HEC report: USS dispute, 8 March 2018 

UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) met in the midst of the most significant battle the union has ever fought.

The employers have been dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table only as a result of our significant strike action. They clearly hoped that, having imposed changes in the scheme through the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, UCU would be unable to stop the changes being implemented.

Our strike action has proved them wrong. But it still took several days of strikes by unprecedented numbers of staff, in public on picket lines and in private at home, to force the employers to the recognition that they would have to negotiate.

Our strike action has brought the employers to the negotiating table, and only further strike action can compel the employers to settle the dispute. Negotiations are ongoing, and the situation is changing from day to day.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt paid tribute to the ordinary members of UCU who had stepped up and taken strike action and in the process had transformed the union. The picture was of a stronger, more confident trade union that was growing day by day.

Further action

HEC agreed to keep action on until the negotiations obtained a result to the satisfaction of members, and to authorise further hard-hitting strike action, including during the exam marking period should the need arise.

Dates for this new potential action have not been announced. The detail of when action should be called will be discussed with branches in order to be the most effective. The aim is to use the strike strategy that has proven so effective at uniting members thus far, during the exam period in such a way as to stop or limit marking without requiring a new ballot. There will be an attempt to coordinate dates UK-wide as far as possible, but the emphasis would be in having a serious impact on any remaining teaching and examination marking.


A delegate meeting of union reps, one per branch, has been called in the UCU HQ office in London next Tuesday to consider the outcome of the negotiations. If sufficient progress is made an HEC following this meeting could suspend the action for a ballot of members. If that offer is not acceptable, the action, and negotiations, would continue.

Sally Hunt repeated the point she had made at a meeting of reps last week, that she wanted a broader group of members than HEC alone to make that decision. Our action has been successful because very many ordinary members ‘own’ the dispute and therefore UCU’s decision making processes should be more inclusive than has been the case in the past. It goes without saying that UCU Left supports this position – our principal aim is to build a broader, member-led, democratic union.

Unity and debate

Motions and papers on the above were passed unanimously. There was a collective understanding across the HEC of the importance of keeping the action on.

However not every motion was passed unanimously. On some issues there was debate, although UCU Left members carried the day.

HEC passed a motion to lobby relevant ministers on steps that would make a ‘status quo’ (no change) deal more likely, including seeking a commitment from government to guarantee the pension scheme until the next valuation. Two UCU Left members had submitted a paper to HEC detailing steps that could be taken to reach such a deal.

HEC also voted to

  • advise negotiators on parameters of an acceptable deal (these were stricter than those previously circulated by UCU)
  • address pay docking made for non-rescheduling of lectures by immediately beginning new ballots for strike action (so further strikes could ensue even if the pension dispute were settled)

The action is working. Negotiations are complicated and often confidential. But members should be clear that the employers know they need to make a deal to resolve this dispute quickly.

As we have explained, the cheapest solution for the employers is to accept there is no deficit, and the fastest way to get a settlement is by getting government to accept the negligible risk of scheme default. The USS Trustee Board would be indemnified, the Pension Regulator would have no job to do, and the scheme would not be changed. If the guarantee were then made permanent it would secure USS for the future.

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