Pay Campaign and call for Further Education Special Conference

Following the decisions of the FEC to abandon this year’s claim we are calling for support for an FE special sector conference to establish an effective pay campaign.

UCU will meet with the employers at the end of April and we need to ensure we have a strategy that shows we are serious about defending pay and the sector. We cannot leave it until the June FE conference.

Under UCU rules, 20 branches can call for a SCC.

Below is a model motion calling for a Special Further Education sector conference. A motion must be passed by a quorate branch meeting.

Unison voted for further action, the NUT are striking on 15 March, EIS has announced 32 days of action and we have unprecedented support from the labour leadership. There is a potential to unite the movement to break the pay freeze and turn the tide on further cuts to the sector.

Read UCU left report on FEC here.

Motion: Pay Campaign and FESC

Branch Notes:

On Friday 4th March UCU’s Further Education committee (FEC) voted by 2 votes to end this year’s pay campaign.

Branch believes:

  1. The strike on the 24th Feb, when we were joined by Unison members, was a success and created momentum with other unions now taking action.
  2. That, by not building upon the successful strike with Unison, the FEC has missed the opportunity to create momentum ‎around this year’s pay claim.
  3. The call for a fair pay rise is completely justified given that we have not had a pay rise for 6 years.
  4. Following the Unison leadership’s vote for more action, the NUT’s call for strike action on‪ 15 March and the days named by EIS in Scotland for escalating action, that we have missed an opportunity to unite the movement.

Branch resolves:

  1. To condemn the FEC decision
  2. To send messages of support to local 6th Form Colleges.
  3. To call for a Special Further Education conference on pay as soon as is practically possible to get an effective strategy back on.
  4. Call for the FESC to be in London to maximise attendance.
  5. To elect xxxx as our delegate to this FESC in the event it is called

Send to:

Paul Cottrell: PCottrell@UCU.ORG.UK (Constitutional affairs)

Copy David Bussell: dbussell@UCU.ORG.UK


PAY – We need a strategy now!

The UCU’s Further Education committee (FEC) voted on Friday, by two votes, to end this year’s pay campaign. This is a massive mistake.

The majority of FEC members voted to reject joint action with members of the NUT in 6th form and to oppose the call for escalation of the campaign to win £1 per hour extra for all.

All the hard work put in by our members and the achievement of the first joint action with Unison for a decade has been thrown away.

This retreat gives the green light to the employers to continue to hold down our pay and play fast and loose with the future of Further Education.

In a very worrying development for the democratic decision-making processes of our union, the General Secretary intervened into the debate to tell the FEC that if they voted for joint strike action with the NUT on 15 March she would override that decision.

With no strategy in place, unbelievably, the call to hold an FE sector conference to allow members the democratic right to debate the way forward for next year’s campaign was also opposed and voted down.


The membership disarmed

This year’s national negotiations with the AoC begin at the end of April. If our leadership gets its way history is going to repeat itself. Last year we walked into negotiations with the AoC knowing that UCU had cancelled its national pay ballot half way through.

The result was last year’s pay offer was 0%.

Unfortunately those who argued to abandon the ballot last year did not learn from that mistake.

Officials argued at the FEC that we should abandon this year’s pay claim campaign and start again with a new campaign over next year’s claim.

This decision makes no tactical sense. It is like destroying all your weapons before you engage in battle.

UCU is now effectively implementing the Tories’ anti-union Trade union bill before it has become law. Every possible potential legal challenge is being interpreted as a certainty and used as a reason to call off effective action.

The decision by the FEC to support a motion calling on the FEC to dump this year’s claim and start afresh will lead to significant demoralisation amongst our members.

UCU members will be told, once again, that their leadership doesn’t believe that we can win a fight to defend our pay and Further Education.

The employers will see this as a sign of weakness and will be more confident to go onto the offensive both at a national and local level. Union members will be left exposed.

We were in a good position going into this year’s negotiations with the AoC.

If we had remained in dispute over the 2015-16 claim and rolled it into next year’s we could have continued to take action over this year’s claim while opening negotiations over next year.

We had a live ballot, two days of successful strike action and growing support from the Labour front bench. We were also receiving significant coverage in the education media.

We had the very real possibility of co-ordinating further action with the NUT in 6th form colleges on 15 March. In Scotland EIS members in FE have just voted by 93 per cent to strike.

All that potential has been wasted.


Local deals must not undermine national action

For some time now there has been a false debate that counter-poses local and national action. For UCU to remain relevant and to build its influence it has to be able to organise effective local as well as national action. National action feeds into local action and strong successful local action builds the union’s ability to take effective national action.

The FEC members were told that employers would be able to make challenges to the national ballot because branches had accepted local pay deals since the initial ballot. This was cited as another reason to abandon the fight.

If this is really the case then every time we have a national strike ballot, the strike ballot will be null and void a week or so later if any colleges agree a local deal.

The impact of this interpretation will lead to a ‘Wild West’ approach to negotiations in the sector. Some branches may win local pay awards while less organised branches, or branches with particularly stubborn managements will be left isolated and abandoned by the national union to further years without a pay rise.


Levelling up not down

The drive by the national union to allow local deals to take precedence over building a national campaign has led to some bad results for our members that will undermine the union’s ability to defend us locally and nationally.

Some local branches are signing up to deals that gain extra pay at the expense of terms and conditions. Some are allowing the employers to impose inferior new-starter contracts in exchange for pay deals.  This is a disastrous, dangerous and divisive strategy.

In the context of the rationalisation of the sector where employers will be looking to impose new contracts on staff this approach will allow employers to drive all our conditions of service downwards.  This strategy will encourage a race to the bottom.


Build a mass campaign to defend pay and education

The strike on the 24 February was a success.

There were some branches that found it difficult to get all their members out and involved. This is not surprising. Where was the campaign? Where were the national leadership tours in colleges? Where were the posters and stickers?

Many members understandably questioned the validity of a series of one-day strikes. Some felt that their national leadership was not putting forward a strategy that meets the severity of the crisis hitting the sector.

UCU members have shown time and again that they will fight. The problem is they need to know that they have a chance to win too.

The UCU leadership believe that members won’t fight. So they constantly pull back from meaningful national action. The failure to give a serious lead becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as after each strike we’re told about every weakness and never about the positive results.


The FEC’s decision is a significant step backwards.

The union’s leadership seems to have no strategy to defend pay and to defend second chance education.

Activists have to get organised and apply real pressure on the national union to adopt a strategy that can inspire our membership and win.


What can you do?

  • Get your branch to support the call for a Special Further Education conference to debate the next steps in the campaign to defend pay and education.
  • Organise activists meetings in your region to discuss the next steps.
  • Call branch meetings and pass motions calling for a serious escalating strategy over next year’s pay claim that has some hope of shifting the AoC.
  • Contact your local FEC member to ask them how they voted and demand an explanation from the General Secretary on why she intervened to halt joint action with the NUT.




Higher Education members – support FE members on strike on 10th November – by UCU President, Liz Lawrence

On Tuesday 10th November UCU’s FE members will be taking strike action. This is over the failure of the employers to make a pay offer for 2015. HE members may feel insulted at getting a pay offer of only 1% for 2015. The employers in FE have refused to make an offer at all. This is a deliberate provocation.

Please show your support for your Further Education colleagues. Please make solidarity visits to their picket lines, attend local strike rallies and take a collection for hardship funds. Please show that we value FE and value our FE members, even if the employers do not.

Adult and Further Education are being clobbered more and more by funding cuts. Already the Adult Education sector has faced 25% funding cuts. More are in the pipeline. This is leading to loss of many areas of educational provision, including ESOL courses. The future of this valuable sector of education is being put into question.

Many Higher Education members know the value to society of the FE sector. We know that for some university students the route to Higher Education has come via the FE college and access courses. The current trade dispute over pay occurs in a context of savage funding cuts to the FE sector. Too many of the politicians in Westminster have never been inside an FE college and do not know the contribution FE makes to society. We need to support the fightback to defend the FE sector.

by UCU President, Dr.Liz Lawrence

Update on the Open University Dispute Over Closure of Regional Centres.

The UCU branch at the Open University are in dispute with management over their proposals to close 7 of the English Regional Centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Gateshead, Leeds, London and Oxford with the potential loss of over 500 jobs.

A consultative ballot received a 38% response with 81% voting in favour of action.
A full ballot for action is now underway and closes on November 5.

Successful rallies have been held at two of the centres, Birmingham and Leeds and a “not a rally” event was held at the Milton Keynes campus to lobby a senate meeting.

Management had said that only ten people were allowed to attend the rally hence the “not a rally” event. It seemed a ridiculous intervention by management but enabled a humorous response. Ten people at any one time rallied, handed out leaflets and lobbied whilst other members were asked to form an orderly queue to take turns at “rallying”. At times there were over 50 people in a long queue waiting to rally. It was excellent for branch morale.

The senate meeting voted by 41 to 33 with 9 abstentions to reject management’s proposals but management have decided to ignore this and are taking the full closure proposals to the University Council in late November.

Two petitions are out on social media including one on 38 Degrees, MPs are being lobbied and the branch is working hard to secure a strong vote for ASOS and strike action. Further rallies and action will be discussed at the weekly campaign meeting.


Please support this campaign by:


Signing and circulating the online petition

Sending messages of support to

Supporting further rallies – info here shortly….

FEC votes for national pay strike on 10 November. All out to build it and make sure it is a success.

UCU left statement to defend pay and the sector.

All out for 10th November strike.

  • UCU votes 73.7% yes for strikes to defend pay.
  • All out 10 November to march on BIS.
  • Time is now to rebuild, recruit to the union and develop strategy to defend post-16 education.

Yesterday the Further Education Committee voted for strike action to defend pay and pursue our claim for £1 per hour for all members. This fight underpins the battle for the future of FE.

Further and Adult education is in crisis. This summer, the Government launched a major programme of restructuring and mergers as part of £450m austerity cuts which will see 300 colleges broken up to as few as 70.

This is the biggest crisis in FE since incorporation. It will hasten the decline and marketisation of the sector and, if left unchallenged, there will no longer be a college at the heart of every community. There will be no second, or even first chances for the 3.5 million students we serve. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed teenagers will be barred from a general education and forced down a narrow skills agenda in education factories.

We play a key role in our colleges in transforming lives and opportunities – imagine what our communities would look like without our local colleges. For FE workers austerity cuts have taken the sector to breaking point : job losses, pay cuts, burgeoning workloads, growing class sizes, courses axed. We now face a stark choice – organise for defence of the sector or witness the rapid demise of everything we have stood for.


What can be done to reverse this decline and save the sector?

We have an opportunity to rebuild and develop a coherent political and industrial strategy that can take our members with us to defend the sector. An industrial strategy on pay must be linked to a wider political strategy that can build a mass campaign to defend the sector.

The YES vote for strike action for £1 per hour extra for all puts a stake in the ground for respect and recognition of the service we deliver. The unions put in a claim for £1 per hour extra for all to restore pay after 6 years of pay cuts but the employer’s response was unprecedented: recommending a 0% offer, implementing the Tory government’s pay freeze. This is on top of attacks on jobs, the casualization of the sector and mushrooming workloads.

Pay is a real issue for members as the cost of living increases. The average monthly rent is at a record high at £816 per month. Rents are a quarter higher than in 2010, with increases outstripping inflation.

The idea the employers are trying to sell is that if we all tighten our belts we can defend the sector and jobs. This is laughable. By implementing austerity cuts and freezing pay they concede the rationale that there is no money for education. Those Principals are now rushing to carve out their own fiefdoms, accepting this rationale.

A pay strike will be effective if it connects with the political mood. It has to call for more funding for FE. We are the guardians of education, the pay cut is a result of funding cuts. Standing up for pay has to be part of demanding funding for the sector.

We should march on BIS as part of our campaign to stop the cuts. We should initiate forums and rallies to build an alliance of unions to break the pay freeze. We must put real pressure on the AoC and the government. We know there are colleges that can afford to pay a better pay award. We can target strikes and also highlight the gender pay gap and that of black workers. We can expose disparity between those at the top and those on the bottom. The whole union can rally to support and generalise these disputes.


This week saw over 500 ESOL students and lecturers lobby Parliament to fight the £45m cut to the ESOL budget. This vibrant and diverse mass lobby vocalised the anger at the devastation these cuts represent. A break-away group demonstrated against the BIS department responsible for the cuts, taking the argument to the place where these decisions are made. The ESOL campaign is a lesson for all of us.

​The #LoveFE campaign showed the potential for a fightback with two lobbies of Parliament and 42,500 people signing the petition against the 24% cut to ASB budget.

Unfortunately the momentum of this campaign was not sustained beyond local fragmented disputes to defend jobs. By and large these were effective at stopping compulsory redundancies locally, but there was no serious attempt to locate this as part of a national campaign. So far, UCU has failed to mobilise this potential to build a mass campaign to defend the sector or adequately campaign to convince members angry about pay that we can win. Materials and publicity produced for this pay campaign were good and the union reached out to members in a way it had not done in recent years. There is a potential to rebuild confidence among members if we learn the lessons of the past but it must offer a convincing strategy on pay to members. We want no more stop-start approaches to one day strikes, no more retreats like the one from the mass mobilisations of the pension strikes, no more missed opportunities to unite with the NUT and other unions to defend pay. These retreats set us back, gave confidence to the employers and demoralised our members.

With more cuts to be announced in November and the acceleration of mergers, the union must refocus on building a national campaign for the defence of the whole of the sector. This means building for a mass national demonstration with the students and other education unions to defend Education from the Cradle to the Grave.

The CWU recently held a rally with Jeremy Corbyn in Manchester that saw 7000 people attend to defend “the people’s post”. Labour’s new Shadow Ministers have said that there needs to be a battle for post-16 education and called for a National Education Service.

There is potential to engage tens of thousands of UCU members in activity. We can recruit new reps, who joined the mass demonstrations against austerity, welcoming refugees and defending education, and who are excited by the idea of a pay strike.

TUC Congress passed a motion for coordinated, joint and sustained industrial action to break the pay freeze. FE Unison members voted by 95% to reject the pay cut and are writing to Principals asking them to make a significant offer or face ballots. UCU can play a role in reaching out to sister unions to unite to break the pay freeze.

All out for the 10 November strike – Fund pay – Fund FE.
The following motion was carried at the FEC on Saturday 17 October

Pay motion (amended to strike on 10 November)

FEC notes:

1. The 73.7% vote yes for strike action in the ballot for £1 extra per hour for all.

2. The motion passed at the TUC calling for coordinated, sustained, joint action to break the pay freeze.

3. The successful mobilisation for the ESOL and adult education lobby of Parliament.

FEC believes:

1. That for a pay campaign to be successful we need to locate it as part of the wider defence of further and attack education.

2. That further targeted action will be required to force concessions from the employers.

FEC resolves:

1. Call a national strike on 10 November.

2. To book a venue close to Parliament for a national rally at 1pm in London. We should invite speakers including MPs, sister unions, NUS, adult education campaigning bodies e.g NAICE, Action for ESOLl, and Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and shadow education ministers such as Gordon Marsden and Angela Eagle. Where appropriate regions or cities should call their own local rallies.

3. Demonstrate at BIS in London following the rally.

4. Contact the NUS to join their protest later on the same day.

5. Invite branches to take part in coordinated targeted action in November.

6. Ensure campaigning materials are produced to make the case for funding pay as part of the campaign for funding FE. In these materials we should make the case for our pay claim, including highlighting inequality by gender and ethnicity, the lowest paid and those in casual contracts, the rising cost of living, principals pay and the need for parity with school teachers pay.

7. Contact sister trade unions to discuss and develop a coordinated strategy on pay.

8. To reconvene FEC at a time to be agreed today to review the pay campaign and agree the next steps, which could include how to implement the targeted action.

9. We should also explore how to take a national campaign forward such as organising for a national lobby of Parliament in the new year to defend pay and fund FE.


• We need a campaign on pay

• We need to build up momentum to win a ballot on pay

Public and private sector workers, ourselves included, have been paying for the bank crash of 2008 for seven years now. The Tory “austerity” programme, masquerading as a “public sector pay policy”, has transferred billions of pounds from the pockets of ordinary workers to the government and our employers. To add insult to injury, the government’s quantitative easing policy, of printing free money for banks, has undermined our USS pension scheme.

• Even including the 2% pay increase we won last year, our pay has fallen in real terms by 13% since August 2008. As the graph of the real-terms value of our pay against CPI and RPI shows, we have stabilised our losses in the short term but the overall trend is still downwards.

• All percentage wage cuts disproportionately impact on the least well-off, because the poorer you are, the more your wages are already committed to rent, bills, food and other costs. The first thing to go is spending money.

• If you believed the press you might think that inflation was flat. But anyone attempting to rent a flat or pay for a travelcard has not seen prices frozen. Like all averages, RPI and CPI conceal variation – so rents increase but petrol prices and luxury goods become cheaper.

• Even private sector bosses are recognising that they need to raise wages. The Daily Mail reports that private sector wage rises are averaging at 3.5% this year, with 7% rises in some cases.

• Our bosses are not tightening their belts. In 2013-14 the average vice-chancellor salary was £260,290. Eighteen VCs enjoyed a pay increase of more than 10% that year, and one awarded himself a 70% pay increase.

At Congress in Glasgow, UCU committed itself to a renewed fight over pay. Motion L1 from Leeds Beckett was overwhelmingly carried. This said:

• Conference notes the national negotiators’ report, UCUHE/248, and the proposal to put the 1% offer out to a full ballot of members.

• Conference resolves that UCU should call for members to REJECT the offer, and to vote YES for strike action and action short of a strike in furtherance of the dispute. UCU must actively campaign amongst members to explain why the pay campaign is particularly important this year after many years of real-terms pay cuts.

We knew it would not be easy, but the alternative to fighting over pay is to see the further erosion of pay, the decline of national bargaining, and the decreasing relevance of the UCU to ordinary members. If the UCU does not fight nationally over pay and pensions – or does not try to win – members rightly ask, why should I pay my subs?

As we discuss below, the best way to campaign against restrictions on the right to strike and take Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) in the Tory Government’s Trade Union Bill is to demonstrate its relevance to ordinary members. We won’t defeat the Trade Union Bill by giving up our fight on pay!

We need a national campaign

This motion did not say, go straight out and ballot members, without warning, for industrial action. Nor did it say poll members indicatively on the same question. It said that UCU has to “actively campaign amongst members”.

The need for such a campaign should be obvious. Unless members can see that the prospect of a fight over pay is taken seriously by the whole union, especially the leadership, they will think that the union is not serious.

Unless there are meetings organised to discuss the need to fight over pay, with national speakers, posters, leaflets, etc. they will reasonably assume that the union is going through the motions.

The last two disputes in HE over pay and pensions have led many members to be very concerned that their leadership will not follow through with the type of industrial strategy that might genuinely force a better offer than 1% out of our employers.

The June Higher Education Committee meeting received a report on the snap pay consultation the union had run.

53.5% of members voted to reject the 1% pay offer on a 32% turnout. A marginally higher proportion of members (55.7%) voted for ASOS and 47% for strike action.

After a lengthy debate we won agreement to

• Invoke the New JNCHES dispute resolution procedure (i.e. declare a dispute).

• Call four regional meetings of branch reps in September/early October to consult branches, and campaign over pay in the meantime.

• Report the result of this consultation to the next HEC on October 9th, which would then consider calling industrial action.

Yet since June there has been no campaign over pay. Nothing has happened over the summer. Instead, ahead of these regional briefings, branch officers have been asked a series of pessimistic leading questions that were not authorised by the HEC. Here are our answers to those questions:

Q: Should the UCU proceed to ballot members for industrial action based on the consultative ballot?

A: Better to campaign over the pay offer in the branches and win the argument it is right to fight over pay and demonstrate that we are serious to do so. We need to campaign, and then ballot.

Q: What is your assessment of the capacity of your branch to take sustained industrial action?

A: We can only know this when members are mobilised and taking up the campaign themselves.

The Trade Union Bill

The final element of the national bargaining arena is the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. This bill is intended to cripple trade unions and prevent us from taking industrial action.

The Guardian recently referred to it as “the biggest crackdown on trade union rights for 30 years”. It aims to do by legislation what Thatcher never dared: to make lawful industrial action all but impossible in many cases. The bill imposes a double threshold on strike action for so-called “key public services” – 40% of balloted members must vote for a strike in addition to a simple majority of those voting. Many members simply do not realise that “strike” here also includes ASOS.

Whether or not Higher Education is classed as a “key public service” or becomes one later, this double threshold will mean that all ballots will become much more difficult to win and branches will have to spend a lot more time winning a high turnout.

National disputes aggregate stronger and weaker branches together and impress members with the idea that we are a national union that genuinely believes that unity is strength.

But whereas strong branches may be able to win a ballot on the double threshold, national ballots will become very difficult to win indeed.

The best way to demonstrate the relevance of defending the right to strike (and the right to take ASOS) is to campaign over pay, and in the process demonstrate to members what is at stake in the Trade Union Bill.

We know industrial action is the only method by which we can compel the employers to raise wages. A campaign against the Trade Union Bill is strengthened immeasurably by campaigning and fighting over pay at the same time.

London-Wide FE strike over job cuts – Tuesday 23rd June 2015

BBIS lobby with Liz-1040562Congratulations to Hackney, Croydon, Lewisham and Southwark, College of North East London, College of North West London and Greenwich College for striking and taking the fight to the doorstep of the education department directly responsible for the 24% cut in the adult education budget. The lobby was loud and angry.

Thanks too to John McDonnell MP and Dr. Liz Lawrence, President of UCU, for speaking at the lobby and showing their support for our campaign to save Lifelong Learning.

Congratulations also to South Thames College who have become the fifth branch who have succeeded in stopping compulsory redundancies at their college. The other four are Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, City and Islington and Westminster Kingsway.

Link to Guardian article of striking colleges on the march

Link to video of demo

Reject the 1 percent HE pay offer

Delegates at the recent HE sector conference were scathing about the inadequacy of the 1 percent offer from UCEA. We need to make sure it is heavily rejected by members in the e-consultation that is about to start, and then move to an industrial action ballot and a campaign for a decent pay rise in the sector which reverses the recent severe declines.

Here is a leaflet calling for rejection:

vote to reject pay offer

The second wave of austerity: putting the defence of post-16 education at the heart of the resistance.

Adult ed lobby of Parliament Esol student, Mandy Brown  Secretary London Region UCU, , Meg Hiller MP, Ian Ashman, Chair London AoC  and Jeremy Corbyn MP

The disappointing re-election of a Conservative government signals further onslaughts on services and working conditions. There must now be a call to arms to the whole of the trade union and labour movement to come together to fight the second wave of austerity that is without doubt coming our way. The Tory coalition’s cuts led to the loss of one million public sector jobs and the dismantling of many services that millions more depended upon. Despite the UK being the sixth richest country in the world, poverty has increased and one million people now depend on food banks.

However, what the general election also revealed is that millions of people not only hate Tory austerity but also want a more radical alternative the one that is on offer from the mainstream parties. The growth in support for the Scottish National Party and the Greens is clear evidence that anti-austerity arguments are popular. Millions of people hated the Coalition’s policies but were not sure if there was an alternative. Now having listened to the case against austerity they liked what they heard. However, it is sobering that in their desperation for an alternative, many turned to UKIP, who got the third highest vote. Thankfully Nigel Farage himself failed to win a seat.

The political establishment has been shaken by the SNP’s tidal wave in Scotland. The Tories very tight majority will mean that their back benchers will feel empowered to dominate the party causing even more rifts and splits. A Tory government relying on the votes of their backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist Party makes them very vulnerable to movements from below.

For UCU this means putting the fight for Post-16 education at the centre of the movement against austerity. At the heart of this movement must be the campaign to save Adult Education. To achieve this we need to frame our campaign within a vision of genuine student-centred education and be prepared to use every weapon in our armoury; lobbies, demonstrations and strikes.


three women with UCU no cuts placard-1040198Building a national campaign on the determination to resist

Throughout the last five years the movement has shown the potential to stop the cuts. The mass demonstration in November 2010 against tuition fee rises and cuts in the Educational Maintenance Award (EMA) was the first wave of opposition to the Coalition’s attempt to make working people pay for the bankers’ crisis.

The NUS/UCU demonstration that Autumn broke the consensus that austerity was inevitable. The pension strikes followed and by late 2011 two million public sector workers from twenty nine unions struck together on one of the biggest one day strikes in British history.

Unfortunately we were unable to block the government’s attacks, not because the will and determination was lacking, or because of public opposition. In fact, every opinion poll showed very high levels of public support for the strikes. Rather it was the failure of much of the trade union leadership to organise further coordinated action which demobilised the campaign.

There have been many successful campaigns over the past five years like the New Era Estate campaign to defend housing in East London, the disability activists’ campaigns against Atos and the NUT campaign against Michael Gove. Many workers have been prepared to take prolonged strike action to defend their jobs and services, like Lambeth College, the Doncaster Care workers and the National Galleries strike.

To stop the Tories in their tracks we need more resistance to austerity at every level. But we cannot fight a second wave of austerity college by college, workplace by workplace or community by community. We need a national campaign that unites all these issues into a single mass movement.


UCU must raise its game

UCU punched well above its weight in its first four years of its existence. We took national initiatives over fees, EMA, pensions and pay. The union quickly developed a profile that allowed us to recruit and begin to build stronger branches and regions. However, since the TPS and USS pensions disputes UCU has become far less visible nationally and this is weakening us at branch level.

At the heart of the debate is what kind of trade union UCU should be: one that services members through copious amounts of casework and local grievances – or a campaigning union, mobilising its members around the defence of Post-I6 education. Of course casework and campaigning can co-exist, but unfortunately most of UCU’s leadership is deeply pessimistic about the potential for the union to mobilise its members.

Yet there is absolutely no evidence to suggest members are not interested in campaigning. On the contrary, where leadership has been offered with a clear strategy of how to achieve our aims members have been very enthusiastic to get involved.

Women holding ESOL placard-1040170


Saving Adult Education: a model of Social Trade Unionism

One example is the current campaign to save Adult Education. The shock announcement of a 24 per cent cut in the Adult Education budget in February shook UCU out of its slumber and has begun to show how a campaigning union could be built across the Post-16 sector.

Although still far too cautious about getting behind initiatives both industrially and politically, UCU nationally moved to make this issue a central one in the run up to the election and is committed to taking the campaign to the new government.

When the cuts were announced UCU quickly put together a coalition to defend Lifelong Learning involving trade unions and educational and employers organisations. A petition was launched which so far has received almost 40,000 signatories. A #lovefe website was initiated which has a wall of thousands of campaigning stories and photographs. Three early day motions have been written, one of which has been signed by 68 MPs.

In the pre-election period 1,350 members used the campaign page to email 1,700 parliamentary candidates/MPs. The twitter hashtag #loveFE appeared on over 1.1 million device screens with over 3.5 million timeline deliveries during the week of the #loveFE day on 26 March called by the FEC. What has given the campaign its mobilising momentum have been the initiatives taken by London Region UCU. There have been three main events aimed at uniting UCU with the communities our members serve, at the centre of which have been many women migrant workers who attend ESOL courses.

On March 18th this year 500 students and lecturers lobbied Parliament. Then on the evening of 25th March 400 students and lecturers marched on Downing Street to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to reverse the cuts. Most recently on the 26th April 1,500 students and lecturers turned out to march on City Hall to lobby Boris Johnson.

These lobbies and demonstrations put UCU at the heart of the campaign to defend Lifelong Learning and united the community with UCU. The slogan, ‘fight for every job, fight for every student place’ has enabled the union to mobilise students and lecturers. Now we need to deliver the coordinated strike action to back our demands to withdraw the cuts. It is this kind of social trade union model that needs to be rolled out across all sectors of UCU.

This model has three essential elements. We build campaigns with students and communities: we also develop the union as a high profile organising, campaigning one which readily attracts new members, plus we take local and national strike action wherever necessary. There can be no substitute for strike action, which remains an indispensable weapon in our defence of jobs and courses. The most successful examples of this approach in recent times have been the Chicago teachers’ campaign and the campaign and strikes for a minimum $15 an hour among low paid workers in the US.


Seizing the moment – building a national campaign

We are now entering a new political situation. The onslaught is set to continue – we have no alternative but to resist. There is real potential to mobilise millions to stop the second wave of austerity and begin to reverse the terrible damage that has been done. To do that effectively we need a more radical politics – one that fits with the progressive instincts of working people.

This can only be done through building a national movement. Education must be at the heart of this movement. We can start by supporting the amendment to Congress 2015 calling for a national demonstration in defence of Post-16 education. The NUS have just elected a left wing leadership who are looking for partners to call a demonstration, as are the NUT after their Easter conference. A weekend demonstration could see thousands march in defence of working class education.

Alongside this, UCU members in Further and Adult Education are preparing to take industrial action in defence of jobs and education. UCU needs to be on a war footing to ensure that branches taking action have the union’s weight behind them encouraging branches to raise money and send messages of support.

Similarly if we see national action over pay in the next academic year we need to take the same approach and break the employers’ punitive strategy of 100 percent pay deductions that has held back resistance in HE. In FE the demand for ‘£1 an hour extra for all’, framed in the wider fight for more funding, is one that members would enthusiastically campaign for.

UCU could also initiate a mass campaign to defend the ‘Public University’ in HE working with student unions and campaign groups, academics, uniting all those in HE who want to oppose student fees, casualisation and accelerating marketisation of the sector.

This strategy can make UCU visible again, as it has started to do with the Adult Education campaign. It will help to rejuvenate our branches and win battles. Rather than casework dominating branch life we can build branches that are outward looking and can be a beacon of hope and inspiration in every college and university.

Sean Vernell, UCU City and Islington College Coordinating Committee Secretary and national negotiator.