HEC unites around a programme to rebuild the disputes
The Higher Education Committee met on Friday to discuss the state of the industrial action campaigns over Four Fights and USS. It was the first opportunity for HEC to meet since the HE Sector Conference and a Branch Delegate Meeting.
After some debate, HEC voted overwhelmingly (with only 6 votes against) to support a strategy involving updating the grounds of dispute, triggering dispute procedures, and building a serious campaign for action in the Autumn term, with a conjoined ballot if the employers do not move.
HEC had been asked to address a complex picture. At Sector Conference on June 2 delegates had voted for motions calling for two long aggregated ballots over both disputes, one over the summer from early June (i.e. immediately) intended to provide a mandate for action in the Autumn term (HE6), and one from October to January for a mandate into June (HE7). These motions were agreed by Conference to be entirely compatible and if both were successful would put the union in a position to call action over these disputes at strategically key times over the academic year.
However Motion HE6 was not implemented and instead a Branch Delegate Meeting was called on Monday prior to HEC. Delegates were asked a series of questions that were only circulated the previous Wednesday. HE officers had no input into these questions, some of which directly contradicted the position of Sector Conference.
It had also been intimated to members that voting for a summer ballot would face legal challenges, and unsurprisingly that meant that the proposal for an already-delayed summer ballot was supported only by a minority, even though it had been supported by three sector conference votes. (This legal advice was never given to BDM delegates, HEC or HE officers.)
HEC was presented with the results of this consultation. The process was obviously democratically flawed, but HEC took the view that given the need to win an aggregated ballot it was essential to be mindful of the view of members.
Meanwhile, other trade unions have been gearing up to take action over pay and the Cost of Living crisis. With 3% likely to be imposed in August, and inflation at 11%, UNISON has said that they will ballot HE members over the 2022-23 pay claim over the summer from the end of July. The school teaching unions NEU and NASUWT intend to ballot in the early autumn.
Planning the disputes
HEC voted to establish updated grounds of dispute over Four Fights and USS and thereby avoid any risk of legal challenge.
HEC voted for a first ballot in early autumn which would permit UCU members to take action alongside UNISON and schoolteachers. There must be a campaign of action, led by the General Secretary, to build this ballot.
HEC also agreed to run a second ballot to end in early 2023 to ensure a marking and assessment boycott mandate into the exam period. Branches have been learning from the boycott campaign this year and a much bigger marking boycott may turn into a reality.
Making sure boycotting branches win
HEC also voted to call on UCU to actively and publicly support those branches currently engaged in a marking boycott right now.
HEC was told that Queen Mary UCU members are facing the threat of losing 42 days’ pay over two months. It is essential that the whole union rallies around.
Branches still in boycott include Queen Mary, RCA, Bournemouth and Goldsmiths.
HEC noted “the effectiveness of locally-organised marking and assessment boycotts, backed up by twinning campaigns to obtain USS statements and local demands under the Four Fights umbrella and defy pay docking — despite UCEA calling for 100% deductions since 2006.”
HEC made it clear that it is strategically imperative to ensure these disputes win and are seen to win.
HEC demanded that these disputes are prioritised internally within UCU and publicly, with publicity emphasising that UCU nationally stands behind branches and members facing pay-docking. As part of this the General Secretary was asked to make a declaration of unequivocal support for boycotting branches and to call on the whole union and wider trade union movement to offer solidarity.
Beyond this, boycotting branches must be consulted about next steps, including financial support for local hardship funds and potential legal action.