Under Continued Uncertainty (UCU) continues to respond to member demands for action with delays and inaction.
At the Special HEC, belatedly held on 14th August, motions for strike action in September under the current mandate and a reballot to re-launch the dispute were passed – Two steps forward – one step back . Yet members and branches have still yet to be notified.
YES to keep the MAB ON
When it comes to the MAB we are now being faced in an e-ballot with a Hobson’s choice of end the MAB with no agreement or carry on with no support from UCU. The majority of the HEC, in the IBL and UCU Commons factions, voted for an e-ballot on the MAB. They hope the failure of UCU to financially support MABers through the strike fund and a failure to extend the MAB with further strike action would be sufficient to shut the dispute down.
UCU Left would encourage members to retain the MAB, despite the obstacles being put in its way. In short, the main argument is to keep up the pressure on the employers. Despite everything, members want to continue to fight, and the employers are on the defensive.
If members vote Yes to end the MAB it will be because they have been let down by their union leadership, who failed to lead the MAB itself and then focused its energies in trying to persuade the employers not to make deductions they had already said they would make. Some of our members are being held to ransom by employers who, far from cutting deductions, have threatened continuous deductions until the work has been marked.
The answer must be for the whole union to rally around them and hit back, not to back down.
Many members will vote Yes with a very heavy heart. So what are the arguments for voting No, and can the dispute still be won?
Vote No because the employers will interpret a large Yes vote as the union backing down.
Vote No to maximise the impact of the MAB. An early exit to the MAB means employers will demand members start marking immediately. They will demand marks from the earliest date possible. We know that the employers will seek to put pressure on members to mark work as soon as possible to exploit any gap in the mandate. Why would we want to make that ‘gap’ wider?
Even if the MAB ended on 30 September, the impact will continue far into the next academic session, as student complaints come in. Every ‘circumvented’ mark could be challenged by students and may need to be re-marked by the original lecturer.
We are in a long-term fight with our employers about the kind of university we need. Central to this is the position of staff and the affordability of working in the sector.
Vice Chancellors have stopped thinking about universities in terms of academic excellence and instead view them as little more than a poorly regulated corporation for making money out of students. The dispute has demonstrated that they are prepared to rip up academic standards in order to hold down staff pay. Their first public response to rising inflation was to demand that student fees be increased to £12,000, something that even Rishi Sunak’s Government could not stomach!
This is the context in which the ballot will resume, with strike action taking place as students return to campus, and VCs attempting to steamroller staff and students.
Last year was a horrendous year for VCs, as they were exposed in selling students a degree where large amounts of teaching were missed and then student work was marked by non-specialists or unmarked. With the falling value of home undergraduate fees universities rely more and more on high fees paid by overseas students. More disruption to teaching (and potentially marking) next year is not sustainable, and the employers know it.
We should be using the September strikes to link with UNISON and UNITE to show the potential of shutting down the whole sector with indefinite strikes. But to do so requires democratic control over the union.
Branches need to meet and let members decide collectively on their view on the MAB.