UCU NEC Report March 2024

National, not local, strategies are needed to win better pay and conditions

Friday’s NEC showed that far from strengthening her position at the top of UCU after her re-election, Jo Grady will find it increasingly difficult. There will be no honeymoon period for the General Secretary as the strategy she is pushing will not help members. 

In HE members are facing a growing offensive. But the GS made it clear that the only strategy she will back is fighting university by university. The GS has given up on any pretence of defending national bargaining. UK-wide bargaining is vital for the protection of pay levels and employment conditions.

The growing mood is far from concentrating on merely ‘rebuilding’ branches, we urgently need a national strategy to ensure branches are not picked off one by one. Aberdeen have won a fantastic victory against redundancies but as Brighton’s dispute last year showed, employers will attempt to break union resistance at all costs. UCU HQ has been forced to call a special meeting of post-92 branches on 17 April to address these concerns. We need grassroots meetings to discuss how we defend existing agreements and conditions, such as the post-92 national contract.

Similarly, in FE the GS is in a battle with activists. The GS and her team are not supportive of an aggregated ballot to fight for a national binding bargaining agreement on pay and workload. Instead the GS prefers to continue to implement a strategy based on branches eking out local deals with employers college by college – a strategy that was voted against at a SFESC. 

The GS and her team are attempting to implement the same strategy in both sectors – give up on defending or fighting for national bargaining, ditch any attempt to organise a UK-wide fight over pay, jobs and conditions, and focus on local bargaining college by college, university by university. 

This is a disastrous strategy that plays into the hands of the employers. At a time when a weak and divided government has returned colleges to the public sector, and Labour is promising national bargaining when in power, we need UK-wide action more than ever.

We need to build the coming SFESC and SHESC to make sure the GS is not allowed to pursue this strategy. 

Unfortunately, the discussion of NEC motions was timed out. There was also no time in the agenda for NEC to discuss the implementation of Congress motions. This is an abdication of NEC’s responsibility to give oversight of implementing these motions, and a key component in our union’s democracy.

GS loses her grip

The GS election has done nothing to resolve the union’s internal problems. Turnout was low and the vote was not starkly in favour of one candidate. 

The union’s budget for next year, which was due to be put to this May’s annual Congress for approval, was rejected by NEC. There were several reasons for this. 

After reports in the press that the GS’s had a 16% pay rise, NEC members asked for an explanation. It was explained that the GS was not given a pay rise but received money to help pay her libel fees. NEC were provided with different explanations as to how this was funded – one being unused holidays but another related to how she donates to the fighting fund. It was ambiguous and lacked the necessary transparency. 

The dispute with UCU Unite members has become even more entrenched and acrimonious. Unite members’ grievances range from pay, breaching recognition agreements, health and safety, and accusations of bullying – each of these are very concerning. Many NEC members share the concerns of UCU Unite members over these. The amount earmarked for staff pay in next year’s budget was only 2.25% higher than last year. We were told that we had misread the budget, but not offered an alternative figure. 

It was suggested that a special NEC should be called to discuss the budget and how to resolve the issues with staff unions. It is clear the GS and her senior management team are unable, or unwilling, to resolve these issues. For us, and many members of UCU, it is deeply worrying that these issues remain unaddressed.

NEC also rejected the plan to leave subscription rates static. Although it is good news that there is no need to increase subs, recent Congresses have demanded a more progressive subscription regime. Members expect the union to move incrementally in this direction, with progressive rates for our lower paid members. However, the current treasurer repeats the mantra of the previous one – that increasing the rates for higher earners will provoke them to leave the union and reduce the total subs take – without offering any concessions to support those at the lower end of the salary scale.

NEC was not in the mood to endorse this flagrant disregard of union policy and refused to endorse the proposal on subscription rates.  

Officials now have to come up with a revised budget and subscription plan in time for Congress at the end of May. For a General Secretary re-elected only two weeks ago, this is a devastating loss of authority. 

We need to organise for the SFESC and SHESC to ensure members’ voices are heard – to have branches united in national fights to resist the attacks in our sectors. 

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