It’s official: Members and branches run this union
UCU NEC has accepted that the Recall Congress of UCU will now go ahead and debate motions 10 and 11.
A late paper was submitted to the NEC by the General Secretary (GS) updating delegates on talks with UNITE over Congress debating motions 10 and 11. In it the GS, whilst agreeing with UNITE that these motions undermine staff terms and conditions, states that she
‘will not be able to achieve, given the view of congress, UNITE’s wish, that the contentious motions 10 and 11 are not debated’
In the same paper the chair of UNITE branch has withdrawn any suggestion that disruption would take place if motions 10 or 11 are debated and congress. The chair of the UNITE branch states that,
‘I believe that we can now suspend the dispute….. Given the suspension of the dispute… UNITE will not therefore hold emergency members meetings at the second congress on the basis that motions 10/11 being debated…’
It is clear the majority of congress delegates and UCU branches did not consider this dispute to be about staff conditions of work but instead saw it about trade union democracy. UCU Congress and branches have asserted their control over the majority of the UCU NEC and can now debate motions critical of elected officials.
This is a direct result of the power of the rank and file activists in the union winning arguments for democracy across the branches and preventing the dominant group in the NEC, the Independent Board Left (IBL), from preventing discussion of censure or no-confidence in the General Secretary, or any other elected member.
Branch after branch has voted to allow motions calling for censure and no-confidence in the General Secretary be debated. No-one at the NEC reported on any branch of UCU that took a contrary view.
The battle for rank and file control continues…
However, the debate over democracy in the union is not over, and instead will continue behind the scenes.
Two further motions were discussed: the Congress motion for a Democracy Commission and a motion from the Welsh UCU committee, calling for an independent inquiry into Congress 2018. Both are in danger of being hijacked by the IBL NEC majority as they attempt to reassert control over the union.
The majority on the NEC, with the support of the GS, wish to reverse the outcome of the last democracy commission of five years ago. This was the last attempt by the IBL-led by the GS to weaken the role of elected lay members on the NEC through dramatically cutting the size of the NEC and introducing a union run by plebiscites. Congress halted this attempt to curtail union democracy last time. We will need to do the same again.
Neither motion was aimed at preventing members control over the union, quite the reverse, but both are being interpreted in this way.
- The Democracy Commission is being set up with calls for a ‘root and branch’ re-writing of our structures, rules and procedures with the membership drawn from far and wide. This was exactly the kind of language that was used last time the IBL and the GS tried to introduce procedures that attempted to bypass the democratic elected regional, national and branch structures.
- Election ‘by and from branches, regions, devolved nations and advisory committees’ is being interpreted to give maximum representation for the existing bureaucracy of committees at the expense of branch reps and Congress. Nearly half the representatives will be delegated from small union committees, with only 22 elected from branches. The Left now has little choice but to ensure that the Democracy Commission has as many genuine activists on it as possible, but we need to understand how loose wording of motions and a lack of clarity of the aims and objectives of the DC has created an opening for the Right. We want more democracy, they want less; the Democracy Commission can go either way.
The IBL and the GS recognise that if they are to get control of the union then they will need to set up structures that bypass Congress and all the other sovereign policy making bodies. This will be done through the usual trick of more member surveys.
The motion submitted by delegates from Wales UCU calling for an independent enquiry also leaves the interpretation of what took place at Congress in the hands of other trade union officials who will see rank and file vibrancy as a threat in the same way as our officials do.
More plebiscites from the General Secretary
The General Secretary took the unusual step of putting a proposal to NEC for voting on, in which members will be consulted on whether UCU should support a second referendum on Brexit. UCULeft NEC members argued that UCU policy is decided by Congress and questioned why the GS is instead taking a proposal to the NEC which appears to bypass Congress less than a month ago. Concerns were also raised about the process of the consultation, how the debate will be informed, how the result will be used and so on but these were ignored, and the GS’s proposal was approved by the IBL majority vote.
The GS announced a further consultation regarding the industrial action commission, despite the findings and conclusions having already been voted on at congress. Again this was approved by the IBL voters.
In the paper that was circulated on the Recall Congress, the officials conceded that in fact there is no rule that delegates need to be re-elected and confirmed that this will be clarified to members.
NEC was given a choice of two dates for the Recall Congress: Thursday 19th July and Thursday 18th October.
Left NEC members (FE and HE) argued that FE delegates in the vast majority would not be able to get time off from their employers to attend Congress during term time. It was suggested that the Recall Congress should be called in the holidays, in the same way and for the same reason that Congress is, and a request was made for a Saturday to allow FE representation. UCULeft NEC members offered to help find a venue. None of these suggestions were accepted. NEC was given the choice of voting for one of these dates, or neither. The October date received the most votes. This raises serious issues of marginalisation of FE inside our union.
The paper on NEC elections was moved with no debate allowed. According to the rules, the growth of membership in HE has meant that the Midlands seats will now be 3 from HE and only 1 from FE. This is a loss of one seat in FE and now means that one person from FE is now representing this entire region. This is despite the fact FE membership has also grown. Of course it would take a rule change to get the formula amended. But the chair, despite having previously agreed allowing speakers, allowed no speakers on this paper and moved immediately and quickly to a request for approval, with no vote even taken. This is another blow to the representation of FE inside UCU and is effectively our union accepting the government strategy to shrink our sector as a way of shrinking working class participation in the education system. If the union wants to engage members then it should be increasing seats for example a second casualised seat from pre 92 sector, rather than another attack on FE.
A motion calling for the #OurUCU statement, signed by the majority of Congress delegates, to be circulated to all members, was voted down by the IBL.
Motions put by UCULeft NEC members opposing Trump and the rise of fascism and the far right were passed.
UCU is in transformation. There is a power struggle within the union.
What took place at Congress was a reflection of that struggle between newly engaged members and a conservative layer of nationally elected officers and their supporters within the full time apparatus. Whilst those new voices have secured an important victory in allowing motions to be debated that allow members to hold to account elected officials we need to remain alert to what is now been unleashed.