Too slow, too timid and too obstructive
HEC met on 26 February amid over a dozen universities making redundancies and victimising trade union activists. However, the resistance of members in branches means employers are not getting their own way. Branches are winning ballots and taking action. Striking members at UEL were supported by over 200 activists in their rally this week. On pay 90% of members rejected the pay freeze being ‘offered’ by the employers. Our sister union in Scotland, EIS, successfully balloted its members in FE, with a 60% turnout and a 90% vote for industrial action, and are set to launch a national strike against the demotion of lecturers to instructors.
Only last night our General Secretary, Jo Grady, again spoke up for members on the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme in challenging attempts to bring staff back into colleges and universities during the summer in some half-baked notion of ‘catch-up’ for students.
However, UCU’s HEC is far too slow to respond to these events and is failing to provide a lead to members. The gap between the actions of branches, statements from our General Secretary and the leadership of the union is getting dangerously wide. Motions brought to HEC by elected delegates in support of those branches in dispute, calling for these disputes to be given the national prominence they deserve are not being heard. For two consecutive meetings none of these motions have been debated and voted on.
The HEC is dominated by reports from officials and officers laced with pessimism aimed at stifling any fightback. While voting on motions is to be held afterwards, in order to maximise the time for discussion, the direction of travel is clear. We heard lots of reasons why UCU cannot launch a campaign among the membership over pay. Members have shown a massive rejection of the pay offer yet the leadership is arguing to ‘defer’ any decision on a campaign or mobilisation for industrial action. We should remind ourselves that this year, in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic universities have record numbers of students attending. Numbers rose, not fell, in September as unemployment levels rose and students flooded into higher education. The same is true for 2021-22; UCAS applications and overseas applications are up. There is money for pay, there is money for jobs and there is money for pensions, ending casualisation, ending pay inequalities and recruiting more staff to lower workloads.
With the USS Trustees on the verge of releasing their decision on contribution rates which have been widely publicised as being between 40-60%, with the inevitable slashing of benefits that will follow, UCU is dragging its heels on preparing the ground for delegates meetings, a Special HE Sector Conference, let alone anything close to launching a campaign for industrial action. Indeed, one member even went so far as to argue that there is a deficit in the scheme and cuts were inevitable. In one of the only votes to take place a proposal to even consider the submission of a motion to the 2021 National HE Sector Conference on bringing a legal case against USS was rejected by 17 voted to 14. If a leadership cannot even have the audacity to put forward a motion, can we really have trust in their ability to lead a fight to defend our pay, pensions or jobs?
UCU elections to the NEC end next week. Without a change in the leadership a defence of members will have to come from the rank and file. Members need to vote for principled left candidates in UCU Left but, above all else, join the growing numbers organising for change from below in our union.