The vote to call off the Higher Education pay dispute by a narrow majority is the logical conclusion of our union ‘leaderships’ failure to actually lead. This follows another narrow rejection of action in the Further Education pay consultation.
Without a recommendation from UCU leaders to fight, many of our members have reluctantly voted against further action.
The retreat from action isn’t just about pay and the miserly 1.1 percent pay offer from UCEA. It also signals a retreat from the fight against the outrageous gender pay gap, up to £6k on some campuses and the ongoing process of casualisation. What is the point of correctly hi-lighting these injustices if we have no plan to resist them?
In addition, the introduction of anti-union laws means the ballot threshold for national industrial action is going to be much harder to achieve in coming years. We have wasted what could possibly be our last chance to take legal strike action on a national scale.
At best this will mean we face a fragmentation of pay and conditions across the sector. At worst we have little prospect of a national pay dispute to advance members’ pay, jobs and conditions in the years ahead, at least in the near future.
This is a self-inflicted setback that could have been avoided by UCU. The cause of this malaise in our union lies with our leadership.
The union said it was launching a serious campaign to address falling living standards in May and promised a relentless campaign against our employers. Web pages and material demonstrating falling pay, the gender pay gap and the extent of casualisation proved highly effective with tens of thousands of members making their own comparisons.
Members responded enthusiastically, especially in response to pay inequalities. Local branches worked extremely hard and were determined to launch the strike action from May through to July. Repeatedly branches reported new members joining and new activists getting involved in the fight for equality.
But sadly UCU has squandered the good will among our members. The union leadership proposed strikes in August and even on Saturdays! These were unpopular with members, many felt these dates for action were simply unworkable.
Promised campaign material failed to materialise in the autumn, meaning the campaign lost further momentum. Demands to hold days of action in August to at least keep the pay dispute in members’ minds were opposed by a small majority on the NEC.
So it’s clear that members sensed the union had all but abandoned the pay dispute. The consultation, without any campaign, or recommendation for action, further revealed that our HE leadership (the HEC) had no strategy to win the dispute.
UCU’s leadership has an inbuilt majority composed of a group of elected NEC members aligned with the Independent Broad Left (IBL). These ‘moderate’ forces hampered calls from the minority of the NEC to build the campaign and call more effective action.
Despite rhetorical support for action the ‘IBL’ seem to have sought to avoid action, ultimately voting to put the issue of continuing the pay dispute to members without even a recommendation or a plan of how to continue and rebuild the dispute. A motion passed by the NEC for a national speaking tour by the General Secretary and other NEC members, to campaign for action in the HE pay dispute, was not implemented.
UCU Left members make up a minority of the NEC. They have argued consistently to mobilise a campaign to gain support among members for a national pay fight. We know that members will not simply walk out on strike at the drop of a hat. UCU members are not a stage army.
Yet as on so many previous occasions, members have shown they will be more likely to respond enthusiastically to calls for action if the UCU leadership demonstrates that’s it’s serious about fighting.
We think our union can successfully defend members’ interests, win disputes and defend post-16 education. We think with a genuine lead on pay we could have won members to fight and take on the gender pay gap and the rise in casualisation. But decisive leadership is necessary if we are to win members to take action.
UCU Left is a diverse group of rank and file UCU activists committed to campaigning for members and branches.
The UCU National Executive elections begin in January 2017. This will include the election of a General Secretary. UCU Left is supporting Jo McNeil, branch President of Liverpool University UCU, for General Secretary. Jo has a track record of defending members and building a fightback.
In addition, UCU Left is standing candidates as national officers and members of the NEC. We ask UCU members to campaign for a new leadership in UCU and vote for UCU Left candidates.
For more information on the NEC elections see:
Jo McNeil for General Secretary Campaign