Getting the HE disputes back on track

Delegates from dozens of branches gathered at a Branch Delegate Meeting yesterday to discuss where we are in the HE disputes. The meeting was called by London Region UCU in the absence of a BDM organised by UCU HQ.

It is clear that the ‘pause’ in action called by our General Secretary has caused enormous anger and confusion among members. Delegates reported on the discussions that have taken place in their branches since that decision was announced. 

There was near-unanimity that not only had there be insufficient movement from the employers to justify suspending strike action, but the decision was not the General Secretary’s to make. No e-plebiscite based on a loaded question retrospectively justifies the exclusion of elected negotiators, the Higher Education Committee (HEC) and the entire membership from decision-making.

Many branches have passed motions supporting the addition of more strike days in the weeks of 13th and 20th March to replace the cancelled days, including especially March 15th, Budget Day, when we can strike and march alongside NEU and PCS members.

Most branches represented also backed the lobby of the HEC meeting today at 10am at UCU HQ in Carlow Street.

UCU Left members on HEC welcome this. At today’s meeting we will be arguing for five additional days in March, including 15th, to make a two-week block of strike action in the time that remains before terms ends in many institutions.

We will vote for a Special Higher Education Sector Conference to be called to give members back control of the dispute and for the establishment and spread of strike committees to increase democratic engagement. Democracy is essential for the successful outcome of our disputes. 

The truth is that the General Secretary’s decision for a ‘period of calm’ has put the brakes on the momentum our action was beginning to develop, throwing away the chance for planned joint action with the National Education Union next week. It also seems to have had unfortunate knock-on effects with RCN suspending its action for talks.

Of course it is necessary to extend our mandate with a reballot. We cannot let the employers wait us out and then impose the real-terms pay cut for next year as well as this. But the General Secretary has again pitched the reballot as though voting Yes will be enough to shift the employers. 

The evidence of our own experience as well as that of other unions is that an impressive ballot result is not enough. Only hard-hitting action can deliver victory. It may be necessary to revisit the issue of indefinite action which HEC voted for last November but which the General Secretary opposed. And we need to position our struggle within the wider fight against the cost of living crisis in order to win the support of students and other workers. 

We will let you know as soon as possible what is agreed at today’s HEC meeting.

Please join the London Region of Carlow Street this morning at 10am if you can.

Please join the UCU Left open meeting on Tuesday to discuss where we are in the dispute and don’t forget to vote for UCU Left candidates in the NEC elections which close on Wednesday 1st March.


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