The newly-constituted UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) met for the first time post Congress. The principal business of the first NEC meeting is usually fairly routine: to agree timetables for the year, and protocols in the absence of officers in the summer.
But 2023 is not a normal year: we are in a catastrophic cost of living crisis, with a growing fightback in further education and unprecedented industrial action in higher education. These are the business of the FE and HE committees respectively, although the General Secretary reported to the NEC on both.
The General Secretary’s report was wide ranging and there were a number of questions. However, it is worrying that the Section on Congress in Glasgow did not mention the censure motion passed at Congress and what she was going to do in response to it.
We also face a year with an upcoming election for the union’s General Secretary – the top official employed by the union, and the only one elected by members. NEC agreed the terms for this election process.
Motions from members
An emergency motion in solidarity with the over 500 refugees who died in the Mediterranean the day before was passed unanimously. See below.
Among other things the motion calls for a minute’s silence in memory of all those lost on Monday 19 June to mark the start of Refugee Week.
‘PGRs as staff’ campaign
There was a lengthy debate about a motion on the ‘PGRs as staff’ campaign, that had been ruled out of order by the chair. The campaign has been a two-year anti-casualisation initiative within UCU that is campaigning for postgraduate research students to be recognised as staff, as happens in some other European countries. Sector Conference passed a number of motions supporting this campaign. But the campaign is currently being shut down after 22 months because it was only seen as a fixed term project, with the result that two staff are facing losing their jobs.
It is not normal for the NEC to discuss staffing questions, the motion did not do so. However this debate, including speeches from national officials, took nearly half an hour, and in the end despite NEC voting that the motion should be heard, the meeting ran out of time to actually hear the motion.
UCU staff are known to be under pressure to deliver work required to support our disputes so the need to retain staff rather than make them redundant seems an obvious solution to ending casualisation.
The inability to have motions brought to NEC, HEC and FEC is a continuing area of discontent among elected reps who raise important motions affecting members. Invariably motions are lost due to excess time being taken due to obstructive decisions made in constructing the order of business. Motions relating to business should be heard at the appropriate time and elected members should not have to challenge the chair’s rulings to have them put back onto the agenda nor to have them moved to the main part of the agenda.
Ukraine solidarity and motions
NEC heard from a guest speaker from the Ukrainian trade union for academic and scientific staff, and sent its profound solidarity greetings to our colleagues in Ukraine.
A motion on the consequences of the bombing of the Kakhovka Dam on 6 June and the extensive flooding and ecological disaster that had ensued was supported without opposition. As well as repeating our solidarity messages, the motion (see below) pledges a donation to the relief effort and to circulate calls for humanitarian assistance to members. This is the second major piece of civilian infrastructure, after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, now targeted in the war with major ecological impact.
There had been some online speculation before Friday that the NEC might attempt to reinterpret two motions on Ukraine that had been passed at Congress. In particular, some of those opposed to Motion 5, which called for a cessation of UK arms sales to Ukraine, argued that it was incompatible with Motion 6’s statements of solidarity and support for Ukrainian self-determination.
However, wherever one stands on the question of UK arms sales, it is not for NEC to select between resolutions of Congress.
The reason concerns a key constitutional issue of the democratic rules of the union – the supremacy of Congress over the NEC – which parallels the supremacy of union general meetings over executive committees. Rule 18.1 says that the NEC’s role is to abide by the decisions of Congress provided that they are compatible with the rules.
The principle is that the collective body of members make policy decisions and elected representatives carry them out.
The proposal from members of the ‘UCU Commons’ faction was that the NEC should decide that there was an incompatibility between two Congress motions, and then choose one over the other. However this is not the NEC’s choice to make.
Congress has its own mechanism for dealing with potential issues of incompatibility between motions (termed ‘consequentials’) via challenges to Congress Business Committee reports.
The NEC’s role was simply to allocate motions to its sub-committees, in this case: to the International Working Group of the Strategy and Finance Committee (SFC). Both Congress motions were passed to the Committee for implementation unamended.
All is not well for staff in UCU.
UCU senior management team appear to be in conflict with staff union UNITE, as a result of recognising a second trade union for some staff grades. While members of staff are entitled to join any union they wish, removing sole bargaining rights from UNITE potentially weakens the voice of staff members working for UCU. No explanation for these actions were provided to the NEC.
The UCU expresses its deepest condolences to those who have lost their lives in the terrible tragedy off the coast of Greece.
We believe these deaths are the direct result of the fortress Europe and hostile environment for refugees and migrants being implemented by European governments – including the British government.
We demand that passage – safe and legal routes – are opened to all refugees fleeing war, catastrophe and climate chaos.
The Sunak governments ‘Stop the Boats’ rhetoric, the Illegal Migration Bill and Rwanda Plan will only mean more deaths in the channel more likely – as well as those in the Mediterranean.
We support all upcoming protests to mark the deaths in Greece and to oppose the government’s anti-refugee legislation.
To call for a minute’s silence to mark the deaths in Greece on all university and college campuses on Monday 19 June, the start of refugee week 2023.
The breach of the Kakhovka dam and its consequences
UCU NEC notes the breach of the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Ukraine on 6th June. The subsequent flooding has caused a very significant humanitarian and ecological disaster, including:
1) Risk to life, loss of homes, evacuation of people from flooded areas
2) Risk to life from dislocated landmines
3) Economic and environmental damage, including risk to world food supplies.
UCU NEC resolves to:
1) Send a message of solidarity to our sibling unions in Ukraine
2) Send a donation to an appropriate relief organisation
3) Communicate information on appeals for humanitarian assistance to our members