Meet the candidate (2)
UCU HEC 15th February 2019
Equality and respect
HEC on 15th February has met a new low. And it has had some real lows at times. UCU Left members walked out following patronising sexist behaviour towards an NEC member, Vicky Blake, for submitting a motion facilitating the working of the National Disputes Committee.
Jo McNeill complained that the description of Vicky Blake’s motion as ‘incompetent’ and ‘incoherent’ were clearly focused at the author of the motion not the motion itself. While a political discussion debating the issues, eventually leaving HEC to pass three of the four elements of the motion, was constructive a walkout took place before lunchtime as a result of the chair’s offensive and sexist comments. After lunch a refusal to even acknowledge the problem chairing had caused led to a motion of no confidence in the chair. This behaviour ‘has no place in our union’ stated Pura Ariza, NEC women’s rep, when proposing no confidence in the chair and calls were made for a new chair to complete the meeting. The vote 13 for a vote of no confidence and 15 against with one abstention raises an important question about how activists should respond when oppressive behaviour takes place.
Chairing a meeting can be a difficult task but when offence is taken it is a simple task to apologise and move on. However, such chairing has taken place before with complaints asking for the chair to ‘reflect on their behaviour’. The arguments involve a much wider issue of how UCU is run. UCU’s transformation wasn’t simply about a large number of new members joining the union for the first time. It was a process of change in the union that led to a whole new generation of new activists demanding control over THEIR union. Many of the officers running the committees simply react with hostility and bullying to the voices of activists reflecting and supporting these new views.
On more positive areas of discussion Jo McNeill raised a motion, passed unanimously, calling for the abolition of REF and opposing the recent REF guidance suggesting outputs from staff made redundant could be submitted by universities in their units of assessment.
The National Disputes Committee is also to be facilitated with bringing motions to Congress and will be expanded to include pre-92 reps when discussions over the pay equality, casualization and workloads campaign begins. This is all dependent upon the on-going ballot being successful. We have a week to ensure the ballot papers are returned and a successful vote for action takes place.
The pay inequality, casualisation and workloads ballot continues until 22nd February. Strike action is now being planned if the vote goes in favour of action and the threshold met. USS and TPS pension disputes could emerge if no agreement is made on contribution rates and benefits in both pension schemes. Motions from UCU Left members focused upon the need to ready members for ballots for industrial action of the pension schemes face cuts. This year’s pay and equality claim is still under discussion with the other unions. Input from members included strengthening the equality pay gap element to include action to fully close the ethnicity, disability and intersectionality (multiple discrimination) pay gaps in addition to that on gender and strengthen the measures to move to fractional employment, including by ensuring that this does not lead to a loss of pay or jobs of currently hourly paid workers.
In combination with the delays resulting from this incident of patronising behaviour, poor chairing led to even more business than usual falling off the agenda. This included motions from members on USS and emergency motions about protecting post-92 pensions, the financial improprieties and financial crisis at De-Montford University and supporting school students walking out against climate change. These are all important issues. The timing out of discussion of implementation of HE Sector Conference motions means that this issue has not yet been discussed by HEC and that elected members have been unable to fulfill their role of oversight of the implementation of motions from the union’s highest decision making body. Important papers on anti-casualisation and academic-related professional staff could not be presented and one of pensions was rushed through in about three minutes. This is not fair to the members of staff who have put a lot of time into compiling these papers and leads to the loss of input from elected members and the opportunity of discussion and answering questions.
HEC congratulated Queen Margaret University UCU on winning its dispute and defeating proposals for compulsory redundancies after one day of strike action. Hopefully, this and other successes, including those in FE on pay, will be well publicised and encourage UCU members to take action where necessary and discourage and defeat management.
Meet the candidate (1)
University of Brighton UCU was one of only seven institutions to successfully exceed the 50% threshold in last autumn’s industrial action ballot over pay. It was the third time within two years that Brighton had achieved a legally valid ballot result for action.
How did we do it?
First, it’s important to recognise that the 50% threshold is a hurdle put in our way to prevent us from taking strike action. That means that getting over the threshold is primary a pragmatic question, not one of principle. We try to get over it the best way we can.
It also means that Get The Vote Out (GTVO) campaigns are technical operations that rely on an obsessive attention to detail.
In none of the three ballots we have been involved in has an outcome in favour of action been in doubt. A heavy vote for action was always a certainty because by the time the ballot opens, the arguments around the issue in question and the necessity of action have already been won.
Under these circumstances, a GTVO campaign is reduced to no more than that – simply getting people to vote. How they vote becomes almost irrelevant. We are as keen for members who are opposed to the action to vote as those who are in favour, because they all count towards the turnout figure.
In our experience at Brighton there are two essential elements of a successful GTVO campaign: devolving and tallying.
A GTVO campaign involves reaching every member and speaking to them as many times as it takes until they confirm they have posted their ballot. Because of the amount of work involved, the campaign will not be successful if it is waged only by the branch officers or the branch committee. Even a committee of 20 in a branch of 500 cannot do that, still less if the branch is bigger. Not only are the numbers against it, but so is the way many of our members work. We can’t rely on them to be sitting at their desks every day waiting to be spoken to. Some of our members are on proportional contracts and are only in for one day a week. Their vote counts the same as a full-timer’s.
The solution is to devolve GTVO right down to a local level. Brighton UCU is fortunate in this respect. As a multi-branch institution we have a branch committee on each of our campuses. But this is still not enough. At Brighton we created action committees on each campus composed of members prepared to take on a handful of names to chase down. This gave us 60 or 70 activists working on GTVO – about one in ten of the membership.
When there are that many people, they are not just taking names from a list. They are undertaking to speak to members that they already know because they see them regularly, or know where and when to find them. This makes a massive difference and means that GTVO can take place building by building, corridor by corridor, rest room by rest room.
That leaves the branch officers to track down the difficult cases – members in far flung departments or isolated situations.
The goal of the process is to cross people off once they’ve told us they’ve voted, so the other central aspect of the operation is keeping meticulous lists.
The GTVO campaign needs branch officers and reps monitoring the progress of the action committee in each school, department, building or campus. After some trial and error, at Brighton we eventually discovered that the best form of list was an online document which many people could access, like a Google doc. We used a colour-coding system to register each member as they were found and spoken to and then once they had voted. Record-keeping is crucial because we do not have the luxury of wasting energy chasing people who’ve already voted. Nor do we want to antagonise members by continually hassling them after they’ve already confirmed they’ve voted.
With a list system like this, you can track your progress towards 50% with a high degree of certainty. You can also generate a bit of healthy competition between schools or buildings. This is the key – generating a sense of responsibility for GTVO and the ballot result among the activists. A local ballot already produces this kind of responsibility. The branch leadership knows that they can’t rely on others to deliver the result. We need to foster this feeling in every school and department.
That’s why, even in a nationally aggregated ballot, branches should behave as though it is a local ballot, and attempt to reach their own local 50% as early as possible. Anything beyond that can contribute to the collective effort.
One final thing: if you’re not completely knackered by the time the ballot closes, you haven’t done it right! You’ll need the 14 day notice period before action starts just to recover.
Higher and Further Education are at a crossroads
The Conservative Government is wedded to a path of increasing market competition between universities and colleges. They are ideologically committed to the commodification of education.
Universities and the academic values they are set up to promote are under threat like never before. Peer-reviewed assessment of academic quality is formally undermined by the REF and TEF. But the main threat to universities is economic.
On the one hand there are record surpluses in our sector – between £1.2 and £2bn a year. But there are winners and losers. Post 92 universities tend to be the hardest hit. Last year, leaks to the press indicated that three universities were close to bankruptcy -something that has never happened before.
Further, adult and prison education have already been devastated by the market, mergers and austerity. We have lost 25,000 lecturers, 2 million adult places and surviving staff have had a real terms cut in pay of 25%.
The Tories’ answer to cutting undergraduate HE fees? Bring in Further Education fees!
Across both sectors, casualisation is the norm rather than the exception. Workloads have shot through the roof. Pay and promotion are grossly unequal by class, gender and race. Meanwhile the entire purpose of education has been reduced to employability for students and profitability for employers.
There is an alternative. The USS strikes showed our collective power to challenge the priorities of the market. Our strikes showed that we have real power. In Further Education our members are fighting and winning landmark deals on pay and casualisation. But we need more to do so.
UCU is in the process of a transformation. When union leaders call on members to fight, they do, and members have shown their willingness to take on the employers and – as UCU’s rank and file revolt on March 13 last year showed – are prepared to fight on.
The USS dispute demonstrates that members have power, but also that leadership matters.
The Tories, one of the most successful ruling parties in Europe, are in turmoil. Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, has the most radical manifesto for decades. At its heart, it marks a complete break with neo-liberalism with the creation of a National Education Service, including a commitment to replace fees with grants, restore the EMA in England and rebuild adult education.
We need a union leadership that is up to the task, that won’t retreat, waver or wobble.
That is why we are supporting Jo McNeill.
Her experience leading University of Liverpool branch and as a member of the National Executive Committee, make her the best candidate to forge a fighting union that encourages ordinary rank and file members to organise and lead.
We need a union that can take on the market and fight for the alternative of an education service for the whole of society, and not just the few.
Nita Sanghera UCU Vice President, Bournville College
Dr Lindsey German Campaigner & Writer Hertfordshire University
Elizabeth Lawrence UCU Past President & Secretary Y&H Retired Members Branch
Tom Armstrong UCU President SOAS
Professor Graham Smith UCU Northern Regional Committee Delegate Newcastle University
Dr Jo Grady USS National Dispute Committee University of Sheffield
Chris Jones UCU NEC Neath Port Talbot Group
Professor Paul Anderson UCU NEC & Vice President Queen Mary University London
Paul Russell UCU Vice Chair Yorkshire and Humber Retired Members Branch
Des Freedman UCU Vice President Goldsmiths
Craig Jones Lancaster UCU PGR Rep Lancaster University
Deirdre Lynskey UCU Development Officer Queens University Belfast.
Shuruq Naguib UCU Lancaster University
Joanna Kostka UCU Lancaster University
Neil Ward UCU Branch Chair SCCB & Bournville College
Dr Umran Ali UCU Equality Officer & Vice President Salford University
Professor Dave Whyte UCU University of Liverpool
Cheryl Hedges UCU Vice Chair Newman University
Professor Sarah Elton UCU President Durham University
Mandy Brown UCU NEC, London Region Secretary & Joint Branch Secretary Lambeth College
Sue Abbott UCU NEC Newcastle University
Lee Humber UCU Membership Secretary Ruskin College Oxford
Carly Grundle UCU Branch Secretary CCCG Westminster Kingsway College
Cecily Blyther UCU NEC & Regional Anti-Casualisation Representative PETROC
Mike Barton UCU Branch Secretary NCC Redbridge College
Rhiannon Lockley UCU NEC & West Midlands Women’s Officer Birmingham City University
Peter Wareham UCU Branch Chair NCC Arbour Square
Bernie Driscoll UCU UCG CNWL
Sean Vernell UCU NEC Coordinating Chair CCCG City & Islington College
Alan Barker UCU Branch Committee Nottingham University
Carlo Morelli UCU NEC University of Dundee
Khair Kabir UCU Vice Chair Havering College
Jerry Griffiths UCU Chair Havering College
Lesley McCorrigan UCU Y&H Regional Secretary & Campaign Officer Leeds University
Vincent Thurgood UCU Branch Secretary NCC Hackney Community College
Richard McEwan Branch Secretary NCC Tower Hamlets College Poplar
Dave Muritu Chair UCU NEC, Chair of the Black Members Steering Committee & Branch Secretary Sandwell College
Ioanna Ioanna UCU NEC UCL
Allister Mactaggart UCU Branch Chair Chesterfield College
Marc Oliver UCU Branch Chair NCC Epping Forest College
John James UCU Branch Chair Coleg Gwent
Margot Hill NEC & Branch Secretary Croydon College
Sean Wallis UCU NEC & President UCL
Saira Weiner UCU Branch Secretary Liverpool John Moores University
Dr Marion Hersh UCU NEC & Scotland Equality Officer University of Glasgow
Hazel Raven UCU Y&H Regional FE Secretary & Branch Chair Doncaster College
Veronika Johnson UCU Branch Secretary CCCG City & Islington College
Ian Busby Chair CCCG City & Islington College
Julie Hearn UCU Equality Officer & NEC Lancaster University
Megan Povey UCU Branch Exec & former Branch President University of Leeds
Steve Lui UCU Branch Chair University of Huddersfield
Sunil Banga UCU Pensions Officer & Treasurer Lancaster University
Pura Ariza UCU NEC & NW Region Chair
Dr Tony Sullivan UCU Branch Secretary London College of Fashion UAL
Naina Kent UCU London Region Equality Black Members Rep Hackney Learning Trust
Anne Alexander UCU Cambridge
Geraint Evans UCU Chair FE Y&H Region Branch Secretary Bradford College
Russell Caplan UCU Branch Secretary London South Bank University
Kyran Joughin UCU Branch Secretary University of the Arts London
Jane Coles UCU Branch Committee IOE
Peter Woodward UCU City University & Imperial University
Adrian Budd UCU LSBU
Gwen Vickers UCU Branch Chair NCC Redbridge College
Regi Pilling UCU CCCG Westminster Kingsway
Nina Doran UCU NW Region Chair & Health & Safety City of Liverpool College
Pete Bicknell UCU Membership Secretary Lewisham & Southwark Colleges
Geoff Abbott UCU Northern Regional Chair for HE & Branch Treasurer Newcastle University
Christina Paine UCU NEC & Branch Secretary London Met
Michael Szpakowski UCU Branch Chair Writtle University
Saleem Rashid UCU Branch Chair Sheffield College
Marian Mayer UCU Chair Southern Region UCU, Vice Chair Disabled Members Standing Committee Co-Chair Bournemouth University
Dr Maike Helmers UCU Co-Chair Bournemouth University
Dr Steph Allen UCU Branch Secretary Bournemouth University
David Stewart Northern UCU Regional Secretary for HE Newcastle University.
Bruce Baker UCU Newcastle University
Fergus Nicol UCU Treasurer & CASS Rep London Metropolitan
Bruce Heil UCU Branch Executive Open University
Tina Downes UCU Y&H Retired Members Branch & Past President Natfhe
Roddy Slorach UCU Branch Organiser Imperial University
Bob Jeffrey UCU Branch Officer Sheffield Hallam University & President Sheffield Trades Council
Saladin Meckled-Garcia UCU Vice President UCL
Tony Brown UCU Branch Secretary UCL
Josh Hollands UCU PGTA Rep UCL
Majella Lane UCU Branch Committee UCL
Richard Bradbury Open University Vice President
Peter Dwyer UCU Branch Executive Ruskin College
Des McDermott UCU Branch Executive Ruskin College
Lesley Kane UCU NEC & Anti-Casualisation Committee Open University
Jenny Sutton UCU CCCG Westminster Kingsway College
James Cussens UCU Branch Secretary University of York
Vijay Tymms UCU Branch Executive Imperial University
Fay Dowker UCU Branch Executive Imperial University
Nils Markusson UCU Vice President Lancaster University
Steve Cannon UCU Branch Secretary University of Sunderland
Neil Maughan UCU Branch Officer Leeds University
Ann Swinney UCU Branch Secretary Dundee University
Abdullah Yusuf UCU Co-Equality Officer Dundee University
Dr Lee Jones UCU Queen Mary University London
Anthony O’Hanlon UCU Branch Secretary University of Liverpool
Dr Kirsteen Paton UCU Equalities Officer University of Liverpool
John Atteridge UCU Branch Secretary Morley College
Alex Lancaster UCU Vice President University of Liverpool
Eamonn Leddy UCU Branch Secretary CCCG City & Islington College Blackstock Road
Mark Abel UCU NEC and Committee Chair Brighton University
Elio Di Muccio UCU Branch Secretary University of Birmingham
Johnny Darlington UCU Branch Secretary SOAS
Tim Hall UCU Branch Chair Senate House
Stuart Oliver UCU London Region Chair St Marys University College
Prof Philip Marfleet UCU retired member UEL
Dr Camilla Royle UCU KCL
Rupert Waldron UCU Branch Chair London College of Fashion
Tom Hickey UCU Brighton
Peter Evans UCU National LGBT+Standing Committee & Equality Rep South Thames College Group Wandsworth Campus
Owen Mathers UCU Runshaw College
Nadia Edmond UCU Branch Chair University of Brighton Falmer
Marion Winters UCU Vice President Heriot Watt
Professor Phil Taylor UCU Strathclyde
Alliya Stennett UCU Union Learning Rep & Joint Equality Officer South & City College Birmingham
Annie Jones UCU Branch Officer & Women Members Standing Committee Member Sheffield Hallam
Mike Lammiman UCU Vice President University of Hull
Juliana Ojinnaka UCU Branch Equalities Officer The Sheffield College Hillsborough
Steve Mardy Y&H Regional HE Secretary Leeds Beckett University
Dr Emily Luise Hart UCU University of Liverpool
Eleni Michalopoulou UCU NEC University of Liverpool
Dr Rohit K Dasgupta UCU & Labour Councillor Newham, Loughborough University
Dr Satvinder S Juss UCU Kings College London
Iain Ferguson UCU Scotland Retired Members Branch.
Joanne Smith Finley UCU Co-opted Committee Member Newcastle University Newcastle
Steve Scanlon UCU Social Secretary NCC Tower Hamlets College Poplar
Ian Crosson UCU Membership Secretary NCC Tower Hamlets College Poplar
Saria Begum UCU Branch Chair NCC Tower Hamlets College Poplar
Nalini Vittal UCU Branch Committee UCL
Darminder Chuhan UCU West Midlands Black Members Officer & Branch Chair Sandwell College
Brian Kelly UCU Queen’s University Belfast.
David Swanson UCU Organisation & Recruitment Secretary University of Manchester
Anh Le UCU Branch Executive University of Manchester
Maria Chondrogianni UCU Chair Coordinating Committee & Branch Chair University of Westminister, Westminster Cavendish
Jim Ryan UCU Membership Rep SCCB Bournville College
Julia Roberts UCU NEC & Joint Branch Secretary Lambeth College
Grant Buttars UCU Hon President Edinburgh
Mike Orr UCU Branch Committee Edinburgh
Dr Linda Moore UCU President University of Ulster
Paula Alsop UCU Membership Secretary Chesterfield College
Véronique Altglas UCU Equality Officer Queen’s University Belfast
Merav Amir UCU Branch Chair Queen’s University Belfast
Steph Allen UCU Branch Secretary Bournemouth University
Dr. Paul O’Connell, Reader in Law, SOAS, University of London
Steve Tombs, Prof of Criminology, The Open University
Dr David Scott, The Open University
Dr Vickie Cooper, The Open University
Dr Santiago Amietta, Middlesex University
Dr Tanzil Chowdhury, Lecturer in Public Law, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Kevin Farnsworth, Reader in Social Policy, University of York
Will Jackson, Lecturer in Criminology, Liverpool John Moores University
Professor Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University
Avik Banerjee Secretary and Equality Officer, South West Regional Executive Committee
Andreas Bieler, Professor of Political Economy, University of Nottingham and Vice President of Local UCU Association.
Darryn Mitussis, UCU Queen Mary University of London
All signatories in a personal capacity.
Voting in the Vice President & National Executive Committee elections starts on 1 February and closes on 1 March.
Jo McNeill is the UCU Left candidate for Vice President. Many universities and colleges have already organised hustings, if there isn’t one where you are, please contact Jo to invite her.
To get in touch with Jo and to find out more about her campaign, please see her website.
UCU Left recommends the following candidates for a member-led, democratic and fighting union.
More pictures and election leaflets coming soon!
Please click on the candidates’ names to download their election flyers.
Vice President HE
North West HE
North West FE
Honorary Secretary & President UCU Scotland
North East HE
UK-elected members HE
UK-elected members FE
Disabled Members HE
STV voting system
Please note that all members can vote in the elections for Equality, Casually Employed members’ and Trustees seats
To maximise votes for progressive candidates we ask you to do the following:
- Please use your votes to first endorse all UCU Left candidates and only after that use lower preferences for other progressive candidates in each relevant list
- Give your highest preferences in the UK-elected list to UCU Left candidate(s) from your region
Success has a thousand parents, failure is an orphan. That the 2018 USS dispute transformed UCU everyone in the union accepts. Similarly, it was the members – their enthusiasm and determination, and their knowledge that USS was a touchstone of the wider political problems arising from the gung ho tuition fee market in HE – that lead this transformation.
However, while no serious analysis of UCU’s historic strike dissents from these conclusions, there is less understanding of how this transformation was built in advance. The movement did not spontaneously erupt. It required leadership, perspective and organisation.
What was the role of leadership in UCU that created the circumstances for this transformation? “Leadership” is often a multifaceted and ambiguous concept, referring to official individual national leaders and those rank and file collectives within branches whose names and contribution are all too often ignored and forgotten. The latter are always the most important in the creation of a new transformative movement, but the role played by the former can – and in the USS case did – play a crucial role in the emergence of the movement prior to the rank and file gaining influence.
Similarly, while social media played a key mobilising and representation role once the dispute was up and running, social media was not a key feature in the origins of the strike. Again the role of rank and file activists at branch level needs to be emphasised.
Thus, while the most successful and influential social media platform USS Briefs began after the strike started, providing an important forum for critical discussion over the ideological questions determining the pension scheme valuation, day-to-day mobilisations arose from rank and file initiatives, and were championed by the existing rank and file network of UCU Left activists. As the strike developed, of course the doors opened and we saw networks and groups explode into action, from #NoCapitulation, #OurUCU and Branch Solidarity Network.
Yet “leadership” in the sense of a national leadership also played a crucially important role in the construction and development of the strike. The ballot for strike action was successful because of the role of activists, in UCU Left although often not under some ‘party banner’, carrying out a systematic agitational, educational and ideological campaign before, during and after the ballot.
Most of this was in the many dozens of talks and meetings organised by branches in which UCU Left USS negotiators spoke. But other examples include UCU Left NEC member Sean Wallis’ Made in Westminster piece for the HE Convention website, which first spelled out a perspective that is now universally accepted: that the origins of USS’s self-appointed ‘crisis’ lay in the war-of-all-against-all that is the HE marketplace, triggered, of course, by changes in Government Policy.
UCU Left consciously connected with activists amongst a much broader layer of the union in order to mobilise the membership for industrial action. But crucial to understanding this process was the central role played by UCU Left in acting as a catalyst around the attacks on the USS pension scheme. UCU Left members were negotiators, UCU Left NEC members and UCU Left branch activists who challenged the pessimism of those on the Right of the union. The Right’s views were and are characterised by a fatalism over their inability to prevent changes to the pension scheme and their rejection of industrial action as a mechanism for the mobilisation of the membership.
The politics of the Right can best be described as a kind of “partnership unionism”. This assumes that employers are prepared to genuinely negotiate, consult and change their mind even as they wield an axe over pay, jobs and pensions. Yet every activist in every university realises that such a perspective is frankly naive in the context of Higher Education marketisation and an assault on our members’ rights. Unless we mobilise our members to resist, our rights are forfeit.
UCU Left members had to develop an industrial action strategy that not only unified members but could provide the plausible route to win an industrial dispute of magnitude required to prevent the destruction of a UK wide pension scheme whilst challenging the hitherto dominant right wing’s approach.
In order to win the union to a proposal for serious escalating and sustained industrial action required an ideological argument within UCU among activists at Congress and branches which rejected the bureaucratically-controlled, tokenistic, and low-level industrial action which had been characteristic of previous UCU strikes. UCU Left members had to alert members early on about the risks to the pension scheme and in a piecemeal manner deconstruct the employers and USS political justification for a deficit. ‘No Detriment’ and Made in Westminster reflected a culmination of a series of earlier debates linking the attempted deconstruction of a pension scheme to a political destruction of a public, collective higher education system and its replacement with a marketised, individualised, debt funded provision of services for fee-paying customers.
This was not easy. UCU Left members faced an onslaught of criticism aimed at undermining the chance to win a ballot and had to patiently but relentlessly challenge these right wing criticisms. Some of the most disgraceful troll-like behaviours of some on the Right were evident on union email lists and at every stage of the debate. ‘Inevitability’ and ‘unaffordability’ was the position posed by those who rejected industrial action as a means to defend the scheme. The divisions between the Right who control the union, and the Left who represented rank and file activists in branches, in the union started to reveal itself for the first time to wide layers of members in the union.
The divisions between the left and the right in the union did not end once a successful ballot vote was won. Instead these divisions were also reflected and intensified in the strike movement. While the strike is rightly remembered by those who took part with affection as a jubilant, inspirational time of their lives, it also proved to be stressful, as a rank and file leadership emerged struggling to challenge moves to undermine the strike! This was most evident in the two national meetings of branch delegates, the first of which on March 13 threw out the ACAS agreement, and the second on March 21, when the majority of the elected HEC leadership ignored the delegate’s meeting discussion and voted by ten to eight with one abstention to call off the action, and put the proposal for a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to the membership.
At that second delegates meeting, #ReviseandResubmit was the activists’ will, not because proposals for a JEP were a “sellout”, but because the initiative driving a settlement came from the picket line. Wide layers of activists recognised that continuing the strike for any further length of time would have forced employers to collapse for fear of students being unable to take final exams.
But the Right on the HEC blinked first. HEC’s decision to ignore delegates’ views rescued employers from a humilating defeat and propelled the anger of branches into the UCU Congress. The bureaucratic manipulation of that Congress in May 2018 then laid out starkly the difference between the left and right in the union.
Where does this assessment leave us?
Abstention in these debates is not an option. These debates are at the heart of our ‘member-led union’. When a key decision has to be made in our union, we need a leadership in our union capable of taking hard decisions and backing the membership in action. UCU Left members on the HEC agreed to vote together in a disciplined manner throughout the dispute, but in particular at the most significant HEC in the USS strike’s history: to continue with the industrial action and #ReviseandResubmit the proposal for a JEP rather than end our dispute and cross our collective fingers. Just as the Right agreed to vote on bloc to halt the strike, a leadership willing to stand up for members is necessary to build a democractic, member-led union.
The vote at the specially-convened 21 March HEC (10 for ending the strikes, 8 against and 1 abstention) is illustrative of the balance of political forces in the national leadership of our union. Without an organised Left, willing to discuss positions, come to a collective view and vote accordingly to implement it, the dominance of the Right would have not simply ended the USS strike but would have prevented it in the first place.
Indeed, to Sally Hunt’s credit it was she who leaned on the Right of the HEC to make it clear she wanted the strikes to take place, pressuring them into voting for hard-hitting industrial action and opposing any watering down of the union’s demands on the employers. Of course, later on she was personally involved in negotiating the JEP and ending the dispute, but her initial intervention in favour of action should not be forgotten.
What the union needs is clear and consistent leadership not a vacillating bureaucracy. Voting for Jo McNeill in the election for Vice President is not just about voting for an individual. It is about voting for a different strategy than that offered by the trade union bureaucracy and its supporters, and a rank and file leadership that fights to take action in order to win. UCU Left members are activists who have openly declared their position for action, and crucially to coordinate to win key votes to ensure action goes ahead. This vote for Jo is a key vote for the democratic, member-led voices in UCU. Without activists such as Jo the USS strike would not have taken place.
Carlo Morelli USS negotiator and NEC
UCU London Regional Committee met on Saturday and voted unanimously to call on the TUC to call a national demonstration demanding a general election. The Committee met in the same week that the government had lost their motion on the Brexit deal and narrowly avoided a motion of no-confidence by 19 votes.
Crisis at the top
It was an unprecedented defeat for the government. The biggest defeat suffered by any government in modern times. It has left the Tory party, the most successful ruling class party in history, even more divided and possibly heading for a split. Working people who are suffering from over a decade of austerity look on bemused and angry with contempt at the political elite – an elite whose members demonstrate every time they rise to speak in parliament just how removed they are from the experience of working people’s lives.
The arcane rituals that surround the way these issues are debated and voted on may provide BBC commentators with glee and excitement, but they leave working people looking on in despair and wondering that there must be a better way to make decisions about how to run our society.
The politicians and media present us with only two alternatives out of this crisis. Either we crash out of the European Union (EU) and sign up to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) trading agreements or we stay in the EU and abide by the single-market terms of trading.
The alternatives we are offered are presented to us as the only possible ones. They reflect not the interests of the majority of working people but instead the two different wings of British business. The vast majority, whose business and trade are within the EU, want to stay in and the minority who have business interest outside the EU want to leave.
Neither WTO rules nor the single-market can bring real change
Neither of these alternatives will make the slightest bit of difference to working people’s lives. Both would continue the assault on our pay, pensions, education and the welfare state. Neither will protect our hard-won gains over workplace rights. In fact, either option would make it harder to improve our conditions of life because neither are designed to do so.
The WTO is a thoroughly corrupt organisation that pretends that it provides equal access to trading rights for both the poorer and the wealthier nations. Of course, the opposite is true. The WTO’s rules are completely rigged in favour of the wealthier nations at the expense of the poorer ones. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights(TRIPS) agreement is just one example of how the WTO ensures that the rich nations stay on top at the expense of the developing nations.
As Noam Chomsky argued, “There is nothing liberal about (the TRIPS agreement). It is a highly protected system, designed to ensure that private tyrannies, which is what corporations are, monopolize the technology and the knowledge of the future.”
The EU single-market is also a barrier to progressing the conditions of life for the 99%. The single market, just like the WTO, is a neo-liberal economic mechanism that ensures that the wealth created by working people is distributed ‘fairly’ amongst the employers at the expense of the real wealth creators.
It also would make it much harder for a future Corbyn led Labour government to introduce a programme of legislation to re-nationalise the rail networks and public utilities as UCU’s Johnathan White argues in a recent article in the Morning Star.
If both solutions being put forward by the elite will not benefit working people then we must put forward our own alternative.
Jeremy Corbyn rightly argued In Wakefield this week that the main division in Britain is not between remainers and leavers. It is between those whose living conditions have been drastically eroded after a decade of austerity and those whose living conditions have not.
It is the neo-liberal austerity-driven policies of successive governments, here and across Europe, that are to blame for the poverty experienced by so many and the inequality that has risen from it. The only way we can begin to put this right is by electing a Corbyn led government with a radical agenda that ‘takes back control’ of how wealth is redistributed through raising taxes for the rich and an extensive programme of re-nationalisation. This is why, however you voted in the referendum, we all have an interest in uniting to get a Corbyn government elected.
Of course, we will see how far the employers will allow JC to introduce such measures before they start to try to undermine a democratically elected government. I suspect they will give him a little less time than they are giving Theresa May at the moment!
But first we must get him into office. That means calling a general election now.
Mobilising on the streets and the workplace to break the impasse.
The quickest and most effective way that we can break this impasse and shape an alternative to the binary debate between WTO versus the single market is through the mass mobilisation of working people. The only reason what Theresa May and the Tories are still in government is because the vast majority of working people look on, passively, as if they are watching a BBC period drama!
The demo called by the People’s Assembly was a step in the right direction. But we need many more and much bigger initiatives.
The TUC really must step up to the plate. It is utterly ridiculous that the biggest voluntary organisation in Britain with six million members has been almost completely silent while this crisis has been taking place. They must call a national demonstration.
Campaigning organisations like the PA and Momentum must take more initiatives demanding a general election. It was a mistake not to call a protest outside parliament on the day of the no-confidence vote. Momentum have demonstrated that they can get thousands of their members on the streets when they want to, as they did when there was a second attempt to oust Jeremy.
UCU members in 16 colleges will be taking two days of strike action on the 29/30thJan over pay and conditions with more to be balloted to join them in a third wave of action. In HE seventy thousand UCU members in 143 institutions are also being balloted over pay. We need more action like this if we are going to be able to protect workers’ conditions and build organisations that will be able provide the networks to ensure that a future Corbyn led Labour government is able to implement a radical anti-austerity programme.
Sean Vernell UCU NEC
Please raise this motion at your next branch or regional meeting.
Motion: General Election now.
1) The Tory government suffered its biggest defeat in modern History.
2) The impasse in parliament over how to implement the decision of the 2016 referendum on the European Union.
3) Austerity continues to wreck working people lives.
1) The Tory government, and party, is wracked with division and self-interest and is not fit to govern.
2) That the main division in the country, as Jeremy Corbyn argued in a recent speech, is not between leavers and remainers; it is between those affected by austerity and those who are not.
3) We need a change of government that will begin to address the underlining problems that have created such fury and rage amongst working people in Britain – namely a complete reversal of austerity-driven polices.
4) The impasse that has been reached will not be resolved in parliament alone. It will take mass mobilisations on the streets and in the workplaces to break this gridlock.
1) To call on the TUC to call a national demonstration to demand a General Election.
2) To encourage UCU and other Trade Union branches to support this call.
3) Send to the national Executive Committee of UCU
4) To call a protest outside parliament on the 29thMarch and approach other campaigning organisations and trade unions to support.
In March last year, 15 activists prevented the deportation of 60 migrants, some of whom now have leave to remain.
The Stansted 15 have been convicted under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, a law passed in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing being used for the first time against political protest.
The Stansted 15 have received widespread support. A UN global report has backed them as human rights defenders and condemned Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’.
Supporters include: Amnesty International, Diane Abbott MP, Shami ChakrabartI, Caroline Lucas MP, Naomi Klein, Akala, Emma Thompson, Phillip Pullman, Brian Eno, Manual Cortes General secretary, TSSA, and Peter Gabriel.
The sentencing of the Stansted 15 is due on Wednesday 6 February and could result in custodial sentences or heavy fines. This is a real threat to legitimate political protest in the UK.