After 15 months of HE and FE employers using the pandemic as a justification for attacking the jobs, pay and conditions of their staff, this year’s UCU Congress and Sector Conferences needed to orient and arm the union for a serious campaign of resistance.
It is an achievement that despite the pandemic and the attacks by the employers UCU is continuing its democratic processes. We appreciate the contributions of Congress delegates and the work of staff in ensuring that Congress happened. We need to build a democratic union, which draws on the participation of all members, to build the resistance against the employer offensive.
Despite the online conditions and the delayed, individualised voting, this appears to have happened. All the key motions enabling a serious fightback to be launched were passed.
Now these motions need to be put into effect along with a clear timetable for action in both sectors.
In Higher Education, the fight is on to defend the USS pension scheme and to relaunch the Four Fights. Not only were motions passed committing the union to organise action over these issues, but Four Fights motion HE2 was amended to ensure that the ballots and action in the two battles should be coordinated. This makes sense. Separating these fights would mean dividing pre-92 from post-92 members, younger members from those nearing retirement, and would make no sense given that pay, pensions, equality and casualisation are inextricably linked.
We should ballot for both disputes simultaneously on a disaggregated basis to maximise the number of branches that can take action in the autumn.
But the drive for unity must not stop there. Some 20 Further Education branches are already moving to ballot over pay. What better way to signal to government and bosses that our union is determined to fight in defence of post-16 education as a whole than by beginning with coordinated strike days involving all branches with a mandate for action?
NEC and its sectoral subcommittees must put in place the necessary mechanisms for beginning this process at their forthcoming meetings before the summer break. They must also enact the commitments to supporting members in local disputes by paying strike pay demanded by Motion 39 and L4.
Congress and HE Sector Conference also confirmed the determined opposition of our union to the imposition of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The national leadership must now act on this policy by supporting branches to resist the threat to academic freedom and freedom of speech that this definition represents. Congress again overwhelmingly expressed its solidarity with the Palestinians, but this will be meaningless if a climate of fear succeeds in suppressing expressions of support for the Palestinian cause on our campuses.
Congress 2021 also demonstrated UCU’s commitment to keeping equality at the heart of the union. Motions dealt with practical proposals for advancing our equality agenda in respect of Black Members, Disabled Members, LGBT+ members, Migrant Worker Members and Women Members. These equality issues must be represented in our campaigning and bargaining work.