Jo Grady’s statement in today’s papers threatening strike action against any premature return to campus and face-to-face teaching should be applauded.
UCU is saying clearly that we will not allow employers to put staff and students at risk as they did at the start of last term. Johnson’s original plan was to lift the lockdown after the February half term. With infection and death rates still at speeds and rates worse than at any time since the pandemic began moving back to face-to-face teaching by the half term would be disastrous. Already the right-wing press and Tory back bench MPs are attempting to build a campaign to force the government to stick to its plans.
To protect the lives of our staff, students and communities we must act collectively and if that takes industrial action then so be it. UCU branches have already shown on several occasions that they can organise ballots and successfully break through the Tory anti-union ballot thresholds.
To lay the basis of our ability to do this we now need the kind of mass meetings of reps and members that were called by the National Education Union to arm them with a strategy that can win and give confidence to put the General Secretary’s words into action.
We need every branch moving to ballot on safety and be prepared to nationally coordinate action if their employer attempts to move universities or colleges back to face-to-face on-site teaching prematurely. This is why an NEC must be called to outline a clear programme of action that members can have confidence in. This must also include the collective use of section 44 so that members can act immediately to protect themselves and their students as the NEU did so effectively.
Yesterday’s impressive UCU Solidarity Movement conference called for student staff assemblies on every campus – this can help us to create the kind of alliance represented by Jo Grady and NUS President Larissa Kennedy’s statements suggest.
School educators have halted the government’s plans to return to unsafe schools twice through a mass campaign and the threat of action. Now we need to do the same to defend staff, students and the future of education.