The ballot results for the Four Fights echoed the excellent USS results, and in some cases surpassed them. Not only did some branches who missed the USS threshold by a whisker get over the line, but they were joined by a group of post-92 branches. Overall, 54 branches now have a mandate to take strike action over the Four Fights, 37 over USS. In total 58 branches can strike over one or other dispute.
These results prove yet again that despite all the odds against us, we can organise in our branches and that there is an appetite amongst members to take industrial action over pay, pensions, equality, workloads and casualisation. No other union is in this position of strength.
What we need now is for hard-hitting action to begin as soon as possible this term, alongside reballots of the branches which missed the threshold with a view to joining escalating action in the New Year.
Unfortunately, this is not the strategy that the General Secretary wants the Higher Education Committee to implement when it meets on Friday.
The General Secretary is proposing one day of strike in each dispute before Xmas. This is token action of the type that the previous GS was derided for and which UCU Congress definitively put behind us when it endorsed the recommendations of the Commission for Effective Industrial Action a few years ago. Bringing branches out on different days for USS and Four Fights also undermines unity by decoupling the disputes. That’s why HEC decided on joint strikes starting with five days.
The threat of a maximum of two days’ action, with nothing more promised for the spring term, will not worry the employers.
It is good that the General Secretary is in favour of reballoting branches which missed the threshold in the USS ballot, but her proposal to delay this until the New Year would lose valuable momentum in the dispute. We have no time to lose. We need to press home our advantage to force the employers to back down.
The General Secretary is mistaken in advocating to full, aggregated reballot in the Four Fights. The justification for aggregation is that our overall average turnout was marginally over 50%. Everyone would like to be able to get an aggregate mandate for the whole membership to come out. But there is no guarantee that we would reach 50% next time, it would divert the efforts of branches striking over USS, and will undermine the mandates that branches have worked so hard to achieve.
Downgrading the Four Fights
This is a strategy which is simultaneously not strong enough to win the USS dispute, and which would effectively put the Four Fights on hold. In both cases it overturns the positions taken democratically by delegates of branches at two Sector Conferences and by the Higher Education Committee.
The General Secretary’s “survey” based on asking members if they approve of her proposed strategy undermines the democratic processes of our union. Democracy requires an informed debate of the pros and cons, not a plebiscite.
Members must debate and decide
This is a crucial moment. Branches need to mandate their delegates to Friday morning’s meeting to answer No to most of the questions. This includes rejecting reducing the Four Fights to a battle over casualisation, something that will not worry the employers. Winning job security for our casualised members is centrally important, but so are the workload crisis, pay gaps and the erosion of our pay. Indeed, shocking workloads during the pandemic is a major factor explaining the strength of the votes.
Instead of the General Secretary’s strategy we need a strategy of more strike days this term, with further days identified for next term. This should be combined with immediate reballots, in both disputes, of branches which didn’t make the threshold, using a ballot window long enough to maximise their chances but finishing in time to join the next wave of action in the spring term.
The GS does not set policy in our union – the members do.
UCU Left is calling a meeting open to activists, all branch delegates and HEC members next Thursday.
Four Fights and USS: After the ballots, start the fight now!
Open pre-meet for Friday’s Branch Delegate Meeting and HEC.
Thursday 11th November, 7pm
Model motion for branches
This branch notes
- The excellent votes for action in ballots
- The new strategy proposed by the General Secretary in her address and email on Friday.
This branch believes
- The results are a testament to the hard work of branch officers and activists and the willingness of members to fight in over pensions, pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
- One day of strike action in each dispute this term is token action which will not be effective.
- A full, aggregated ballot over the Four Fights is an unnecessary gamble.
- While casualisation is important, so are pay, pay equality and workloads.
This branch resolves
- To mandate its delegates to the Branch Delegate Meeting to argue for five days of joint strike action on both disputes this term, with escalating action identified for the New Year.
- To propose maintaining the Four Fights as Four Fights.
- To propose immediately re-balloting all branches which did not make the threshold in either or both disputes.
- To reject aggregation of the re-ballots