Branch reps in mandated UCU branches were astonished to read yet another email on Monday from HQ asking them whether or not members were ready to launch a marking and assessment boycott. They were asked to respond in 24 hours.
Branches had been told to expect an email of Frequently Asked Questions about the marking boycott. But in this email there was no statement about how the boycott would be actioned and members supported. Nothing about the mechanics of the marking boycott and how strike action might back up ASOS – only that deductions ‘would face the immediate threat of strike action’.
It is not surprising that ordinary branch activists, reps and members feel abandoned. From the very start of this dispute rank and file reps have had to fight to push it forward, and ever since the last ballot mandate, the General Secretary has made it clear she favours not using it. Branches feel surveyed to death!
After delayed SHESCs, branch delegate meetings and HECs, and delays in issuing the mandate so that in many branches marking has mostly been done, members can see that the GS does not want the marking boycott to go ahead.
Democracy in our dispute
Perhaps most shockingly, the message asked reps whether their branch would continue to fight if others dropped out, either because the timing was wrong or members did not feel supported. The email sought to undermine the very premise of trade union collective action in a national dispute. This is a profoundly anti-democratic proposal.
The democratic solution is to call an urgent branch delegate meeting for branch reps with a mandate, to thrash out what the union should do. That is precisely what Motion 6 at both SHESCs called for.
Until such time as branches collectively decide to stand down a marking boycott, it should go ahead. In the meantime, there is no time to lose. No action should be stood down, and HQ should get their FAQs out!
Twinning, solidarity and keeping up the fight
Branches currently without a mandate need to invite reps from branches with a mandate to ‘twin’ and raise funds to support whatever action they decide to take.
Members not taking action should be encouraged to think about serious donations, such as a day’s pay for every week that a branch is boycotting. This way we can ensure members who do face pay docking are supported.
And we need to start preparing the ground now for a long reballot over the summer, to bring as many branches out as possible together at the start of term.
The stakes are extremely high. On the one hand we can all see universities like De Montfort and Wolverhampton attempting to make cuts in Higher Education.
On the other, the employers can be forced to concede over Four Fights, pay and pensions. The employers are exposed over their complicity in making unnecessary USS cuts, and some are prepared to offer huge bribes to staff to break the strike. We can win, but we need to stand together.