UCU at grave risk
The NEC met against a background of major threats to those working in Higher and Further education. The HE Bill had its third reading in parliament and passed, taking further steps towards privatisation of the sector closer. Both of our national pay disputes, in FE and HE, have been called off after e-ballots, on pitiful turnouts, gave majorities against further action. None of this was surprising given the complete failure to campaign or recommend a vote for further action in either ballot.
The ending of our last national industrial action before the new anti-union laws are implemented comes at a time when the NUS/UCU demonstration for education had brought thousands into the streets to defend post-16 education and the scandal of casualization became front page news in the Guardian.
With the anti-union laws imposing high thresholds in ballots for strike action to be official means we now have a major shift in the industrial relations environment for UCU. That such a shift has taken place is not recognised by a majority on the NEC who have systematically failed to lead the union in the face of government and employer attacks.
A simple example of this failure to face reality was that the General Secretary’s report failed to even mention the cases of trade union victimisation, including the high profile cases of Mark Campbell and David Hardman and the academic boycott and censure at London Met University.
UCU Left supporters on the NEC put forward an emergency motion, outlining the problems and seeking an emergency Congress and Sector Conferences, in order to bring the union together to develop a new strategy. Predictably the small majority voted 25:21 to reject the proposals.
There are significant groups of activists in our union who are demanding the leadership lead. Whether this is against casualization, or to defend EU workers’ rights or to end the gender pay gap, our leadership is failing to provide a response, other than create evidence of these excesses. So despite the platitudes of the leadership not a single union branch is currently balloting for industrial action against the gender pay gap or against casualization. UCU Left believes this is woefully inadequate of the leadership of our union.
In HE, UCU Left is calling on activists to pass a motion in HE branches calling for a Special HE Sector Conference. We have to come together to learn from the mistakes of the last campaign to develop a coherent strategy for future collective action that will mobilise our members, or our union risks becoming irrelevant in the context of the HE Bill and Brexit.
The UCU elections provide one further opportunity to address these problems. Jo McNeill is standing for General Secretary and a range of UCU Left members are standing for the various NEC positions. Supporters should be seeking to invite Jo to speak at your union branch and organising hustings for both General Secretary candidates.
‘Jo McNeill for General Secretary’ blog can be read here.
Free Movement of Labour
Brexit, anti-immigrant, scapegoating and the normalisation of racism was a further area of major discussion. NEC was united in condemning the popularisation of racism by the Tory government and their supporters. However, too many in the trade union and labour movement are pandering to these ideas by accepting immigration is a ‘problem’ and ‘controlling numbers’ is the answer. NEC overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, passed a motion to make the defence of the Free Movement of Labour central to our defence of EU, and more generally migrant, workers. Branches should use this motion to link up with the Campaign for the Free Movement of Labour post Brexit and to mobilise for the one-day strike called by the ‘A day without us’ campaign.
Motions supporting the Stand Up To Racism trade union conference on 4 February and demonstration on 18 March were also passed. Both are also backed by the TUC.