UCU HEC 15th February 2019
Equality and respect
HEC on 15th February has met a new low. And it has had some real lows at times. UCU Left members walked out following patronising sexist behaviour towards an NEC member, Vicky Blake, for submitting a motion facilitating the working of the National Disputes Committee.
Jo McNeill complained that the description of Vicky Blake’s motion as ‘incompetent’ and ‘incoherent’ were clearly focused at the author of the motion not the motion itself. While a political discussion debating the issues, eventually leaving HEC to pass three of the four elements of the motion, was constructive a walkout took place before lunchtime as a result of the chair’s offensive and sexist comments. After lunch a refusal to even acknowledge the problem chairing had caused led to a motion of no confidence in the chair. This behaviour ‘has no place in our union’ stated Pura Ariza, NEC women’s rep, when proposing no confidence in the chair and calls were made for a new chair to complete the meeting. The vote 13 for a vote of no confidence and 15 against with one abstention raises an important question about how activists should respond when oppressive behaviour takes place.
Chairing a meeting can be a difficult task but when offence is taken it is a simple task to apologise and move on. However, such chairing has taken place before with complaints asking for the chair to ‘reflect on their behaviour’. The arguments involve a much wider issue of how UCU is run. UCU’s transformation wasn’t simply about a large number of new members joining the union for the first time. It was a process of change in the union that led to a whole new generation of new activists demanding control over THEIR union. Many of the officers running the committees simply react with hostility and bullying to the voices of activists reflecting and supporting these new views.
On more positive areas of discussion Jo McNeill raised a motion, passed unanimously, calling for the abolition of REF and opposing the recent REF guidance suggesting outputs from staff made redundant could be submitted by universities in their units of assessment.
The National Disputes Committee is also to be facilitated with bringing motions to Congress and will be expanded to include pre-92 reps when discussions over the pay equality, casualization and workloads campaign begins. This is all dependent upon the on-going ballot being successful. We have a week to ensure the ballot papers are returned and a successful vote for action takes place.
The pay inequality, casualisation and workloads ballot continues until 22nd February. Strike action is now being planned if the vote goes in favour of action and the threshold met. USS and TPS pension disputes could emerge if no agreement is made on contribution rates and benefits in both pension schemes. Motions from UCU Left members focused upon the need to ready members for ballots for industrial action of the pension schemes face cuts. This year’s pay and equality claim is still under discussion with the other unions. Input from members included strengthening the equality pay gap element to include action to fully close the ethnicity, disability and intersectionality (multiple discrimination) pay gaps in addition to that on gender and strengthen the measures to move to fractional employment, including by ensuring that this does not lead to a loss of pay or jobs of currently hourly paid workers.
In combination with the delays resulting from this incident of patronising behaviour, poor chairing led to even more business than usual falling off the agenda. This included motions from members on USS and emergency motions about protecting post-92 pensions, the financial improprieties and financial crisis at De-Montford University and supporting school students walking out against climate change. These are all important issues. The timing out of discussion of implementation of HE Sector Conference motions means that this issue has not yet been discussed by HEC and that elected members have been unable to fulfill their role of oversight of the implementation of motions from the union’s highest decision making body. Important papers on anti-casualisation and academic-related professional staff could not be presented and one of pensions was rushed through in about three minutes. This is not fair to the members of staff who have put a lot of time into compiling these papers and leads to the loss of input from elected members and the opportunity of discussion and answering questions.
HEC congratulated Queen Margaret University UCU on winning its dispute and defeating proposals for compulsory redundancies after one day of strike action. Hopefully, this and other successes, including those in FE on pay, will be well publicised and encourage UCU members to take action where necessary and discourage and defeat management.