Report of UCU Congress 2024

UCU Congress met in the context of a snap General Election having just been called. Many are desperate to see the back of the Conservatives, as 14 years of Tory governments has been marked by austerity, increased marketisation and a failure to see education as public good. But expectations seemed to be limited across delegates.

Moreover, the war in Palestine has led to a huge wave of resistance and solidarity – countless national marches, several workplace days of actions and the recent wave of student encampments. This has led to many questioning the role of our educational institutions as academic freedom has been restricted, staff and students victimised as management have argued our campuses should be apolitical. UCU Left believe as trade unionists that these are important issues that our union must take up. 

The FESC and HESC were cancelled due to strike action by UNITE members who work for UCU. UCU Left stands in solidarity with UNITE members and it is a terrible inditement on our union that UCU SMT have failed to resolve these issues. More detail on this later in the report.   

This article reports the debates on the Wednesday and Friday of Congress and the strike action by UCU UNITE members on Thursday 30th May.  The results of the votes on motions submitted to Congress 2024, except for emergency motions, can be found at:

Day 1 Wednesday 29th May 2024

The day started with a challenge to the ordering of motions. Motions 32 – 37 on solidarity with Palestine had been scheduled for the end of the day. Unfortunately, motions put later on the agenda often are not heard due to time constraints. Delegates argued that due to the urgency and importance of the situation in Palestine, the need to provide solidarity and resist the draconian approaches taken by our employers and the police, the motions needed to be moved up the agenda. Also, elements of motions that supported calls for BDS had been ruled out of order as Congress Business Committee or Democratic Services?  stated they were not possible to legally implement. Congress delegates agreed with both challenges and these important issues were moved earlier on the agenda and ordered back on to the agenda respectively. 

Union democracy and campaigning

Casualisation is a blight on our sector that needs urgent and sustained focus. Congress passed a motion from the Anti-Casualisation Committee about creating a toolkit for winning union recognition in unorganised workplaces, that would build on the successful campaigns at University of Cambridge and Sussex ISC. 

Congress carried a motion from Yorkshire and Humberside Region about supporting democratic debate and restoring the UCU activists’ list. This was a vital resource for branches to speak to each other calling for advice or informing others of problems – our union must support the ability for members to speak and discuss issues. 

Congress carried a motion from Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Committee calling on the TUC to continue lobbying the government to allow unions to use electronic voting in union elections and industrial action ballots.  This is at present not permitted by law.

It also carried a motion from Liverpool City College calling for investigation into low turnout in union elections and investigating a move towards electronic voting.  

A key attack on the trade union movement is the introduction of the Minimum Service Levels Bill. Congress carried a composite motion to work with other unions to brief members about the new law and about TUC/union policies opposing the law.  Further the motion instructed branches not to comply with any ‘work notices’ issued by employers under the Act.

Two motions on green policies were passed, recognising the importance of education for a green transition and calling on more members to become green reps and to access CPD courses on green issues.


Congress passed motions affirming the value of education and denouncing government attacks on ‘low value’ courses.  It instructed the NEC to launch a national campaign to defend post-16 education, which would include a national demonstration in the Autumn. We expect this to be organised and that we see branch banners from across HE, FE, ACE and Prisons to raise the profile and help defend our sectors. 

Congress also debated issues of free speech, academic freedom and sometimes misuse thereof.  It remitted motion 12 to NEC and carried motions 13 and 14 to protect LGBTQ+ people and those who are discussing issues of war. 

Finally in this section Congress carried a motion from the Retired Members’ Committee to hold a Health and Social Care Conference due to the ongoing crises in these sectors that affects us all. 

Attitudes towards a future Labour government

Congress agreed with a motion from Westminster-Kingsway College that there should be no honeymoon period for a Labour Government. UCU Left supported this motion as we do not believe that Starmer’s Labour Party is going to be supportive of workers. Trade unionists should not simply sit on their hands and wait for Labour to resolve the issues within our society.  There was some opposition to the motion, with one contribution arguing that we need “friends in high places”. However, delegates passed the motion.

It is absolutely shameful the way that Dr Faiza Shaheen has been treated by the Labour Party. Congress called on the Labour Party to reinstate Dr Faiza Shaheen as Labour Party candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green.  Dr Shaheen is a UCU member who works at LSE.

Congress carried the motion from Yorkshire and Humberside RMB calling on a future government to tackle inequality crises in food, health, housing, social care and transport.  This motion attracted three supportive amendments.


Congress passed a motion deploring the practice of some universities of using employment by subsidiary companies to keep staff out of TPS and on inferior pension schemes.  It also called on the government to fully fund the increased employer contribution to TPS pensions in post-92 universities.

A motion was carried from the Retired Members’ Committee seeking reform of TPS pensions, so that survivors of TPS pensioners who retired before 1st January 2007 can keep their pension on remarriage or formation of a new partnership.

International solidarity

Congress carried a motion from the NEC about the importance of international solidarity and co-operation.  It carried a resolution from the migrant members’ standing committee calling on UCU to fund costs of inviting a speaker from a sibling union from the Global South or a historically marginalised UCU event to attend a UCU conference.

As highlighted at the start of this report, the genocide in Palestine was the key issue of the day for many delegates. Congress carried six resolutions in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Delegates heard from movers of motions who highlighted how staff and students’ freedom of speech have been limited by employers and the government. The motions that were passed called for a defence of free speech on Palestine and support for pro-Palestine protests on US campuses.

Another key debate was the composite motion to ‘Oppose a ‘pre-war’ world – welfare not warfare’. Movers of the motion argued that there is a ramping up of war rhetoric, our government is pledging to spend more money on defence which will mean there is less money to be spent on welfare. This must be opposed. Congress supported the motion, which resolved for UCU to submit a motion/amendment to this year’s TUC Congress calling on government to reverse the rise in arms expenditure. 

Congress carried a solidarity motion with Ukraine and an amendment that called for a ceasefire rather than sending military aid. Also motions in solidarity with Argentinian workers resisting the Milei Government, and with Uyghur Muslims were passed.

Day 2 Thursday 30th May 2024

The middle day of Congress is normally when the employment sector conferences meet and when retired members at Congress hold a meeting.  This year, this did not happen as UNITE members took strike action on 30th May, leading to cancellation of the meetings scheduled for that day. UNITE members of UCU staff have been in dispute over various matters, including racism in UCU, organisational culture and union recognition, arising from the decision of UCU to recognise the GMB as a separate union for senior UCU staff.  UNITE represents over 80% of UCU staff, so this had a profound effect.

UNITE UCU have held two ballots for action in the last twelve months, the latest of which resulted in a clear majority for strike action.  

UCU Left delegates along with others joined UNITE “picket lines” at the Congress venue from 8.30am on Thursday morning – it is a terrible indictment on our union that this strike had to happen. 

The UNITE branch were keen to explain to UCU delegates why they had found it necessary to take strike action and held several events over the whole Congress, that were packed with UCU delegates keen to show solidarity.  On the Thursday, unite held a moving rally to explain the experiences of members, many of whom were taking industrial action for the first time. Moreover, during Congress debates some delegates wore t-shirts with the slogan ‘Black Staff Matter’ to show their support for the UNITE dispute and for the Black Members Standing Committee.  The t-shirts were produced by lay UCU members and profits were donated to the strike fund.

Motions about the dispute were carried on Friday.

Day 3 Friday 31st May 2024


The Black Members Standing Committee did not submit any motions to Congress this year, due to their boycott of UCU since February. This is due to the failure of UCU HQ to take seriously issues of racism raised by the BMSC – for more information It is completely unacceptable that members have felt so sidelined and undermined that they have taken this drastic action and we stand in solidarity with them. 

UCU Left are very pleased that Congress passed two motions in solidarity with the BMSC and Black staff. It is not usual for Congress to debate any matters related to staffing, but Congress voted to do so on this occasion due to the widespread strength of feeling. 

Motions were also carried on women, race and intersectionality and developing perimenopause and menopause education in colleges and universities. Sadly, motions 41-49 of the Equality section of Congress business were not reached for debate and were remitted to the NEC.

Address by Palestinian Ambassador, Husam Zomlot

In a moving speech, the Palestinian ambassador acknowledged the support of UCU, especially in urgently and promptly calling for a ceasefire.  He stressed the extent of the massacres, the lack of red lines laid down for Israel by the international community and the fact that Israel is engaged in all-out genocide. The evidence is stark and irrefutable. 70% of houses and 80% of schools in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.  625,000 school children in Gaza have had no schooling for eight months.  36 hospitals have been destroyed.  Only 4 hospitals are partially functioning.

The Israeli government has cut off food, water, electricity and fuel to Gaza.  Children are dying of malnutrition.  Over 250 aid workers and 700 health care workers have been killed.  95 professors and over 260 teachers have been killed. Israel is making life in the Gaza strip impossible, preparing the war for further ethnic cleansing and a second Nakba.

Education is very important for the Palestinian people in sustaining Palestinian culture and identity. The ambassador also referred to the importance of campaigns for USS to divest from companies which support the oppression of the Palestinian people. He condemned the role of the US and UK governments in failing to support the Palestinian people and in providing weapons for the IDF. 

He also raised the fact that the UK has not resumed funding for UNRWA.  The UK Government must recognise the state of Palestine. The ambassador praised the work of branches and members towards obtaining student visas for Palestinians. 

Rule Changes

A rule change, proposed by the University of Sheffield, was carried, providing for proper, transparent procedures for halting industrial action, just as applies for authorising it.

A rule change was carried to allow for future Congresses to be conducted on a hybrid basis.  This was a debate in which several concerns were expressed.  Arguments for the hybrid option were related to accessibility and not excluding members who cannot travel easily.  While supporting the motion, many delegates also valued the networking and accountability aspects from having in-person events and would not want everything to become online only. It was agreed to move towards hybrid events, with card voting for those in the hall. 

An NEC amendment to model regional committee standing orders was agreed.  This provides for prison or other institutions which have more than 10 members in a region, other than the region in which the institution is primarily based, to send delegates to the regional committee.

An emergency rule change motion on recall was accepted for debate and carried.  This provides a recall mechanism for the situation which occurs when a Congress or sector conference does not take place when scheduled. It now becomes policy to reschedule the event, rather than remitting motions to NEC.

Motions related to UNITE dispute

Congress carried two motions related to the UNITE dispute.  The motions instructed the General Secretary to settle the dispute and to agree an independent investigation into UCU’s workplace culture.


Many members will be concerned about when the FE and HE Sector Conferences will take place.  These meetings are vital for deciding UCU’s industrial strategy particularly in relation to the issues in our national bargaining claims, and the industrial action members will take if necessary to achieve bargaining objectives. Within both HE and FE there are disagreements on the best way to move forward and it is essential that these debates are held, so decisions can be taken and then implemented. 

The UCU UNITE staff group has helpfully indicated that they have no opposition to these meetings being rescheduled and so it is hoped that these conferences take place soon. UCU Left urges UCU SMT to resolve the dispute immediately and will continue to be in dialogue with the UNITE branch to ensure that we provide solidarity.

This was an atypical UCU Congress.  There was a lot of frustration with UCU’s SMT, and rightly so. Nevertheless, there were good debates and some good decisions taken on the Wednesday and Friday. These decisions will be referred to the incoming NEC to allocate to relevant committees for action, which is the normal practice. It is important that we continue to build our union and campaign for all parts of post-16 education and that our efforts are not curtailed by the failures of UCU SMT. 

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