Overall, candidates supported by UCU Left did well in the recent NEC elections and the results leave us strengthened at national level. Despite unfortunately not winning the Vice-President (FE) post (Loraine Monk won just over 45 percent to Robin Goodfellow’s 55 percent) we will have about five more supporters of the left caucus on the next NEC.
This is a clear indication of continuing strong support among UCU members for the basic political positions we openly stood for in our various election statements – a democratic and member-led union which campaigns and organises to mobilise its members in defence not only of our pay and condition but, fundamentally, in defence of the very service we work in against the current austerity drive and the broader incursions of the market into further and higher education.
It is a model which eschews the pessimistic view that ‘members will not fight’. Again and again, in local and national ballots for action (see the latest ballot result from Lambeth College) this has been exposed as a self-defeating myth. We have argued that the role of a leadership is to lead, not to reflect the hesitation of the most inactive and under-organised sections of our membership. Apart from anything else, as we have seen most recently in the HE membership figures, people will join a union which is seen to be fighting for its members.
Hence it is encouraging that in these elections we regained a number of seats in FE to the extent that we will now constitute a clear majority on the Further Education Committee after Congress. For the last couple of years we have been either in the minority or there has been an almost even left/right split, which has led to the IBL/Communist Party being able to block and reverse democratic mandates for action on several occasions.
In terms of percentage outcomes, it is actually quite difficult to calculate the overall average votes for our candidates partly because the Single Transferable Vote system can be quite complicated but also because candidates sometimes get withdrawn from the count if they win a seat in another category.
For the following results we have based the calculation on the proportions of first preference votes. Thus in FE the overall vote in the UK-Elected category showed us winning a 53 percent majority, and in HE in the UK-Elected seats we averaged 40.4 percent.
We will still be a minority on the Higher Education Committee, but this has been the case since the formation of UCU and the election of the first NEC. In effect we have recovered our position of several years ago before the witch hunt against us launched by Sally Hunt and her allies in the Independent Broad left.
In other categories, although we did not win either of the two FE Women Members seats (Rhiannon Lockley was very unlucky not to win a seat here) Saira Weiner and Sue Abbott won two of the three HE Women Members seats where we had none previously.
We won two of the three available FE UK-Elected seats (two of the five seats were ring-fenced for Adult Ed and Prisons where we did not stand candidates). Margot Hill and Alan Barker (who returns to the NEC after a year’s absence) won seats in this category. Margot Hill’s vote was particularly high. She topped the poll on first preferences by a good margin.
The Left recovered one of the FE seats in the North East (Lee Short from Barnsley College won this category) and Paul Blackledge of Leeds Met topped the poll and won the HE seat which Liz Lawrence previously occupied before her election as VP (HE) last year.
We also won two of the four HE seats for London and the East, congratulations to Sean Wallis and Ioanna Ioannou, and we also took both of the London and the East FE seats. A supporter also won the Wales FE seat.
In the HE UK-Elected constituency we won three of the seven available seats, Lesley McGorrigan of Leeds University easily topping the poll. Andreas Bieler was also elected as was Karen Evans who returns to the NEC.
The turnout in these elections continued to be regrettably low, between 8.6 percent and 13.2 percent depending on the electoral category. FE turnout tended to be lower than HE.
There were also, as is usually the case in these elections, a large number of spoilt votes which was likely to be due to members returning blank votes in some categories, perhaps because they do not feel they can choose between candidates, or because they decide not to vote in certain categories (eg Women Member’s seats), or because the seats apply to the other sector from that in which they work even though they are entitled to vote (for instance in the Equality seats or the Vice Presidential election).
The election outcomes are further evidence that those who want to turn the union away from action and away from genuine member participation and control have not got their own way over the past year.
This was clear at Congress 2013 when they failed to win the argument over their crisis budget. Delegates voted overwhelmingly for the left’s alternative budget. In terms of the attempt to drastically shrink the NEC, which was another major debate at Congress 2013, delegates were unconvinced by these arguments and voted for the least damaging option which the Left proposed for a smaller NEC.
In the sector conferences delegates in both FE and HE voted for action over pay. Those decisions have set the scene for the pay disputes and the industrial action in both sectors since June last year. One of the most unacceptable aspects of the Right’s behaviour during the past year has been their willingness to ignore democratic decisions and mandates and undermine the action in both sectors during the pay disputes.
The Right have sought not only to abrogate these democratic decisions but also to use their majority on the NEC to force through undemocratic changes to local Rules and to regional standing orders. These changes would undermine regions and make it harder to organise quorate branch meetings if they were adopted. We have argued that the proper democratic way to debate these issues is to involve Congress delegates, and the motions we are proposing for Congress 2014 will address this issue.
The new NEC may have to come back to matters such as these during next year as well as deal with the existential issues confronting the UK’s main post-16 education union in a period of ongoing neoliberal austerity and assault on our collective rights and on educational access. This is a class issue which our union will fail to confront at its peril. The stakes are very high and the political responsibilities of those elected to our leadership could hardly be more serious.