NEC voted against it and successfully argued for increases to the maximums claimable by any individual.

At the same time we argued that the union needed to mount a serious campaign to win solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement to support our fights. NEC had already passed a motion calling on the leadership to raise £1m by appealing to other trade unions to release some of the millions of pounds held in their fighting funds. HEC had also carried a motion on January 30th agreeing to target all members in HE branches that did not qualify for industrial action, encouraging them to donate a day’s pay to the fighting fund.

These motions were not implemented. Token efforts were made to send letters to other unions but no serious solidarity campaign was launched. If these motions had been actioned effectively, it would have made implementing the levy unnecessary. The proposal for a task force to work on winning solidarity from the movement — also passed at that NEC — was not implemented.

The UCU’s method of levying members is also problematic. The levy is being applied as a flat rate to all members, irrespective of their level of earnings or whether they have lost pay through strike action. This is not equitable, and disproportionately impacts on those least likely to find it affordable. If a levy has to be implemented, it would be much better to levy non-striking branches to support striking ones, and if the amount payable were graduated according to earnings.

It was clear at the NEC that a levy would only be implemented if it was strictly necessary. We have no idea if this is the case. We have been given no details of the state of the fighting fund, but we know that many striking HE members have not made a claim and that some universities did not deduct for the full number of days. The union as a whole has saved large amounts of money on venues and travel expenses as a result of cancelling Congress and moving meetings online.

It is no accident either that the levy is being triggered at the same time as members in HE are being asked to vote on a poor offer from the employers to settle the Four Fights. The timing of communicating this levy to members was not discussed at NEC on Friday June 19th. There has been no involvement of NEC in agreeing to send this to members right now.

It is quite extraordinary that motions that were passed in February regarding a dispute we are now balloting members over can be implemented, but motions calling for a national campaign over the jobs massacre cannot.

The union should cancel this levy and instead implement the solidarity task force motion passed by NEC in February and launch a national campaign to Defend Jobs and Defend Education.

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