If we don’t fight, we lose

Which HESC motions should be supported, and which opposed?


The two current disputes in Higher Education are of the utmost importance to UCU and its members in the sector. Both are fuelled by the employers’ desire to drive down the proportion of their spending which goes to staffing. Under the impact of marketisation and competition between institutions, senior managements at richer and poorer universities alike have adopted this as their primary goal.
The pre-92 universities have decided that the sector-wide pension scheme is too expensive and that its mutualised character does not fit with the competitive environment. All institutions are happy to hide behind the most cash-strapped institutions in justifying continual below-inflation pay awards year after year. They are also determined to resist any binding sector-wide limitations on the use of casualised contracts or on workloads, and are quite comfortable with the gender and race pay gaps that afflict the sector.


We need industrial action in both disputes this autumn

It is clear that we need to fight both these disputes this year. It is also clear that the action we take needs to start well before the end of the autumn term to give ourselves time to escalate and create the leverage on the employers that we need.

We know that our employers are increasingly vulnerable to industrial action. Determined strike action fought off the initial attack on pensions in 2018, and more recently a series of local fights against redundancies, especially by the Liverpool branch, have confirmed the power of industrial action to achieve results.

Thursday’s Special HESC needs to commit the union to organising action in both the USS dispute and the Four Fights. We need an immediate campaign to build support among members, a balloting timetable and a plan for industrial action in both disputes. Any delay would simply hand the initiative to the employers and create confusion and demoralisation among members.  

Motions to oppose

Most of the motions on the agenda contribute to that goal and should be supported. The exceptions are those which would mean a delay in one or both of the disputes.


Motion 1 needs to fall because it removes the threat of industrial action over USS. The position of union negotiators is strengthened by action and the credible threat of action. Delaying action will merely allow time for the USS to drive through the changes to the scheme they want. Branch delegates must decide the timing of action, not leave it up to negotiators. As Conference Business Committee (CBC) has indicated, if Motion 1 is passed, a number of good motions on the agenda would automatically fall.


Amendment 3A.1 from Kent seeks to lengthen the window for an industrial action ballot. A longer window can sometimes help to get the vote out, but the delay that this would cause to taking action is too high a price to pay. This amendment should be opposed and if passed, Motion 3 should be opposed as well.


Motion B4 would commit the union to conditional indexation of USS. This would make our pensions conditional on a number of uncontrollable variables. Agreeing to explore conditional indexation would represent a capitulation to the argument that the existing arrangements are unaffordable and would encourage further attacks by our employers. We need to focus our energies on overturning the flawed valuation and defending the guaranteed benefits of the existing scheme.

Motion 10 should be opposed because it would effectively mean no fight over pay, equality, casualisation or workloads this academic year. Fighting over USS only would send a message to members in post-92 institutions that UCU is primarily a union for the old universities. And it would be a betrayal of our women and black members as well as all the young, casualised members upon whose energy and commitment the fight to defend USS depends.


CBC has ruled that if Motion 11 passes, Motions 12 and 13 automatically fall. This appears to be based on an interpretation of Motion 11 that the two disputes should not be fought concurrently and that industrial action for each should not be combined. Motions 12 and 13 do not in fact advocate treating USS and Four Fights as one dispute, but since it is not possible to challenge CBC’s ruling, Motion 11 must be opposed, because Motions 12 and 13 further the cause of uniting the union behind action over pensions and the Four Fights.

Voting advice summary

UCU Left recommends voting in the following ways on the motions:


Timing of action on USS – Bangor. Oppose because it delays action and because of the series of consequentials identified by CBC.

2A.1 compositing amendment – UCL. Support. 
2. Enact HE12 now – Imperial & UCL. Support whether amended or not.

3A.1 – Kent. Oppose because though a longer ballot window might be useful, its effect would be to undermine the possibility of action in the autumn term. 
3. Defend USS defined benefits – Lancaster. Support even if unamended, Oppose if amended.

Defend USS defined benefits – Glasgow. Support

Defending defined benefit – Dundee. Support

B4 Conditional indexation of USS – Bangor. Oppose

Lobby MPs on USS – Lancaster. Support

7A.1 – Anti-cas cttee. Support. 
7. Four Fights & USS – Newcastle. Support whether amended or not.

Ballot on pay with USS – UCL. Support

Four Fights – Brighton. Support

10A.1 – Swansea. Oppose.
10A.2 – Anti-cas cttee. Support (Same as 7A.1). 
10 What a win looks like – Nottingham. Oppose whether amended or not (point d shelves the Four Fights).

11 Separating the disputes – Glasgow Caledonian. Oppose because of CBC guidance that Motions 12 & 13 will fall if it passes.

12 Combine Four Fights & USS – Leeds. Support

13 Building member-led action – Dundee. Support

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