Report from HEC: Friday email announcement overturns union democracy

At HEC on Friday 7th October, UCU Left-supporting members brought motions intended to ensure members are at the centre of decision making in the HE disputes, and permit branches in Scotland to decide to take action in the teaching term. The motions also aimed at ensuring the timeline of any industrial action coming out of the BDM and HEC could follow the industrial action timeline set out at HESC, and ensuring that no nation or region would have their capacity to engage in meaningful action before Christmas curtailed.

One motion aimed to address the democratic deficit of last year’s decision-making by requiring BDM questions to have the approval of elected HE officers; and to allow BDMs to consider the motions that some branches are already passing on what form our action should take if we win a mandate.

Others proposed earlier dates for the post-ballot BDM and subsequent HEC to ensure that meaningful action could take place before the end of term. This was the intention behind the timing of our ballot.

These motions were initially ruled out of order (in full, or in part) for no clear reason, and this Chair’s ruling was challenged robustly. Despite discussions with the Chair prior to the meeting, the efforts of HEC Vice-Chairs to gain clarity on the Chair’s ruling, and the Chair explaining their ruling at HEC, it remained unclear how any of the motions submitted to the meeting fell foul of UCU rules, policy or guidelines. Following a successful challenge to the Chair, the motions were debated and heard. We are pleased to report that those motions passed with clear majorities at the meeting. 

We are therefore alarmed to see that within an hour of HEC closing, the ‘Friday email’ directly contradicted the decision taken by HEC regarding the dates of the BDM. This also undermines decisions made by our sovereign policy-setting body for Higher Education, HESC, regarding the timescale for the disputes. If this email was drafted before HEC met, and sent in error without being updated to reflect the decisions taken by HEC, then a retraction and correction must be issued without delay.

HESC voted for a summer ballot in order to have leverage in the Autumn when members rightly anticipated the economic crisis would come to a head. We are in a sharp crisis. Members expect their union to step up. We cannot afford to delay. 

The Friday email announcement overturns a key decision taken democratically by the elected members of the Higher Education Committee and subverts wider union democracy.  They have not even deigned to provide the rationale behind their actions to HEC members, despite requests. This is unacceptable.

If you are concerned about the undermining of democratic decision making at a crucial time in our GTVO efforts, please make sure you contact the UK HE Officers and UCU Campaigns team to request clarity on the decisions made and BDM/HEC dates published. 

If like us you are concerned about these events you can contact UCU staff and elected officers at the following links:

General Secretary:

UCU President:

UCU national officials:

Higher Education Committee members:

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