LBGT+ Members’ Conference 2020

 

The LGBT+ conference took place on Saturday 5th December, via Microsoft Teams. It was attended by around 50 colleagues, and we heard from four guest speakers across two panels. Five new members were nominated and elected to the LGBT+ Members Standing Committee, including UCU Left Chair, Bee Hughes.

We also paused for a 30 seconds silence, proposed by Peter Evans, to remember Nita Sanghera. Chair, Ryan Prout spoke of Nita’s impact across the union and her allyship with the LGBT+ community.

 

Panel One: Intersectionality

The first speaker, Sen Sunil Raj, gave a detailed and vital presentation on the intersections of LGBT+ experience and seeking asylum. His presentation highlighted the ways in which hostility towards LGBT+ people, racist and homophobic and transphobe stereotypes, and racism in the LGBTQIA+ community can significantly worsen and amplify the effects of the UK’s hostile border environment. Sen also detailed how UK law has changed, demonstrating that homo/transphobic practices have long been entwined with the law, though there have been some recent positive precedents, including the UK’s first granting of asylum based on nonbinary gender.

Next, we heard from Rohit Dasgupta, who explored ‘Queer Spaces, Racialisation and Belonging in East London’, drawing on his experiences as a Labour Councillor, ethnographic, and the art of Raisa Kabir. Rohit’s presentation reflected on the ‘limits of British multiculturalism’ and the production of queer spaces which exclude queer Muslim people, closing with a call to imagine new modes of queer Muslim belonging.

A detailed discussion followed, covering the impact of gentrification, how we can improve our work as activists and professionals, the need for legal recognition of nonbinary genders, workplace bullying, and how we can make our IT systems work for inclusion rather than exclusion.

 

Panel Two: LGBT+ in FE & HE Now

The second panel began with a presentation by Trude Sundberg, sharing results from their ‘Report from LGBT+ Pilot Survey “Working conditions for LGBT+ Staff in HE”’. The results from this survey explored the impact of the covid-19 crisis on the wellbeing of LGBT+ staff laid bare a shocking and sobering view of how the LGBT+ community has been effected by recent changes including working from home. The survey demonstrates the wearing accumulated effect of ‘indirect’ or ‘everyday’ discriminations, such as misgendering, and derogatory language, the increased feeling of being ‘outed’ by working from home, and the intersection of racism with homo/transphobia which impact Black LGBT+ colleagues immensely.

The final guest speaker for the conference, PhD researcher Samuel J. Heyes, spoke movingly on the experience of being a trans student in post-16 education. Samuel shared his experience of continuing to support trans siblings through the university system, while taking care of himself as a trans student. He highlighted the huge emotional investment and labour it takes to perform these acts of (self)care and of simply being a trans person in a world where public discourse is often overwhelmingly hostile.

During the discussion many attendees expressed solidarity with Samuel, the impacts many at the meeting have experienced since working from home and online, the inflexibility of IT systems which do not accommodate gender diverse people’s identities, feelings of institutional gaslighting, and questions about the impact of covid-19 on those living with HIV. Bee Hughes proposed that LGBT+ Members Committee, and any other members present, to work together to develop good practice guidelines for the union, and for branches negotiating and workplace policies which impact trans and nonbinary people. The proposal was welcomed by a number of attendees who will take up this work together.

 

Motion: Campaign for GRA Reforms and Against Asylum Seeker Persecution

Megan Povey moved the motion from Leeds UCU, which has introduced so well through the context provided by Sen Sunil Raj’s presentation, resolving to ‘raise the profile of the UCU campaign for reform of the GRA’ and ‘to campaign for an end to the persecution of asylum seekers’. The motion was formally seconded by Bee Hughes. Though there was a small minority of conference delegates who opposed the motion, with one person speaking against, the overwhelming majority of attendees indicated support, with multiple speeches decisively for the motion. Voting on the motion is underway online.

UCU Higher Education Sector Conference 2020 Report

Members pay and pensions are under threat but is UCU’s leadership capable of resistance?

The Higher Education Conference, originally timetabled for May 2020, finally took place in an interim form, with a truncated set of motions and restricted opportunities for speaker’s contributions, on December 15th. Nevertheless, the fact it took place at all, after the cancellation of the originally timetabled virtual conference in October is important. The labour movement is rapidly getting familiarised with video conferencing technology and this time the conference, organised on Zoom, worked better than previous attempts. However, the limited opportunity to discuss and debate, due to delegates having to register to speak in advance, and the voting taking place afterwards are areas that need further consideration.

Overall, the outcome of the voting does not indicate that delegates are yet convinced that the threats to pay and pensions are as serious as the left are arguing or that UCU is yet capable of mobilising a UK-wide fightback. A key motion (HE2) from Yorkshire & Humberside Region on USS to start a campaign for industrial action was remitted by 51 votes to 49. Its two amendments to identify how a strategy could be developed have been marked as lost, but presumably should be also be remitted.

USS is under threat yet again, as USS probably wants to end the Defined Benefit (DB) scheme and employers are not prepared to unite with UCU to defend it or may even support moving to Defined Contributions (DC).  The strategy that the USS crisis ‘will only be resolved through constructive negotiation’ proposed in L1 from Sheffield, which was passed, is insufficient.  It will our willingness to act rather than negotiation on its own that will alter this dynamic and allow us to win.  Voting for a ballot would have shown employers and USS that we are serious and willing to take action as necessary to defend USS pensions.  Remitting HE2 has done the opposite and given totally the wrong signals.  We need to ensure a special HESC, as agreed by the meeting of branches many months ago and implied in HE1, takes place at the end of January/early February to change this.

Similarly over pay, delegates voted in favour of HE5 Sheffield UCU’s motion (by 72 to 43 votes) on multi-year pay deals, which in the current economic climate would likely mean multi-year pay cuts. It is clear that an undue pessimism from the leadership of UCU, particularly in their interpretation of last year’s 22 days of strike action, weighs heavily on activists and particularly those whose involvement in the union structures originates in the pre-92 USS disputes. Our strikes demonstrated that the union can defend members, can unite its differing sectors and interests together and do have power to disrupt the sector. Our actions continue to see membership growing as those previously not engaged in a trade union see the potential to challenge what is going wrong in the sector. In particular the link between the #FourFights pay campaign and the USS dispute was symbolic of our recognition that unity is strength and no section of the union will be ignored. That we did not win immediate tangible gains has however led many to draw pessimistic conclusions about the inability to fight for change. This ignores the fact that fighting for our rights is hard work and may require several rounds of industrial action.  It would be wonderful, but unrealistic to expect only resounding victories.  We need to keep on when we have setbacks or even defeats.  If we give up at the first hurdle our employers will walk all over us, we will lose UK-wide bargaining and the USS pension scheme. This is why the conclusions of UCU’s Commission for Effective Industrial Action was a rejection of the tokenistic strategies of the past (click here).

This pessimism was also reflected in motion HE4 Queen Margaret University which sought to suggest that the post-92 interests over pay were subsumed into the pre-92 interests over pensions. Post-92 institutions UCU branches are, as pre-92 institutions were over USS, being transformed by strike action. It is instructive that Brighton, Northumbria and Manchester Met, to name a few, are branches leading industrial disputes in Higher Education and smashing through the anti-union ballot thresholds. Importantly, delegates rejected HE4 by 47:66 votes indicating that a willingness to unite the union still is evident. For similar reasons delegates voted unanimously for HE12 University of Winchester, defending members in the Teachers Pensions Schemes in post-92 institutions from rising contribution levels.

HE6 on Local Agreements from the HEC and motions HE8-11 covering causalisation, academic related staff and researchers respectively were also passed overwhelmingly. These together called for the impetus built up around the #FourFights pay inequality elements to be built into local negotiations and not to be abandoned. While delegates may not yet have the confidence to initiate industrial action now these motions suggest there is no appetite to abandon demands for equality in the union. This was also the case for HE13 on supporting Black researchers through mentoring and monitoring of career paths. Other motions debated included HE7 on the use of domestic flights and climate change which was remitted, largely for its minimalist approach to tacking climate change and two further motions on USS from the Higher Education Committee D43 and D44.Both discussed the damaging impact on UCU’s voice in the Trustee Board the adoption of Master trust regulations have and the motions sought to find mechanisms to remove the Defined Benefit scheme from these regulations. D44 was passed awhile D43 was lost by 43 to 49 votes.

Despite some pessimism at UK level, UCU is organising ballots for industrial action in dozens of branches over conditions at work, health and safety in response to Covid-19 and redundancies.  Heriot Watt’s excellent ballot result made their management step down, Northumbria University has now beaten their record for the highest turnout and Brighton has had their first days of strike action.  We need to build on this strength and confidence at branch level and transfer it to a UK-wide campaign on pay, equality, anti-casualisation and pensions.  We can still win and cannot afford not to.  If we do not all members will be affected, but the most disastrous impacts will be on younger, casualised, Black and minority ethnic, Disabled, women and LGBT+ members.

The union finds itself organising ballots for industrial action in dozens of branches over conditions a work, health and safety over Covid-19 and redundancies. This is a time when members are demanding a co-ordinated UK-wide response. UCU HEC is failing to develop this strategy and it is therefore up to activists to build that solidarity and unified response. On the 16th January the UCU Solidarity Movement holds their next conference. This can act as a major staging post in the rebuilding of the confidence and militancy UCU needs. Every activist should seek to build this conference.

Further Education Sector Conference 2020 Report

Collectivise the resistance: Covid Safety, Pay and Working Conditions

This year’s rescheduled UCU Further Education Sector Conference (FESC) met on Saturday the 12th of December online via Zoom under the extraordinary conditions of a second wave of Coronavirus.

In addition to the pandemic, 2020 also saw the emergence of a mass movement of the Black Lives Matter movement globally in the wake of the televised murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. This was reflected in the agenda with a section to discuss advancing UCU’s work on BLM in our workplaces.

The motions passed at the FESC pave the way for a renewed national profile to UCU’s work in the further education sector and a fight back on Covid safety, pay and working conditions.

A number of colleges were in dispute as the FESC met including CCCG on Covid safety, United Colleges Group over their contract, Brighton College defending jobs and Macclesfield College branch.

The meeting began with a 2 minute silence to remember Nita Sanghera UCU FE Vice President.

37 motions were discussed with most carried unopposed or with near unanimity. The conference went much smoother than on previous platforms and conference was able to debate a number of motions not originally ordered onto the agenda.

Unfortunately delegates were asked to notify UCU in advance of their intention to speak to motions. Many delegates expected to be able to raise their hand to speak. This stifled more fluid debate.

Points of order were disallowed and delegates were asked to place their votes a few days after the conference. As the movement learns to use online platforms we need to find more space for discussion and debate to promote democratic processes.

Despite this, the online conference worked well, albeit with room for improvement. The debate reflected the real battles and organisation taking place on the ground to defend safety and conditions. A new emerging leadership of black activists from branches pointed to the potential to revitalise the union’s work in sector and to build a more representative union.

No return to unsafe workplaces in the new year

Over 66,000 people have lost their lives to Covid under the pandemic.
The FESC met following the news of the approval of a vaccine. Whilst this is cause for hope, the reality for those who work and study in Further Education means there could be many months before working conditions are safe or free from instability and stress.

As the spike following the Thanksgiving celebration in the USA and the UK’s Help Out to Eat Out showed. It is almost inevitable there will be a third wave in the New Year.

Rightly, the FESC adopted a motion to implement the strong public stance by UCU on Covid and safe working into the further education sector. This called for online teaching to be the default, to implement UCU’s escalation plan where our colleges are unsafe and to organise an additional national reps meeting on the theme of no return to unsafe workplaces. A second motion called for regular Covid-testing of all staff and students.

Branches will have to come together quickly in the New Year to resist attempts by the employers to roll back on safety measures and ramp up workloads under the optimism of the vaccine and drive to return to ‘normal’.

If branch officers are to feel confident about implementing this motion UCU nationally must be proactive in launching a national campaign over Covid -19, which so far has been missing in the sector.

1% is a slap in the face, the national fight back starts now. 

In the week prior to the FESC delegates. UCU members working in further, adult and prison education learnt that the government would implement a pay freeze on public sector workers.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), the employer’s federation, shamefully declared their intention to compound this insult with a 1% pay award in English Colleges. That is despite the Welsh equivalent supporting circa 8% for new starters, and around 3% for main grade lecturers.

After 10 years of implementing austerity and the damage it has done to our sector. Have they learnt nothing?

After we have gone the extra mile to continue to staff the frontlines, deliver remotely through lockdown and risk our health. This is slap in the face and give the lie to all the faint praise and thanks we have received.

UCU’s Andrew Harden, National FE Official, in his report outlined UCU’s campaign to find the #FEMissingMillions of additional money the employers were given this year.

See how much money your college was given here.

Our pay has been cut by 30% under austerity. The employers promised additional funding would go to restore college pay.

In the last pay  campaign we secured £400m on additional FE funding and part 2 claims to fractionalise casualised staff were successful in securing permanent contracts on improved pay.

Further Education Committee Officers will meet following the FESC to draw up a timetable and plan of action to organise the pay campaign and to advise branches on submitting part 2 claims.

A strong motion was also passed calling for a national industrial ballot if the government attempted to attack TPS pensions.

For the indicative and the industrial action ballots to be successful then UCU nationally will need to ensure that there is a a dynamic social media campaign with materials going into every branch.

Black lives matter in further and adult education

For the Black Lives Matter movement, it was agreed that all regions (and nations, we hope) host briefings and encourage branches to make independent local organising plans to put black lives matter charters to their employers. As well tackling racism and bullying in the workplace should include decolonising the curriculum in further, adult and prison education. Further motions called for research into LGBT+ experiences in FE, race caseload data, and for resistance to surveillance of migrants’ status.

Attendance and workload

There are five motions on workload and stress, asking for unnecessary duties to be abandoned, for all guided learning hours to be taken into account, for a model care leave policy, for annual workplace health and safety surveys and a further motion on the menopause, asking all members to share knowledge about it and ensure each branch works on a model policy for their institution.

Despite the real need to reduce footfall on campuses the employers are using attendance monitoring, relentless duplication of record keeping and tracking, calling parents etc that are all driving up workload at a time members are struggling to adapt teaching to new learning platforms. UCU must implement these motions and campaign to challenge the new methods of managerialism and micro-management.

Defend adult education

Many motions were concerned with lifetime skills and adult education: more funding is urgently needed. Adult education is vital for the mental and physical health of many people and our members providing it must be valued and paid properly, with permanent contracts.

Curriculum

There were three more motions, on the competence of principals and governors, on the threat of closure of BTEC courses and for alternative models for post-16 maths and English.

We finished the core agenda and had time to cover another nine motions from the reserve list. These covered anti-casualisation agreements, adult education, “enforced” well-being, weapons on campus, safety for prison workers, learning support staff pay and contracts and LGBT+ migrants.

Solidarity

Let’s make sure 2021 is a year of resistance. The national fightback starts here!

Link to all the motions can be found here.

UCU Black Members’ Conference Report 2020

BLM protest, London, 6th June 2020.

BLM protest, London, 6th June 2020. Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

This year’s Black Members UCU Conference took place in a world that saw the COVID 19 pandemic, economic recession, climate crisis and the brutal murder by the police in the US of George Floyd. Seen by millions across the world, his death led to the biggest anti-racist movement since 1968, a working class and multi-racial movement of profound power. 

As BLM grew at stunning speed through towns and countries it reignited fresh hopes for racial class justice. Protests across the USA were followed by millions protesting around the world, including the UK, which saw over 280,000 people march, the biggest anti-racist marches since the 1970s. Many people question why racism in all areas of Black Lives, including our education sectors, was not being challenged enough and what could be done now to end institutional and systemic racism. The conference was attended by Black members from across the country. 

Keynote speaker: Labour MP Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) called for immediate online teaching for students in both colleges and universities, rather than face to face teaching, due to the high rate of infections of coronavirus. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black frontline workers, racism has also increased significantly over recent months. Zarah felt Black Lives Matter had not been taken seriously enough. Decolonising the curriculum was needed at all schools, colleges, universities and Zarah fully supported this vital call.

Zarah noted that the women and equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, sought to legitimise the government’s attempts to shut down discussions on how structural inequality is damaging black lives. Badenoch had called out critical race theory and anyone who wants to decolonise the curriculum, Zarah firmly rejected these points from the Minister. Zarah raised concerns about the current issues of academic freedom in relation to Prevent, and to the campaign to support Palestinian people. Zarah supports lecturers in their fight for equality and their jobs under the last round of redundancies. A very inspiring speech by Zarah who has a wealth of experience in community and trade union activism. Sadly Gary Younge was not able to come, and Gargi Bhattacharyya was not able to make the conference due to technical problems. 

Four workshops were organised: 

Protecting and empowering yourself in the workplace
Members raised concerns and shared their stories. The main issues were: it was felt branch reps sometimes were not fully aware of equality issues, being targeted and bullied by middle and senior managers, Covid 19 risk assessments for Black staff, student complaints against staff, and disproportionate workload and loss of jobs facing black staff. Advice was given on how best members could remain safe and protected from this hostile environment. Members should go to their UCU branch for support, or if that is not possible speak to their regional official. If that does not work for you, speak to the UCU national office equality team. 

BLM – Beyond 2020
Meeting the challenges we face as black workers after the resurgence of BLM in 2020. The main issues from members were that they were not being supported enough by their institutions, and felt that key issues were tick boxed. Other issues included, the race pay gap, recruitment of black staff, retention and progression; these issues were often not scrutinised effectively at all. Unconscious bias training has been criticised by many academic reports, and that racism is conscious. Students need to be supported too. Management strategies to box and contain institutional racism were obvious to many staff. A few members highlighted that BLM had opened the door, and that they had been able to meet management to talk and negotiate on their issues.

It was noted that most post-16 education institutions had a BLM statement on their websites. It is now time, one member said, to move to holding the good intentions of employers to account. A national UCU strategy was required, said one member, for effective negotiations. Another member stressed we must keep fighting for more and ensure our voices are heard. Action was now needed to move beyond words for meaningful change. 

Developing black activists – black activists as black leaders
Delegates discussed issues regarding lack of Black leadership in UCU branches and possible ways to increase both Black membership and their active involvement in the union. 

The first issue was communication. Delegates were concerned that anti-racist news, both nationally and locally is always buried at the bottom of the agenda. This needs to change. Branch committee members need to support black activists, to understand what advice is available, and how they can stand for union committee and regional positions, chairing of meetings and helping to set the agendas. Secondly, branches should demand and create Black members reps with allocated time, and use research to look at union density and black membership and how it intersects. The work of the black members committee needs to be publicised to all branches to support union committees, to gain more understanding of structural racism. Third, branches should use the ‘UCU Week of Action against Workplace Racism’ in February as a springboard to organise all members to campaign against racism and challenge racism and discrimination in our institutions. Finally, make sure our UCU branches put anti-racism at the heart of their union work. 

Decolonising Community and Prison education
Addressing the issues faced by black educators in prison and community education. This sector is often forgotten and UCU needs to raise its profile. The workshop started with definitions of decolonisation and asked the question – where do we start with this process of decolonisation? We need to decolonise the whole organisational structures, with management, curriculum and staff. It was highlighted that there are limited basic education provisions in prisons, few education managers, and no opportunities for Black prison educators unlike their white counterparts to progress within the system. There is a need to involve the communities served in the process of seeking changes or reform a member said. We need to show the powers that be, that it is in the interest of society to have an established education curriculum for prisoners to mitigate against re-offending. There is a need to have a survey for all prisoners black and white, younger offenders as well as older adults. This could then be used as a campaigning tool, and taken to the education authorities as evidence to support a call to set up a Black lives matter task force in the prison education sector. UCU was called on to support the initiatives and to help organise a plan going forward. 

The conference ended with a thank you to all the members for coming to the virtual conference. A big thank you to the equality staff at UCU, and to all the existing and newly elected members of the Black members committee. Let’s keep up the pressure for real change for Black Lives Matter UCU. 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King.