The new National Executive met on 6th July for the first time since our Congress some weeks ago.
Members may recall that at Congress and at the HE and FE sector conferences there were large majorities or often unanimous decisions for a number of very important resolutions which placed the union in a strong position to defend education, defend members’ jobs, pay, pensions and conditions and be part of the growing resistance to the austerity assault that we are facing from the Con-Dem government.
In higher education delegates voted to reinstate the action short of strike action (ASOS) in opposition to the imposition of very detrimental new provisions in the University Superannuation Scheme.
TPS delegates voted overwhelmingly to seek common action, including strike action, with other rejectionist unions in the autumn who are refusing to accept the government’s diktat that public sector workers should work longer, pay more and get less as a result of the financial crisis which was not of our making.
Since Congress the momentum for further strike action in the autumn has been rebuilding, with a number of unions signalling their intention to ballot and to take action over pensions or over pensions and pay – teaching unions, the PCS, the FBU, the RMT and others. Both our HE and FE sectors are committed to ballots for action in response to the frankly pathetic and insulting pay offers we have been made.
Congress delegates unanimously backed the TUC call for another mass demonstration on October 20th against austerity, and the NUS demonstration in defence of education in November. Many branches are now discussing transport to London.
Equally notable and equally welcome was the fact that delegates voted by large majorities against motions proposing to restrict union democracy under the guise of ‘saving money’ and ‘increasing efficiency’. They voted not to change the way negotiators are elected, not to put every so-called ‘final’ offer to a new ballot, and not to arbitrarily reduce the size of the NEC to about 40 reps. They took the view that we needed discussion and consideration first about what roles should be included on the NEC, particularly in regard to the protection of Equality and special interest representation. There was a vote of about 4:1 to set up a Commission of ten delegates elected from the Congress delegations to consider this over the next year, to consult widely in the union, and to report back to Congress 2013. The election to that Commission is currently underway.
Finally, delegates voted for a motion (L5) which was highly critical of the GS’s penchant for the use of membership surveys prior to democratic discussion in the constitutional bodies of the union and for her use of poorly designed and ill-considered opinion surveys in pursuance of her drive to undermine the influence of the elected NEC.
It is important to re-state these outcomes from Congress in view of the very clear intention of a faction on the new NEC (the Communist Party-led Independent Broad Left) to bend every effort to subvert delegates’ intentions at Congress and to use their current majority on the NEC to block the potential for building resistance to the Tory/Lib Dem austerity assault on education.
In the NEC meeting on 6th July, which was supposed to consider how to implement Congress policies, the general secretary as part of her report tried to claim that resolution L5 was unworkable. She sought to do this by disingenuously proposing that it applied to all surveys (such as stress surveys, petitions in support of branches on strike, and solidarity petitions in support of threatened workers).
A number of NEC members of course argued against this absurd view but by a vote of 34 to 22 (the IBL/Communist Party faction voted with the GS) the new NEC backed her position and in effect overturned the Congress outcome.
Next, a motion from a supporter of the IBL/Communist Party faction then suggested that the NEC should set up a second ‘commission’ on UCU democracy to run alongside the Commission currently being elected as agreed at Congress. This would consist of the Presidential team, Chairs or nominees from the NEC sub-committees (all of whom are IBL/Communist Party), and 3 NEC members and would report in January 2013 (just in time for the next round of NEC elections, incidentally).
This manoeuvre is a clear subversion of the democratically expressed will of the majority of Congress delegates. Disgracefully, by a very similar margin to the previous motion, this was approved by the new NEC. UCU Left supporters and others voted against.
It is worth pointing out here that the IBL/Communist Party had approached UCU Left during Congress a month ago to propose doing a deal over a similar formula for the Commission before the Commission motion was put to the vote. We rejected this proposal because we believed it right and democratic to have the debate in the open and involve the maximum number of delegates in open discussion rather than hatch dodgy undemocratic backroom deals behind members’ backs.
Richard McEwan, FE UK-Elected Rep, moved a motion of solidarity with the current Spanish miners’ strike against massive job losses and the destruction of their communities, a strike with dreadful echoes of the Great Miners Strike of 1984/5 in the UK.
This was opposed on several grounds by various Independent Broad Left/Communist Party supporters, eg it did not have anything to do with education, there were other strikes going on, and our members who have not been getting strike pay would not like it. Some argued that £1000 was too much, ‘unaffordable’. Again by majority vote, opposed by UCU Left supporters, the motion was remitted for consideration by the ‘long grass’ of the presidential team and the national treasurer.
The GS did intervene immediately after the vote saying that she would ensure that a message of solidarity was forwarded, and with the agreement of the treasurer would send a donation of some kind. UCU Left NEC members will be following this up to make sure it does happen.
Laura Miles, LGBT FE Rep and former Chair of the Equality Committee, proposed a motion from her and Tom Hickey, HE South, critical of Ed Miliband’s recent Labour Policy speech on immigration. This was seconded by Jane Hardy (HE London and the East).
Miliband’s speech includes the falsehood that migrant workers lower wages, despite three recent reports concluding that they don’t. His speech has been welcomed by the BNP and has clearly provided cover for the racist Right and the fascists. Some imagined that this motion, calling for a public statement from the union regretting the speech and to approach other unions to help organise a conference on migrant workers and the labour movement, would be adopted with no opposition. However, IBL/Communist Party supporters argued against it and moved to remit the motion on the grounds that ‘we did not want to be seen to undermine Labour’.
This bizarre, opportunist and unprincipled position was then agreed 34/22 with 5 abstentions. Disgracefully a number of IBL/Communist Party-supporting Equality reps, voted for this position, with one honourable exception. It is obviously more important for such people to support the Labour Party, even when its leader makes a speech giving comfort to racists, than to support migrant workers. An utter disgrace for a union with such an otherwise fine record on Equality campaigning.
It is clear, in light of the way in which this Right-dominated NEC seems set to operate, that the genuine democrats in the union need to do two things. Obviously we need good candidates in the next round of NEC elections who can stand up strongly for working class principles and for our members’ collective interests. But more importantly we also need to ensure that our branches and regions are further developed as the key sites of democratic decision-making in the union. That means improving the links and accountability between branches and NEC members, holding NEC members to account, creating a culture of big, lively branch meetings where members’ confidence and activism can be developed.
We will continue to keep you informed of how democracy is being interpreted/subverted on the current NEC.
We will continue to seek to uphold the democratically determined outcomes of Congress 2012 and halt the backsliding and undermining of Congress outcomes by the Right in the union embodied in the Independent Broad Left/Communist Party. But if we want to defend lay influence in UCU against attempts by the GS and her supporters to transform our current model of a campaigning union into a mere servicing union then it means we also have to develop a more extensive and well-rooted rank and file organisation.
Practically that means we need to keep organising hard for the maximum turnout from our branches to the TUC demo on 20th October and to ensure that the union will be a part of action over pay and pensions in the autumn. In light of the current backsliding by sections of the NEC, HE branches and members will need to ensure that the action in the USS dispute is fully and openly debated at the HE Special Sector Conference on 13th September and that decisions made are adhered to.
We also have a great opportunity to come together to discuss alternatives to the Coalition’s austerity and how we organise our resistance at the UCU Left conference Defending Post-16 Education in an Era of Austerity on Saturday 22nd September (with our AGM to follow on Sunday 23rd September).
There is a fantastic line-up for this conference including John McDonnell MP, Kostas Skordoulis of Athens University, Melanie Cooke, Owen Jones, author of Chavs, Zita Holbourne of BARAC, Professor Andrew McGettigan, Alex Kenny of NUT, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jane Aitchison of PCS.
£5/£3 registration, book online here.