HEC report 14 August 23 – Two steps forward, one step back

HEC agrees to call strike action before the end of the ballot period and launch reballot as soon as possible.

But HEC was also told that this reballot would take five weeks to prepare, which was a shock to those in attendance. If this is true – and it has not been confirmed formally – then this will open up a large gap in our mandates. 

Indeed if this were true, then union officials should have told HE officers and begun preparations months ago! Sector Conference had put the union on notice that a long summer ballot was required. Delaying HEC meetings, failing to implement HE19 and now stating that time delays would be required before the ballot commenced – all of these delays appear deliberate.

Moreover, had UCU members at Friday’s BDM been told such a delay was inevitable there would have been uproar. Were this information circulated earlier still, it would have affected how branches voted.

On Monday a motion calling for branches to take strike action in one of the last two weeks of September (allowing for flexibility) was passed. At the same time, another motion calling for an e-ballot to consult members over potentially winding down the MAB was agreed. 

USS was taken out of the reballot motion after a closely-contested debate. It is clear that some members of HEC are influenced by the idea that reballoting on USS would be seen as an act of ‘bad faith’ in the negotiations – despite this being the same brutal negotiating space which saw UUK impose draconian cuts on members’ benefits for two years, cuts UUK admitted at the time were unnecessary.

With the employers openly seeking to exploit the turnaround in USS fortunes for themselves and cut contributions, we think it is a mistake to take any negotiations over the pension scheme merely on trust. We will need to revisit this question urgently!

What next?

Branches should call meetings of members as soon as possible and invite HEC members and negotiators. 

Many branches are still facing major deductions for MAB participation. We need to signal to employers that the more they try to intimidate members the more they undermine goodwill from the very staff they need to mark student work and address complaints.

We should all be preparing for strikes in September to show the employers we are not defeated. Branches should ask for a discussion with HE officers about alternative strike dates if term does not begin until October (the HEC motion passed mentions flexibility). 

We should also begin a debate about the kind of action we need to see next year to win. Many members are drawing the conclusion we need indefinite strike action that the employers cannot wait out.

Branch reps should prepare for another GTVO effort, and use it to recruit more members.

In USS branches we will also need to campaign to demand employers accept UCU’s priorities for benefit restoration over their desire for a ‘pension holiday’ and cutting contributions. It was a mistake for HEC to postpone a ballot on USS, but that does not stop branches campaigning.

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