Resist pandemic-inspired attacks on our rights and working conditions

Congress meets at a time when UCU members (and working people generally) face major attacks on our democratic and employment rights.  Our employers are using the pretext of the pandemic to further tighten their managerial grip and drive through cuts and detrimental changes to working practices. At the same time the Tory Government is attempting to bring back the Augar reforms of Higher Education, threatening a cut in fee to universities to £7,500 per student, and pushing for the ‘polytechnicalisation’ of Post-92 universities. All activities deemed “financially unviable” are under threat, as the redundancies at Leicester and Liverpool, and the wholesale course closures at London South Bank University show.

At a national level, the employers in both FE and HE aim to further squeeze pay and undermine our pensions, in the case of USS to the point of threatening the scheme entirely.

Congress is the opportunity for our union to orient itself to fight these attacks, building on the magnificent resistance currently shown by the Liverpool University branch to launch national action that can push the employers back across the board. While public campaigning and other forms of industrial action have a role to play, strikes are the decisive weapon for winning these battles. The victory by our EIS colleagues in Scottish FE against ‘fire and rehire’ shows that concerted national action can win. 

At the same time the government is waging an ideological offensive in universities and colleges. At present the principal instrument of this attack is the IHRA “working definition” of antisemitism, which they wish to impose on universities, having seen its success against the left in the Labour Party. UCU must organise to throw out this attack, re-emphasising that antisemitism is quite simply a kind of racism, and criticism of Israel is not racist.

Following on the heels of this attack is their “Free Speech” Bill, which seems contradictory given their blatant attack on free speech on Palestine. But in the Tory mindset this is entirely consistent. Universities are to be silenced if they support the “wrong kind” of free speech. 

We thus face a multi-pronged ideological assault to promote a Conservative agenda, to attack anti-racism and trans rights on campuses, and to weaken staff’s confidence to challenge the government over its own policies, from Covid-19 mismanagement to denying structural racism. 

Alongside fighting for jobs, defending pay and conditions, it is our union’s task to defend academic freedom and freedom of expression from these threats, while standing firmly on the side of the oppressed.

As well as defending ourselves, we must stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, building the movement for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions, and educating world opinion about the Nakba and the case for a free Palestine. We must oppose vaccination nationalism and gross inequalities worldwide in access to healthcare. We must insist on escalating hard-hitting action on the climate and nuclear disarmament.

We very much welcome the fact that even though the prioritisation process has produced an ordering of motions, Congress will endeavour to complete as much business as possible.  Where branches, regions and other bodies have gone to the trouble to debate and submit motions, we believe UCU Congress should debate this business. We encourage colleagues to speak quickly in order to move through the agenda, especially on non-controversial motions. Congress is the supreme policy-making body of the union and we should ensure it is as effective as possible. 

Education Committee (Motions 1-3), Saturday morning

UCU Left recommends support for all motions and the amendment in this section.  It is really important to defend education in the Arts.  UCU Left rejects any elitist view that the overall majority of students should only study degrees defined by narrow vocational outcomes and that subjects such as Art and Humanities are not for “the plebs”.  We utterly reject the view that studies in these areas are “low value” or have no relevance to employment.

While the Education section of Congress is short in terms of the number of motions, these issues are very important for UCU members.  We are all pleased when our students get better jobs as a result of their studies, but we absolutely reject the view that education is only about employment and the needs of the economy.  Education should also be about enjoyment of learning, of developing people as human beings and of producing critical, thinking citizens.  We oppose any model of education in which the arts and humanities are reserved for a small elite, while the mass of the population is only given an education based on a narrow vocationalism.

Equality Committee (Motions 4-18), Saturday morning

There are many important motions in this section.  It is important that support for people affected by Long Covid is identified as an equality issue.  We do not know at this stage of the pandemic how profound the effects of Long Covid will be. We can say that there is a need for support both from the NHS and from employers.

The motions and amendments in this section address many aspects of UCU’s equality agenda.  We need to take forward the task of affirming that Black Lives Matter through the proposal for an annual day on this theme and through the work of decolonising the curriculum.  We must address gender equality in terms of supporting women’s right to walk safely anywhere and in terms of tackling the gender pay gap.  Trans people need equal rights in terms of reform to the Gender Recognition Act and an end to discrimination and harassment.  We must recognise and support the ongoing disability rights agenda and the need for educational work in this area.

Most of the motions in the Equality section of Congress should be supported, including motions 4-10 and the amendment to motion 10 from the migrant members standing committee.

On motion 11, ‘End gender-based violence’ from the women members standing committee, we recommend support for the motion and for amendments 2 and 3.  We recognise there may be debate around amendment 1, but propose support for the motion regardless of the outcome of the vote on the amendments.

Motions 12 to 14 address the IHRA “working definition” of antisemitism and the Jerusalem Declaration.  UCU Left supports motion 12 from Exeter, as amended by the NEC.  

We must maintain UCU’s rejection of the IHRA document, which creates a false equivalence between racism against Jews, i.e. antisemitism, with criticism of Israel. Many universities are “adopting” this badly written definition, often in secret. Some are saying that they will use it in complaints and disciplinary processes. Others are silent on how it will be used, but vexatious complainants are citing its adoption. We are already seeing instances of witch-hunts against pro-Palestinian staff and students. 

We need a serious and systematic campaign in branches against the adoption of the IHRA working definition. This is a context in which it may be useful to calling on universities to adopt the Jerusalem Declaration to neuter the IHRA document. This is a tactical question, and not one of principle. 

We support motion 13 from London Region and all the amendments to it. We appreciate the positive intentions of motion 14 from the University of Northampton, but we think the appropriate step is to “remit” it to the NEC for further discussion. It is not clear what “adoption” of the JD would mean for UCU, and as such it would be as inappropriate for members to rush to vote on this as it would be for our employers.

We support motions 15-18 plus the amendment to motion 15.

Recruitment, Organising and Campaigning Committee (Motions 19-32), Saturday afternoon

Under the ROCC agenda there are important areas including tackling the climate emergency and building a united union, which ensures it addresses the needs of all members.  UCU Left recommends support for all motions and amendments in this section.

There is a major negotiating agenda around the shape of the workplace post COVID.  We are in favour of flexibility for workers with proper support for homeworking.  We are opposed to both compulsory homeworking and an enforced return to full-time attendance in the workplace and it is the duty of our employers to provide the equipment and resources we need to do our jobs, wherever we are based.

We support motions around improving the position of casualised staff.  This is a central issue for the future of trade unions.  We welcome motions on pensions and on housing.

Strategy and Finance Committee (Motions 33-54), Monday morning

This section of Congress business contains some important motions around international solidarity, climate justice and peace and disarmament.  It also contains some important matters which need to be debated around how we run UCU.

UCU Left recommends support for motions 33-36 which deal with formal matters related to the running of the union.

We recommend support for motions 37 -42 and the amendment to motion 37. Motion 38 commits the union to actively oppose the attempt to curtail the right to protest. The regularisation of rules regarding the allocation of strike pay called for in Motion 39 is essential to ensure members get the support they need when they take action.

On motion 43 Composite: Financial disclosure and transparency Southern regional committee and University of Leeds, we recommend support for the motion and opposition to the amendment from City College Plymouth, which weakens the motion.  

We recommend opposition to motion 44 Electronic voting at Congress, FESC and HESC South West regional committee This motion is in our view mistaken when it talks about votes truly reflecting individual views and confused about whether Congress votes should be open or secret.  We should remember that Congress delegates are delegates, who may have been elected on manifestoes and publicly-stated positions and that their job is to reflect the views of their branches which elected them, not solely their personal views.

We recommend support for motions 45 -54 and the amendment to 54.

Rules (Motions 55-67), Monday afternoon

There are a number of proposals in rule changes which we support because they enhance our democracy and representativeness.  We support motion 55, which updates our equality agenda, by including a reference to gender identity.  Similarly, we support motions 56 and 57.

We support motion 58 relating to the quorum of sector conferences from the University of Leeds.  This enhances our democracy and reduces the danger of sector conferences being made inquorate by the absence of delegates who by convention do not vote on the issues being debated.

On motion 60: Congress Membership and New/Small Branches University of Sheffield International College we recommend that delegates listen to the debate.  There are issues of how small branches can participate in Congress, but there is also a case for a minimum number of members to qualify for a delegate.

We oppose the proposal from South West regional committee (motion 61) to put a reduction in speaking times at Congress into Standing Orders  It is possible to reduce speaking times by suspension of standing orders, but we do not need to do so in all circumstances.

We support motion 62 from Yorkshire and Humberside retired members branch which enhances our representation of retired members.

We recommend opposition to motion 63 from South West regional committee.  This motion is about putting electronic voting into rules.

We support motion 64 for a National hustings event.  This is useful democratic measure.

We recommend opposition to motion 65 from South West regional committee.  There is no good case for this move and UCU needs to deal with its financial business.

We support motions 66 and 67 which are democratic reforms supporting the participation of retired members.

Recommendations for elections to be held at Congress

FE National Pay Negotiators – Margot Hill, Julia Roberts, Richard McEwan

HE National Pay Negotiators – Marian Mayer, Sean Wallis

HE National USS Negotiators – Marion Hersh, Deepa Govindarajan Driver


UCU Left wishes all delegates a happy and enjoyable Congress.  We hope that next year we can all meet up in person.  If you like what you have read in this leaflet, please consider joining UCU Left.

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