Tories in crisis: General Election now!

End austerity now

UCU London Regional Committee met on Saturday and voted unanimously to call on the TUC to call a national demonstration demanding a general election. The Committee met in the same week that the government had lost their motion on the Brexit deal and narrowly avoided a motion of no-confidence by 19 votes.

Crisis at the top

It was an unprecedented defeat for the government. The biggest defeat suffered by any government in modern times. It has left the Tory party, the most successful ruling class party in history, even more divided and possibly heading for a split. Working people who are suffering from over a decade of austerity look on bemused and angry with contempt at the political elite – an elite whose members demonstrate every time they rise to speak in parliament just how removed they are from the experience of working people’s lives.

The arcane rituals that surround the way these issues are debated and voted on may provide BBC commentators with glee and excitement, but they leave working people looking on in despair and wondering that there must be a better way to make decisions about how to run our society.

The politicians and media present us with only two alternatives out of this crisis. Either we crash out of the European Union (EU) and sign up to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) trading agreements or we stay in the EU and abide by the single-market terms of trading.

The alternatives we are offered are presented to us as the only possible ones. They reflect not the interests of the majority of working people but instead the two different wings of British business. The vast majority, whose business and trade are within the EU, want to stay in and the minority who have business interest outside the EU want to leave.

Neither WTO rules nor the single-market can bring real change

Neither of these alternatives will make the slightest bit of difference to working people’s lives. Both would continue the assault on our pay, pensions, education and the welfare state. Neither will protect our hard-won gains over workplace rights. In fact, either option would make it harder to improve our conditions of life because neither are designed to do so.

The WTO is a thoroughly corrupt organisation that pretends that it provides equal access to trading rights for both the poorer and the wealthier nations.  Of course, the opposite is true. The WTO’s rules are completely rigged in favour of the wealthier nations at the expense of the poorer ones. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights(TRIPS) agreement is just one example of how the WTO ensures that the rich nations stay on top at the expense of the developing nations.

As Noam Chomsky argued, “There is nothing liberal about (the TRIPS agreement). It is a highly protected system, designed to ensure that private tyrannies, which is what corporations are, monopolize the technology and the knowledge of the future.”

The EU single-market is also a barrier to progressing the conditions of life for the 99%.  The single market, just like the WTO, is a neo-liberal economic mechanism that ensures that the wealth created by working people is distributed ‘fairly’ amongst the employers at the expense of the real wealth creators.

It also would make it much harder for a future Corbyn led Labour government to introduce a programme of legislation to re-nationalise the rail networks and public utilities as UCU’s Johnathan White argues in a recent article in the Morning Star.

If both solutions being put forward by the elite will not benefit working people then we must put forward our own alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn rightly argued In Wakefield this week that the main division in Britain is not between remainers and leavers. It is between those whose living conditions have been drastically eroded after a decade of austerity and those whose living conditions have not.

It is the neo-liberal austerity-driven policies of successive governments, here and across Europe, that are to blame for the poverty experienced by so many and the inequality that has risen from it. The only way we can begin to put this right is by electing a Corbyn led government with a radical agenda that ‘takes back control’ of how wealth is redistributed through raising taxes for the rich and an extensive programme of re-nationalisation. This is why, however you voted in the referendum, we all have an interest in uniting to get a Corbyn government elected.

Of course, we will see how far the employers will allow JC to introduce such measures before they start to try to undermine a democratically elected government. I suspect they will give him a little less time than they are giving Theresa May at the moment!

But first we must get him into office. That means calling a general election now.

Mobilising on the streets and the workplace to break the impasse.

The quickest and most effective way that we can break this impasse and shape an alternative to the binary debate between WTO versus the single market is through the mass mobilisation of working people. The only reason what Theresa May and the Tories are still in government is because the vast majority of working people look on, passively, as if they are watching a BBC period drama!

The demo called by the People’s Assembly was a step in the right direction. But we need many more and much bigger initiatives. 

The TUC really must step up to the plate. It is utterly ridiculous that the biggest voluntary organisation in Britain with six million members has been almost completely silent while this crisis has been taking place. They must call a national demonstration.

Campaigning organisations like the PA and Momentum must take more initiatives demanding a general election. It was a mistake not to call a protest outside parliament on the day of the no-confidence vote. Momentum have demonstrated that they can get thousands of their members on the streets when they want to, as they did when there was a second attempt to oust Jeremy.

UCU members in 16 colleges will be taking two days of strike action on the 29/30thJan over pay and conditions with more to be balloted to join them in a third wave of action. In HE seventy thousand UCU members in 143 institutions are also being balloted over pay. We need more action like this if we are going to be able to protect workers’ conditions and build organisations that will be able provide the networks to ensure that a future Corbyn led Labour government is able to implement a radical anti-austerity programme.

Sean Vernell UCU NEC

Please raise this motion at your next branch or regional meeting.

Motion: General Election now.


1)      The Tory government suffered its biggest defeat in modern History.

2)      The impasse in parliament over how to implement the decision of the 2016 referendum on the European Union.

3)      Austerity continues to wreck working people lives.


1)      The Tory government, and party, is wracked with division and self-interest and is not fit to govern.

2)      That the main division in the country, as Jeremy Corbyn argued in a recent speech, is not between leavers and remainers; it is between those affected by austerity and those who are not.

3)     We need a change of government that will begin to address the underlining problems that have created such fury and rage amongst working people in Britain – namely a complete reversal of austerity-driven polices.

4)     The impasse that has been reached will not be resolved in parliament alone. It will take mass mobilisations on the streets and in the workplaces to break this gridlock.


1)      To call on the TUC to call a national demonstration to demand a General Election.

2)      To encourage UCU and other Trade Union branches to support this call.

3)      Send to the national Executive Committee of UCU

4) To call a protest outside parliament on the 29thMarch and approach other campaigning organisations and trade unions to support.


Solidarity with the Stansted 15

Stansted 15: end the hostile environment

In March last year, 15 activists prevented the deportation of 60 migrants, some of whom now have leave to remain.

The Stansted 15 have been convicted under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law passed in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing being used for the first time against political protest.

The Stansted 15 have received widespread support. A UN global report has backed them as human rights defenders and condemned Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’.

Supporters include: Amnesty International, Diane Abbott MP, Shami ChakrabartI, Caroline Lucas MP, Naomi Klein, Akala, Emma Thompson, Phillip Pullman, Brian Eno, Manual Cortes General secretary, TSSA, and Peter Gabriel.

The sentencing of the Stansted 15 is due on Wednesday 6 February and could result in custodial sentences or heavy fines. This is a real threat to legitimate political protest in the UK.

What you can do:

Get organised to Get the Vote Out

Build the ballot over pay, equality, workload and casualisation

Get the vote out flyer

UCU has called a five-week ballot for industrial action over pay this term. It opens on Tuesday 15 January and closes on Friday 22 February. It is timed for the maximum duration while still allowing members to take hard-hitting strike action this term and hit exams next term. So if we win the ballot we can take serious action.

We need to get organised.

First and foremost, this ballot is an organising challenge for every branch. Thanks to the Tory anti-union Trade Union Act, more than 50% of members eligible to vote must participate. Even if 100% vote YES, if only 49% vote, the vote does not count.

The main reason members do not vote is simply that they forget. Paper ballot envelopes and forms are put aside and forgotten about. We have to set up the type of grassroots organisation that makes sure that everyone is asked to vote, encouraged and reminded right up to the deadline.

We know that when we get this right, we get a high turnout.

We know how to do this, but we are all shockingly busy. We know workload – one of the key demands of the campaign – is ridiculous in our sector.

We must make a conscious effort to get organised. We have to treat the organisation of getting the vote out with exactly the same seriousness and care as when we organised the strike over pensions last year, and when we fought local campaigns over redundancies in the past.

The evidence shows it can be done, but we have to make a decisive shift to get the turnout.This is the second ballot we have had over the same pay round.

In the Autumn, the overall turnout was 42%. It was a ‘disaggregated’ ballot: each branch was counted separately. 7 institutions got over 50% turnout. One branch, Herriot-Watt, got a 64% turnout, many of the big branches got between 40 and 50%. The votes for strikes and ASOS were overwhelming, but they could not be actioned.

What we need to do

Every branch needs to

  • call organising meetings to kick off the ballot;
  • then organise a series of meetings in departments and buildings to explain the issues, and encourage debate;
  • organise members to systematically remind colleagues in each department, just as we would if organising a picket line rota.

The 50% threshold is a deliberate anti-democratic burden, designed to prevent unions from striking even when votes in favour are overwhelming.

But it is also a challenge to every member. What is the point of voting if your vote is wasted? The message has to be

Step 1: vote yourself, and Step 2: ask your colleagues to vote. Generations fought for the right to vote. Don’t let passivity undermine democracy.

We need to set up action committees to carry this out. We cannot leave it to a few branch reps. Every member has a stake in this fight.

This is a political fight as well as an organisational challenge. In the autumn, the high YES votes indicate members were convinced by the arguments.

  • Pay. Our pay has been cut by at least 15% since 2008. UCU’s latest figures put the drop by as much as 21%. Every teaching assistant struggling to get by, every teaching fellow on a part -time contract, every researcher on fixed funding stuck near the bottom of the pay spine, each one is 15-20% poorer than they would have been a decade ago. Cuts in the rate for the job mean everyone is devalued. The pay offer of 2% this year is still a pay cut. Members in USS branches can expect their pay cut further.
  • Inequality. One result of low pay is that staff try to increase their pay by other means. We are seeing more individual bargaining and consequentially greater pay inequality. Individual bargaining (threatening to move and demanding a pay rise or moving and negotiating) tends to favour white male staff over women and BAME staff, and increases gender and ethnicity pay gaps. The shocking stories published by the BBC last week are a symptom of this.
  • Workload and casualisation. High workload and low pay are two sides of the same coin. The employers have used the fear factor of redundancies and casualisation to force up workload in our sector. If we do not fight to secure the casualised, the employers will casualise the secure. As the USS dispute showed, strike action allows us to push back against the workload tide we all struggle with. This ballot helps us put the issue on the map and demand action to cut excessive workload or increase paid hours.

New arguments

But the situation has developed in two important respects. What follows is a sketch of the new arguments we are likely to face, and some suggested counter-arguments to make. In USS branches, a strong YES vote also puts us in the best position to ballot over USS cuts.

Objection 1. Brexit

The argument goes something like this.

The future of the UK, and UK universities, is uncertain because of Brexit. Universities don’t know what will happen to student recruitment. We don’t even know whether UK universities will be able to bid for EU research funds, or if they can, on what basis. Now is the wrong time to fight. We should ‘wait and see’.

This is a perfectly understandable argument, but the conclusions are wrong. Instead of waiting, we need a big YES vote to give the union and members a voice. A strong YES vote with a high turnout gives the union the mandate with the employers and government to be taken seriously. It puts the union in a position to negotiate with the employers over pay and jobs precisely at the time when the employers may be looking for job cuts and pay cuts to pay for the mess they have got themselves into.

We can decide what we do with that mandate once we have it. But first we have to get the votes.

The USS dispute taught members two important lessons: we have power when we strike and hit lessons and threaten exams, and – with a credible threat of strike action – ‘impossible’ demands become possible. In the middle of the strike, the Chinese Embassy relayed a threat from the PRC Government to Universities UK: if strikes hit exams, Chinese students will not come to the UK next year.

Crucially, we need to put the universities on the political radar as a sector to be strategically defended in the aftermath of Brexit.

This means members standing up to be counted, voting YES in large numbers and taking action to defend themselves and the sector. A strong strike/ASOS vote over pay is the best protection against threats to jobs. A well-organised Get the Vote Out operation can be repeated for a local ballot over redundancies. Brighton University had a strong GTVO campaign over redundancies. Despite being a post-92, they got over 50% turnout in the autumn.

Objection 2. The HE funding ‘crisis’

If one crisis were not bad enough, the Tories are flirting with the idea of creating another. Whereas the Brexit timetable appears to be outside their control, this ‘crisis’ is entirely of their making.

As we know, in 2011 the ConDem government jacked up undergraduate ‘home’ university fees from £6,500 (£3,000 paid by the student) to up to £9,000 per student. The universities charged the maximum, £9,000. At the same time, the Government set up a complex new loan system covering fees and maintenance grants, and partially abolished the block grant payable to each department.

The Government racked up a mountain of debt to pay for these loans, which the Treasury projected as £90bn by 2021, of which only half will probably be repaid. This is the first – and by far the largest – debt crisis, one they have mainly kept secret.

Meanwhile, in 2014 the Government took the next step in the ‘Willets Plan’ and abolished limits on student numbers (except for a small number of subjects like medicine).

These changes created a situation where universities realised they might make vast amounts of money by expanding in competition with other universities. The new motto of the sector, including of the posh universities, was ‘Pile ’em high and teach ’em cheap’.

Competition creates winners and losers, and the winners gambled in a building and borrowing boom. Universities that reckoned they could grow have borrowed huge sums. According to the Times newspaper, the sector has £10.8bn in debts. UCL tripled their undergraduate recruitment and are building a new campus in East London, where they will be joined by the University of the Arts. Both are borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds.

Meanwhile, other universities, particularly those traditionally recruiting working class or mature students (post-92s, Open and Birkbeck), are seeing student numbers fall. High fees and the opening of spaces in ‘big name’ colleges is hitting them first. The HE funding crisis started at colleges like London Met, and spread across post-92. It is now hitting pre-92 universities through restructuring and redundancies. The employers want to pass the risk and cuts on to staff, as the USS pension fight shows.

No-one is immune.

But the Tories are considering turning a chronic crisis into an acute one. They are leaking proposals from the Augur review of Higher Education funding they commissioned last year. This report seems likely to propose a cut in undergraduate ‘home’ tuition fees to £6,500 at exactly the same time as new EU students are reclassified as ‘overseas’.

Behind the scenes the universities are frantically lobbying the Government to stop the cut unless the Government makes good the difference. At least three prominent Tory ex-ministers have now spoken out publicly. There is no particular need for the Tories to press this button now. But it is a stark reminder that we have battles ahead.

We must not misunderstand the weakness on the Government side. Macho talk from the ‘Office for Students’ that ‘no university is too big to fail’ misses the obvious point that if even one small university closes, several thousands of students will be out on the street with debts and no degree – and the OfS has no Plan B. A spate of college and course closures triggered by Government incompetence would create a massive political crisis. US scandals like Corinthian Colleges and Trump University will be a tea party by comparison.

What does this mean for our ballot? Just like the arguments about Brexit, we have to argue that if we don’t fight, we will lose. A strong YES vote puts us in the best possible position to defend pay and resist job cuts, whether they be triggered by Brexit uncertainty, university restructuring or college closures. It also emphasises the point we made throughout previous strikes on every issue: we ask students to defend staff on strike, because through our strikes, staff are defending Higher Education.

The splits in the Tories show that we have everything to fight for.

In conclusion

The truth is that the collective ability of staff to shape the direction of Higher Education ultimately depends on our ability to win industrial action ballots.

We need to get organised. The stakes could not be higher.

Every member, every activist and every rep must be mobilised.

We have five weeks to defend our sector and win the turnout we need.

Britain is Broken – General Election Now!

Unable to govern a majority in their own party, in parliament or in Britain, the flailing, failing Tory party has finally turned on its desperate “leader”, Theresa May.

38% voted against her in a bruising leadership challenge that further destabilised the party. They know that the majority in this country have no faith in them to deliver, not only Brexit, but the most basic level of services and governance.

We say no matter which way you voted in the European referendum, if you care about ending austerity, if you care about homelessness, if you want to see rail and other privatised utilities taken back into public ownership, then a general election is the only way that this can be done. In short it is driving the Tories from power which is the key question for working people in Britain today.

Today the People’s Assembly have called a National Demonstration to show the will of the people. It’s time to get the Tories out

See Facebook event here – Please share far and wide


Never Trust a Tory

There can be no doubt that the Tories can’t be trusted on the economy. The national debt is now twice what it was in 2010. The Conservative government has borrowed more in the past 8 years than all previous Labour administrations combined.

Austerity was supposed to deal with the debt. Instead it has caused suffering on an almost unimaginable scale. Earlier this year the British Medical Journal reported that 120,000 people died prematurely as a result of austerity between 2010 and 2016. That figure is now likely to be much higher. The Tory government is complicit in these deaths that have been widely described as conscious cruelty; including by the United Nations.

Whoever is charge of the Conservative party the ideology of austerity will continue; in or out of the EU.

Act NOW to get the #TORIESOUT.

We need an all out extra parliamentary, anti austerity demonstration to push the tories over the edge and force a change of government….

Assemble 12 noon: BBC Portland Place, London. Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus

Don’t forget your #YellowVest


This all costs money and unlike the Tories we don’t have any rich donors….. and we know that it is tough times but every little really does help. Please consider donating monthly or once off.

How we won fair pay and conditions at Capital City College Group

Sean Vernell and Carly Grundle explain how UCU at Capital City College Group won their fight for fair pay and conditions.

UCU at Capital City College Group (CCCG) in London have just agreed a pay deal worth 5%. 1,700 staff (Business Support as well as teaching staff) will get the pay rise backdated to September and it will be in their Christmas pay packets. The deal is worth £2,000 a year and up to £140 take home per month.

When we first met the CEO, at the outset of our strike action before the summer, he made it clear to UCU officers that there was ‘no money for a pay award above the AoC’s recommendation of 1% and fractionalisation was not a priority for the college.’

In the end the pay deal was one part of a wider package that was agreed including a fractionalisation agreement (see box for details).

Below is an account of how UCU members at CCCG achieved this landmark deal.


Whilst pay and fractionalisation were the issues that members took action over, the anger at the group ran much deeper. Just over two years ago City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College merged (College of North East London joined the group a year and half later). UCU across both colleges vigorously campaigned against the merger. We did so on the basis that the merger would lead to rationalisation of resources, a narrower educational offer and make the colleges more remote from the communities they were supposed to serve.

It was argued by the college management and the governors that merger would create a more collaborative model with less competition. UCU argued that mergers, which were taking place across the capital, would lead to more competition not less. Rather than 40 Colleges competing with each other, 6 super groups would now battle it out for students and funding across the capital leading to an intensification of competition.

UCU were proven correct. Whilst we did not stop the merger we did manage to launch a high profile campaign that involved producing alternatives to merger and a mass petition campaign. The vast majority of UCU members and business support staff were opposed to the merger.

Life under merger for students and staff got worse. IT systems failed leading to increased stress in the class room, MIS systems did not function and a ‘stack ’em high sell ’em cheap’ ethos became prevalent.

It was the resulting anger towards a top down management style combined with a ‘measure everything that moves culture’ that created great anger amongst staff at CCCG. It was this anger that fed into the campaign for fair pay and fractionalisation.

The campaign: ‘the money is there we want our share’

Whilst opposing the merger we recognised that bringing together two big and relatively financially robust colleges could make our case for fractionalisation and fair pay even stronger.

Officers understood that if the campaign was to be a success we needed to convince our members that not only could the college afford our demands but in fact not doing so would have a detrimental effect on the teaching and learning within the group.

We did this by first making it clear in all of our campaigning materials that this is not just about staff interests it is also about the interests of students. The slogan of, ‘the conditions that lecturers teach in are the same conditions in which students learn in’ was at the forefront of our campaigning.

Secondly, we made the economic case that the money was there to fund our claim. CCCG has a £110m turnover with £36m in reserves. We produced posters with some basic facts: four individuals earned £800,000 between them when it would only cost £1m to fund a 3% pay award to all teaching staff. We publicised the CEO’s pay of £210,000 and the fact that £89,000 in bonuses had been given out to key management personnel in the first year of merger.

The point being made by UCU was simple. Merger had been successful for a small minority, but for the vast majority merger had meant, a cut in wages, an increase in workload and the loss of jobs.

What also helped to build the confidence of membership was the power we had gained by becoming one entity. We now had 500 UCU members organised across 11 different sites that stretched from Enfield in the north through to Soho in central London and Victoria in the South and since the beginning of the campaign the union membership has grown to 612 members – a growth of 22%.

Management attempted to divert our campaign by putting the blame on government. We responded by arguing that whilst we recognised the role of government in slashing FE funding, the money was there at a local level to fund our claim. We made clear that it was UCU’s members who had campaigned for more funding for FE through taking strike action, which on too many occasions, was not supported by college leaders.

We also made it clear that we would work with anyone to get more funds for FE. We argued that this would be easier if the college funded our claim first, allowing us to then go to the government demanding that they pick up the bill.

Eight days of strike action: pickets and lobbies.

Officers, understood that while one day strikes play a role and have helped to achieve some gains, they were not going to be enough to win this battle. From the beginning, officers across the group made it clear to members that it would take sustained action to win our demands.

We stretched our 8 days of strike action over two months and lined up our last phase of action to hit GCSE exams in June. Despite attempts by management to make staff feel guilty for striking on exam days, the strike held firm because we had convinced members that it was the government and management that had put students’ learning experience in jeopardy not their action demanding funding for pay and fractionalisation.

We kept up the pressure directly on the governors and CEO through a mass petition of no- confidence in the CEO and two very noisy and extremely effective lobbies of the governors’ meetings.

The CEO ‘retired’ and a new CEO was appointed. Just before we were about to take three more days of action hitting more GCSE exams, management made an offer on fractionalisation, a one-off bonus payment, no deductions for two days of the strike action (see box for details of offer) and an offer of negotiations with the new CEO in the new year on a local pay deal. UCU agreed to suspend action on this basis.

New CEO and negotiations

In September 2018 UCU entered negotiations with a new CEO. We started the negotiations making it clear that there could be no quid pro quo, we would not sell the furniture for a pay rise. We would not enter negotiations on anything but pay.

The CEO wanted to offer a three-year deal but he wanted a no-strike agreement. We explained that we believe it would be negligent for any trade union to offer management a no-strike agreement. Without this threat, no matter how much of a nice person the CEO was, the union would have given away the main weapon at its disposal.

The idea of a three year pay deal was replaced primarily because the governors were not totally convinced that the CEO could deliver his funding model. Instead the College has an ‘ambition’ to pay a 3% award + inflation for the next two years.

The new CEO at CCCG brought in a new and exciting approach to the group and listened positively to UCU’s arguments calling for a change in direction.

His approach was not one that started with the usual threat of higher pay will cost jobs. In fact, his starting point is that without having decent pay, and a more equal pay structure, the college will not be able to achieve the excellence that we all strive for in education. His argument, and one that UCU has been campaigning for, is that we can’t keep putting forward models that look for longer teaching weeks and more hours teaching per week to fund an award (a model that one of the principals put forward and UCU rejected out of hand).

Rather than blaming pay roll costs as the cause of college finance problems, colleges should look at how the other 35% of their funding is being used. It is clear at CCCG millions have been squandered on IT and MIS systems that don’t work, on over lavish central management structures and the fool’s gold of extensive outsourcing and the use of expensive agency staff and consultants.

It is these areas that will be looked at to help fund the college staff pay rise. A process of bringing all outsourced work back in house will now take place. Rather than deploying an estates strategy that looks to raise funds by selling off buildings, a strategy based on introducing innovative new models by using our estates to raise revenue will be deployed.

The funding of the 5% pay award would initially come from the reserves. This was something that UCU campaigned for and had been told by previous CEO/Principals that ‘colleges could not use reserves to fund pay rises’.

The only concern UCU had was over the proposal that fifty jobs go through natural wastage over three years. Whilst this number is relatively small over a three-year period (around six posts per college per year) we were concerned that this would lead to an increase in workload for our members. Management agreed that these would not be ‘frontline staff (lecturers or Business support)’ and that UCU will monitor with HR the posts to go through natural wastage. With this agreement, and an understanding that these jobs would go anyway, UCU agreed to this.

The CEO made an offer of 4% at the last negotiating meeting but UCU negotiators argued that while this was a significant step forward it still would mean that our members had not caught up on the years of pay cuts. UCU put forward the idea that the pay award should be graduated: those under £55k to get 5% those between £56k and £76k 3% and those earning over £76k to receive no award.

This was agreed.

The CEO also made an important gesture to rebalancing the college pay structure by waiving his right to a bonus and has taken a 5% pay cut and is looking to a further 5% cut in September.

Our claim was for: a 3% + 3% (inflation) = 6% pay claim and to fractionalisation of all Hourly Paid Lecturers (HPLs) who had been working for the group for three years or more for 12 hours or more per week.

What did our campaign achieve?

  • Pay: A 5% increase for 2018/19. This is worth £140 extra a month and will be backdated to September and will be in the December pay packets, as much as £600. The CEO has also made clear that the college has an ambition to pay 3% + inflation for the next two years.
  • New fractionalisation policy: all staff working for 3 years or more on 12 hours or more to be automatically placed onto a permanent contract. So far this year 47 staff have been made permanent. The average increase in income for staff that have been fractionalised on to a 0.5 permanent contract will be £6,000 a year.
  • A £500 one off payment to all staff across the group.
  • Two days of the strike action with no pay deducted.
  • UCU are in positive negotiations around creating a new cross college job description/contract for LSAs with career development opportunities structured in and fractionalisation.

Significance and lessons of dispute:

  • We can win members over to actively support sustained strike action.
  • Sustained strike action can win.
  • We can mobilise permanent staff to fight for better HPLs conditions.
  • There is another way of organising finance. A new model of approaching finance in colleges: Don’t blame the 65% staff cost for a college deficit look at the how managements are using the other 35% etc.
  • Colleges can set deficit budgets.
  • Bringing outsourced services back in house is an important step in pushing back marketisation.
  • The redistribution of funds from the senior management to lower paid staff is not only very popular it is a progressive way of sharing funds.
  • Tackling the LSA contract is huge news in FE. These staff joined the union on mass during the dispute, taking advantage of the free membership offer. At Westminster Kingsway College there are 70 all employed on causal zero-hour contracts.

Sean Vernell, UCU CCCG secretary – Carly Grundle, UCU CCCG chair

Without decent pay you cannot have excellence

Without paying staff a decent wage, you cannot achieve excellence in education, Sean Vernell writes

An article published on 30 November in TES putting the case for a decent pay award.

After University and College Union (UCU) members took eight days of strike action in pursuit of a 6 per cent pay claim, governors from the Capital City College Group (CCCG) took a decisive step to secure fair pay for all staff by offering a 5 per cent pay award to staff.

All staff earning under £55,000 will get the full award. Senior managers who earn between £56,000 and £76,000 will be offered 3 per cent and those above £76,000 will not receive an award this year.

The chief executive has agreed to waive his bonus payments and has announced that he will take a pay cut of 5 per cent as a step towards creating “an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect across the organisation”.

A new approach

The new chief executive at CCCG has brought in an exciting approach to the group and has listened positively to the arguments from union representatives calling for a change in direction.

While recognising the desperate need for more government funding, his approach is not one that starts with the usual threat that higher pay will cost jobs.

In fact, his starting point is that without having decent pay, and a more equal pay structure, then we will not be able to achieve the excellence that we all strive for in education.

His argument – and one that UCU has been campaigning for – is that we can’t keep putting forward models that look for longer teaching weeks and more hours teaching per week to fund an award.

Bringing outsourced work in-house

CCCG, being the largest group in London with a turnover of £121 million with significant reserves, perhaps has more room to manoeuvre than some in the sector.

But rather than blaming payroll costs as the cause of financial problems, colleges should look at how the other 35 per cent of funding is being used.

It is clear at CCCG that millions have been squandered on IT and management information systems that don’t work, on over lavish central management structures and the fool’s gold of the extensive use of outsourcing, agency and consultants.

It is these areas that will be looked at to help fund the staff pay rise. A process of bringing all outsourced work back in-house will also now take place.

‘We need a more fundamental transformation’

Rather than deploying an estates strategy that looks to raise funds by selling off buildings, a strategy based on introducing innovative new models of using buildings to raise revenue will be deployed instead.

For this to work properly we need a more fundamental transformation in the way that college funding is not only sourced, but a longer period of guaranteed funding from the government is essential if colleges are going to be able to plan their futures properly.

It will also mean a new national bargaining framework that ensures every agreement reached is implemented in every college.

The market-led economic and educational principals that drive the sector are ones that have led to the obsessive building up of hugely expensive and wasteful internal bureaucratic structures to measure everything that moves or even blinks in a college.

‘Real student-centred learning’

This has to change. College leaders need to challenge this model as being an outdated one that has proven not to work rather than trying to implement a system that benefits neither the staff nor the student.

The term “the learner” – used to describe those who are being educated – is one that I have always despised. It symbolises one of the worst aspects of this market-driven ethos. The learner as a passive recipient of knowledge.

Teaching and learning is a two-way process. The word student, for me, captures this process more accurately. I look forward to the day that the educational ethos of FE returns to fully grasp an understanding of the role of the student as an educator as well as someone who learns.

The pay award and the fractionalisation agreement the group has also agreed are important steps on the road to ensuring real student-centred learning is established.

‘We need others to follow’

UCU members braved the freezing cold, snow and rain to take action to pursue what they believed was a just cause.

The group’s governing body, in approving this deal, has taken a bold step in the right direction and has signalled they have listened. We need others to follow to create a truly collaborative sector.

Of course, this cannot only be done by rearranging the ever-decreasing funding we get from the government. The unity demonstrated during the #LoveOurColleges week is a unity we must build upon.

These times demand that we be audacious with our ideas and actions if the sector is going to be able to rise to the challenges of the future.

Sean Vernell is the vice-chair of the University and College Union further education committee and CCCG branch secretary

NEC and HEC report November 2018

Corbyn speaking at final rally

The UCU NEC met last week on the run up to important pay strikes in six English FE colleges taking place this week, a successful Love FE demonstration at parliament, a major victory over pay in a merged London FE college and on the back of two important conferences in HE.

The NEC was thus meeting in the face of a series of important actual and potential disputes pushing back against the neo-liberal marketisation agenda of the Tories. It is clear that the transformation in UCU highlighted by the USS strikes is not confined to pre-92 HE. While there is no simplistic reading across from one dispute to another the underlying alienation and frustration across post-16 education is evident throughout the membership of the union. For the union leadership the key question is ‘how does it build the confidence and self-activity of the membership that can turn the frustration into a movement for change?’

A specially convened HEC was also held to discuss the votes for re-balloting of the membership in Higher Education in the New Year over casualisation, equal pay and workloads. UCU won a record turnout and record vote for industrial action in the recent ballot but was insufficient to beat the new Tory anti-union laws, but delegates at the special HE Sector Conference clearly understood the need to maintain the pressure and re-ballot members, after a sustained campaign over casualisation, equal pay and workloads. While proposals for balloting in March, meaning no action could take place during the Spring teaching semester UCU Left members argued to bring forward the ballot to allow for industrial action which could unite the union before teaching had finished. The UCU Left proposal was won by majority vote and HEC committed to launch a re-ballot from the 14th January to the 22nd February to allow for strike action through March.

However, elsewhere the weakness and self-defeatism of too many in the leadership is still far too evident. When the Tories are in self-flagellation mode it was quite remarkable that a minority of the NEC were not willing to vote for two motions, which reasserted UCU Congress policy, calling for a General Election. Fortunately, this minority represents little in our union and were a small voice on the NEC against the clear majority who voted to endorse calls for an immediate general election. Unfortunately, these views are still able to maintain a majority when it comes to other political questions within the union. Thus, while Matthew Hedges, a Durham University PhD student languished in a jail in UAE after being jailed for life, the majority of the NEC felt it acceptable to vote down an emergency motion to support his release for ‘procedural’ reasons. Why his jailers didn’t know the intricacies of the UCU Standing Orders is a mystery. Fortunately, for Matthew Hedges his pardon occurred despite the absurd behaviour of the majority of the NEC. The majority of the NEC’s behaviour would be a joke except that campaigns, such as Matthew’s and many others, need the backing of national trade unions and should not be stifled by ‘procedure’.

Jo McNeil, UCU Left candidate for Vice President in the forthcoming elections, won support for the dispute over performance management erupting at Liverpool University. This is now a dispute of national significance and in the run up to REF will act as a key testbed of industrial relations over the next few years.

Carlo Morelli


Build the pay strikes

Solidarity with FE College strikers

Download the UCU left leaflet for strikes on Wednesday and Thursday.

Cambridge University shows solidarity with City & Islington College

Cambridge University shows solidarity with City & Islington College last year

UCU members at six English colleges will strike for fair pay on Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 November this week.
The action is timed to coincide with the re-opening of a wider ballot of 26 colleges who aim to join the action in the new year. Last year’s FE strikes in a limited number of colleges demonstrated that concerted Get The Vote Out campaigning could push through the anti-union thresholds and win concessions.

Strike action at the three London colleges that make up the Capital City College Group (CCCG) led to a significant victory winning the 5% pay award UCU is claiming for all colleges and fractionalisation rights for casual workers. The new CEO of the Group has also waived his right to a bonus. This deal shows that money can be found. Colleges have not only overpaid their senior managers  while letting staff pay stagnate, but have wasted huge sums of money on new buildings and failed initiatives which should and could have gone to pay staff a decent salary to combat the rising costs of living. The CCCG deal should be rolled out to all colleges.

If even the employers are starting to grasp the idea that it is no longer credible to run a college on low paid teaching and support staff while giving big pay awards to the senior management team (SMT), it is definitely time for us to step up the fight.

Members in FE are sick of watching management ignore the need to recruit and retain staff on decent pay rates and exploit existing workers by ramping up contact hours, pointless data collection tasks and using the threat of redundancy to intimidate.
The value of our pay has fallen by 24% in the last decade, yet SMT have not faced the same level of decline and, in some cases, record pay awards have been made to them in newly merged institutions.
Consistent government underfunding has caused the rot, but a bad situation has been made worse by the ways in which some Colleges have set about chasing the latest fad in funding streams, rewarding the higher paid and closing courses for short term expediency rather than looking to growth.
We want our FE colleges to be effective and progressive. The landmark deal at CCCG shows that the pay fight is at the heart of any action to transform our colleges.   Solidarity for the six on strike this week can help build the fighback and get the vote out in your college or university too. The same managerialism that has laid waste to much of FE is now infecting higher education. The fight for pay is the key to turning this back.
Send messages of support and solidarity to:

Swindon New College (stewart.fraser@, Petroc College (cecily., Bath College (Sarah., Lambeth College (, Bradford College (, Croydon College (

Historic deal at CCCG

Congratulations to UCU members at CCCG. This is a brilliant victory by your members. Staff working in FE are among the lowest paid in the education sector. This award, alongside the fractionalisation agreement is an important step in ensuring staff are valued for the vital work they do. Congratulations to the governing body in agreeing this bold and progressive step forward and I hope this signals a change in direction that the whole sector can follow.

In Solidarity

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor


UCU branches met today across the Capital City College Group (CCCG – City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and the College of North East London) and agreed to settle on the 2018/19 pay claim.  After several weeks of negotiations, the governors have agreed a pay offer of 5% to all staff in the group who earn less than £55k. Senior managers that earn between £56k up to £76k will be awarded 3% and those earning £76k+ will not get a pay increase this year.

The CEO has waived his right to an annual bonus.

The 5% award will be back-dated to September and is worth up to £2K pa which works out as up to £140 per month take home and will be put into the December pay packet. This will mean staff should expect up to £600 extra in their December pay packets.

This is an historic deal which will, we hope, give other colleges the confidence to follow. CCCG is the largest group in London and the third largest in the country.

It has been a breath of fresh air working with the new CEO who has a very different approach to industrial relations and a very clear and optimistic vision about how the group can go forward both financially and educationally.  He made clear from the beginning that UCU’s case was ‘irrefutable’. He agreed that reserves could be used to fund a pay award and it was necessary to pay staff a decent wage to motivate existing staff and to attract a future generation to the sector.

He also made a commitment to bring outsourced services back in-house and believes that contracting out such work is losing the group significant revenue.

A 96% vote for strike action with a 63% turnout kicked off our campaign.  Our members braved snowy and rainy picket lines and lobbied the governors with home-made banners, sang their hearts out demanding ‘the money is there we want our share’. We took 8 days of strike action.  What did those eight days of action achieve?

·         Pay: 5% for 2018/19. This is worth £140 extra a month and will be backdated to September and will be in the December pay packets. The CEO has also made clear that the college has an ambition to pay 3% + inflation for the next two years. This agreement we cover all staff working in the group.

·        New fractionalisation policy: all staff working for 3 years or more on 12 hours or more to be placed onto a permanent contract. So far this year 47 staff have been made permanent. The average increase in income for staff that have been fractionalised on to a 0.5 permanent contract is £6k.

·        A £500 one off payment to all staff across the group and after a mass petition campaign management have agreed to look to extend this one-off payment to outsourced staff.

·         Two days of strike action not deducted.

·        Also, UCU after the strike entered into negotiations around creating a new cross college JD/contract for Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). Many LSAs joined the union during the course of the strike.  Whilst they all benefited from the one-off payment and will benefit from the 5% award but because they are on bushiness support or agency contracts did not benefit from the new fractionalisation policy. Negotiations are yet to be completed however positive moves are being made to place all LSAs onto hourly paid and permanent contracts with career development opportunities structured in and fractionalisation.

UCU at CCCG would like to thank all those who supported us through financial and messages of support. Your solidarity made all the difference to our successful fight for justice. We also would like to offer solidarity to the six FE branches that will be striking on the 28th/29th November and all the branches that are re-balloting.

We hope our victory will soon be yours.

 In solidarity

Sean Vernell, CCCG Secretary

Carly Grundle, CCCG Chair

Report on UCU HE pay sector conference, 7 November

HE votes to re-ballot and campaign on pay, equality, casulisation and workload – prepare to organise and fight

Following a serious debate about strategy, delegates at Wednesday’s HE Sector Conference voted to relaunch a hard-hitting national pay campaign, focusing on pay, equality, casualisation and workload.

Delegates came to the pay conference in the wake of industrial action ballot results which delivered an overall vote of 69% for strikes and 80% for action short of strike on a 42% turnout, the highest figures ever for an HE national pay ballot. However, as we know, only eight out of 147 branches of the union exceeded the 50% turnout threshold required under the Tory anti-trade union legislation.

The debate

Given the solid support for action there was no desire to wind up the pay campaign.

But there were tactical and strategic differences about how to go forward.

  • A number of motions (composite motion 1, and motions 2 and 3) argued for a selective re-ballot of members in branches which had come close to reaching the threshold. Motion 1 used the 35% turnout as a benchmark, allowing others to opt in. This would be a ‘disaggregated’ ballot, counted branch-by-branch, just like the most recent ballot and the USS ballot.
  • Against this position was a motion (Motion 5) which argued for an aggregated national ballot in the Spring Term and for fighting over next year’s pay claim. This means that all members get to vote, and all votes are counted centrally. The delay would offer branches some additional time to prepare.

The conference heard how branches such as Herriot Watt had sailed over the threshold (achieving a 65% turnout) by implementing a meticulous GTVO campaign. If this experience were generalised across the union, combined with speaking tours by HEC members and other measures, many more branches could reach the threshold in time to take action alongside those which already have a valid ballot.

The merits of aggregated and disaggregated ballots was debated. An aggregated ballot would mean that if the 50% threshold was crossed, all members could strike and take ASOS together. It would be a national strike as well as a national claim. But the disadvantage is that if the 50% threshold was not crossed, the dispute would be over. It is one roll of the dice.

The recent turnout at 42% is a lot higher than the ~35% turnout in 2016, but there is still some way to go to reach 50%. We would all be in it together, but there is an increased risk of not getting over the threshold. The fact that branch results would be hidden in the total also tends to soften the responsibility of individual branch activists to fight to reach 50% in their own institution. This is why UCU Left believe that in light of the Tory union thresholds, we have nothing to lose by disaggregating a national ballot.  A national pay campaign, if necessary, could be led by a significant number who reached the thresholds. 

For this tactical reason, UCU Left members argued to mount a disaggregated ballot and to build on the current ballot result. As one speaker put it, “our task is to march every branch over the 50% threshold” in pursuit of the national claim, an act that would strengthen their ability to fight independently in front of their own employer. Continue reading