Tuesday’s #UCURising reps briefing has caused a huge amount of confusion ahead of our six days of strike action.
No new information about progress in the talks materialised.
All we learned was that there ‘may’ be some progress on USS, and that ‘some agreement’ is close on how the issues of casualisation, pay gaps and workloads might be addressed in the future.
- Pay: The only pay-related item currently on the table is compression of the pay spine (the result of higher increases on lower spine points reducing pay differentials between them). Correcting this is unlikely to put money in UCU members’ pockets, and may make only a small difference to the lowest paid. There has been no further offer from the employers over headline pay. Members still face a two-year 15% pay cut against inflation.
- USS: On USS there has been an interim statement with employers agreeing to prioritise benefit restoration ‘if it can be done in a sustainable manner.’ However, there has been no firm commitment to benefit restoration, and a lot could still go wrong.
In other words, there is no offer that represents tangible progress in the disputes, and there is not likely to be one this week.
In spite of this, it seems that branches will be asked to elect delegates in preparation for an ‘emergency’ BDM which may take place as early as this Thursday, and be followed by an ‘emergency’ HEC to take decisions on the action.
Why? The only reason can be that the General Secretary and the President-elect want to call off our strikes. The silence from HQ about these six days of action has been deafening.
Jo Grady has learned, however, that calling off strikes unilaterally produces a negative response from members. Instead, it looks like an emergency BDM will be used as a mechanism to try and bounce the HEC into calling off the action.
Democracy takes time
We are in favour of holding BDMs to update members in the course of disputes and to involve them in decisions about action.
But as of March 15, no-one apart from a select few even knows what is on the table!
A BDM called at no notice to discuss an ‘offer’ which does not yet exist — and which delegates will barely get sight of in advance — is even less democratic than some of the recent BDMs have been.
To be effective and democratic, BDMs need to be preceded by branch meetings at which the issues are discussed, votes are taken and delegates are elected and mandated. This ensures that members can consider the arguments for and against, delegates vote according to branch positions and decisions, and don’t just represent themselves.
This kind of democratic process will be impossible ahead of a BDM on Thursday. Members are mobilised for the strike. Many are attending Budget Day demonstrations on Wednesday and will have no time to meet.
Indeed, the only reason for the rush to do this on Thursday seems to be because the NEC meets on Friday all day!
We have to go forward
What is at stake is not just a few days of strike action but the future of the entire dispute.
We need to insist that no more of our planned strikes are called off. The GS’s ‘pause’ set back our campaign by destroying our momentum and causing confusion among members. We lifted the pressure from the employers at the crucial time, with the inevitable result that the employers imposed a pay award comprising two years’ worth of pay cuts instead of just one.
We have already wasted too much of this six-month mandate to call off more strikes. Every time we do, the employers are emboldened.
Strike. Vote. Win.
Strikes now at the end of term have substantial leverage with the employers because they prevent remedial ‘catch up’ teaching ahead of exams next term (in some universities this is the last week of teaching). Were we to stand down action next week, it would lead to immediate demands on members to catch up with teaching and undermine our own strikes. Of course we are not just a union of lecturers. But teaching is time-constrained, and it is a mistake to think otherwise.
But ultimately the main message will be obvious. Cancelling strikes tells members and employers that the union is not confident of winning. The pressure on employers is immediately lifted. And it will make it harder to win the reballot we need to mount a marking and assessment boycott next term — and harder to carry it out, for fear of a repeat of more start-stop sabotage.
No Capitulation. Unity is Strength.
Build the Pickets. Keep up the Action.