Reports from conference / assembly:-
From Rent Strikes to Protests: Building Student Fightbacks
Mattie & Molly chaired the student solidarity session where we heard from students organising around the UK in response to their appalling treatment by their unis and the government. Staff in attendance were inspired and heartened for their solidarity in our struggle for better, fairer, working conditions. The session enabled activists across the UK to share experiences and created a network for organising student resistance in the months and years ahead.
Safeguarding our pensions
A session held on USS heard from a panel of speakers and contributors from the audience representing all the diversity of views within UCU. There was widespread consensus on the need for industrial action to defend the defined benefit scheme if the current valuation is not fundamentally altered.
The workshop heard from current UCU negotiators Deepa Driver, Marion Hersh and Sam Marsh, the highly principled Trustee Jane Hutton, past negotiators Megan Povey and Carlo Morelli and influential pensions commentators Dennis Leech and Mike Otsuka.
While details of the extent of employers’ willingness to challenge USS remains uncertain colleagues were reminded that talk of benefit reform means our forthcoming sector conference needs to develop a clear plan for action
The Anti Casualisation section featured important contributions from the #CoronaContract and the Fractionals For Fair Play (FFFP) group and Christina Paine from the NEC. The well attended session covered the need to have focused demands amidst a context where staff on various forms of precarious contracts can easily be atomised and marginalised. The importance of organising around key issues in light of atomisation was also highlighted. Those key issues could form concrete demands: Permanency, anti-bullying, consistent pay, resisting stress and overwork. The amplification of structural inequalities that casualisation causes was also highlighted. The link between recruitment freezes the use of churn to perpetuate casualisation was made as well as the importance of anti-casualisation being a key part of the 4-Fights. On the back of the leverage provided by 4-Fights success stories and strategies to counter casualisation were shared. Christina spoke about work to bring all anti-caz campaigns together. Strategies include Branches interviewing casualised staff to gather grounded experience as well as the submission of collective grievances. As highlighted above, our demands should include: two year standard length contracts, an end to zero-hours contracts and the automatic implementation of the right to permanency after four years of FTC. There was a great sense of solidarity at the meeting as well as a recognition of just how long this fight has been going on and how acute the situation is. The importance of building student staff and cross union solidarity was discussed as well as the need for horizontal organising – delegates are keen to stay in touch and organise further meetings to share strategy, support and solidarity.
The main conclusions were that (a) casualisation is a long term problem and it’s getting worse (b) we need to pressurise UCU to take this matter more seriously (c) we can’t wait for that so we also need to build separately to fight this.
Striking during Lockdown
This session took a practical approach to sharing advice and strategy for successful industrial action during lockdown. First, speakers from Heriot-Watt UCU discussed their model for GTVO including some visual depictions of areas of focus such as Aims, Knowledge of Membership, Localised Framing of Issues and Vote Counting. Second, Heriot-Watt outlined some practical advice about managing the GTVO record of confirmed votes throughout the process. Thirdly, Mark Porter (Unite Convenor Speaker from Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick) shared insight from industrial action taking place during lockdown for a group of workers who have continued in-person work throughout. Finally, speakers from Brighton discussed ways to build the pressure of the campaign as soon as the ballot result is announced, before any action takes place, with a focus on using social media to engage students as early as possible. All materials mentioned above (and more!) available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-vqse1q2VZ9vuNB66OmIaXVBf8bxxATfpg6Z1Pi-eoY/
Fighting racism & decolonising the curriculum
The workshop on decolonising institutions and racism was attended by around 30 people. There were contributions on the impact of BLM, George Floyd’s death in giving impetus and continuity to the struggles against racism in Britain and the push for the decolonisation of institutions and ridding the system of systemic racism. Contributions came from students and lecturers in HE and FE and from the Community: Selma James. This resulted in lively exchanges on the practicalities of decolonisation; questions were raised as to what is really meant by decolonisation? Does it mean deconstructing the teaching of Shakespeare for example? The importance of allies was raised. It was pointed out that most institutions are still operating business as usually with essentially what is a very Eurocentric curriculum even though these institutions had said that they would act on their institutions given the BLM, this has not happened. FE institutions are still haemorrhaging Black staff, lacking in recruitment of Black staff, and in both sectors and other areas of education, Black workers still face institutional racism, unequal pay, lack promotion and progression, face casualisation and are the first to be made redundant regardless of status. Decolonisation of institution has to have a global approach because the tentacle of British colonialism is all over the world. Britain was heavily involved in taking people as slaves from Africa to the Americas but far often this is not reflected in British history, the use of violence against colonial people, is glossed over. This is an uncomfortable view of race; we have to be taught how modern societies came about so that we do not repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Whose view point is being examined? Much of what we know is from the point of view of the victor not the victim, those with power, who have access to education. Minorities feel left out of history; this has an impact on self esteem, belonging, limits expectations and aspiration for Black people. Universities need to change in governance by staff and students. Universities are still complicit on continuing colonial practice through their investments. What is required is for Institutions to indicate what they are doing to decolonise their institutions – from curriculum through to staff promotion? How they are linking up with communities affected? What changes are taking place in terms of revising textbooks, overseas trips etc. There is a call by Black lecturers for UCU to take action to recruit, retain and progress Black members of staff across all sectors of education.
Thanks to all those who contributed their reports for this summary.