UCU Left report on HEC Meeting on 8th June: Don’t bury the #FourFights

Four-fights Square

The Higher Education Committee (HEC) re-convened for a further on-line HEC meeting on the 8th June following the inability to deal with questions relating to the Four Fights and USS disputes at its last meeting of the 27th May. Before commenting on this it is worth noting that two important decisions were taken at the Higher Education Committee (HEC) on 8th June, both of which were supported by UCU Left members. The first to support the “Take the Knee” protests called by Black Lives Matter and Stand Up To Racism on Wednesday 10th June. The motion (see below) was overwhelmingly supported 22:6 with 9 abstentions. The second motion (again see below for the motion) moved by a casualised member called for support for the vibrant campaign being waged by casualised staff and branches against redundancies in response to Covid-19. Unfortunately, neither motion was given the usual opportunity to a full debate but both were moved and voted on, this was due to the lack of time taken with the discussion which the HEC was originally convened to debate.

Four Fights & USS disputes

The reconvened HEC’s business concentrated primarily upon the unresolved question of how to defend members in the Four Fights and USS disputes. The Branch delegates’ meeting (BDM), held prior to the HEC of 27th May, rejected the settlement of the Four Fights and sought to retain the Four Fights and the USS dispute as live disputes. The one vote at the HEC of 27th May that was clear was that the HEC voted to support the position of the BDM and rejected employer (UCEA) proposals over the Four Fights as insufficient. May’s HEC therefore voted to reject a proposal to put the UCEA proposals to members. This was the view taken by UCU Left members.

The short time available for the original HEC meeting prevented discussion of the 14 motions which could then have outlined a strategy for the development of the two Four Fights and USS disputes. These included not moving to immediate ballots but retaining the disputes as on-going. This was in line with the decision of the BDM and was the specific question of the consultation within the branches prior to the BDM. Other motions to the May HEC would have called for the holding a Special Higher Education Sector Conference on the Four Fights dispute. Again something supported by the BDM meeting, but not subject to the original consultation. This could have allowed branches to determine the means by which a campaign would take place and, not least, provide a focus upon campaigning over job cuts to casusalised staff, which is at the heart of employers’ response to the current covid-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, the reconvened HEC did not discuss these outstanding motions but instead took up almost all its time examining the process of voting on proposals already rejected by the last HEC. The Chair clarified after one hour’s discussion that the vote would be on adopting the principles as outlined by the BDM, rather than on the implementation.  The HEC’s decision should not be misinterpreted as seeking to stop the Four Fights campaign, despite the fact that all the outstanding motions from the May HEC were remitted again, this time to the HEC in July. While there is little open support for the UCEA proposals, either at the HEC or the BDM, the consultation with members must come with a strong recommendation for rejection. If the implementation is decided outside HEC it will be an attempt to undermine the Four Fights dispute and abandon the fight over equality and causalisation. It is important to recognise that members do not vote for action at the drop of a hat. Without a concerted campaign from the union that convinces members both that we can fight and that the union is willing to back a fight members know they are being treated cynically, like a stage army; being led up the hill only to be led back down again. It is this that is leading the majority of the new HEC to overturn the previous HEC decision and now put the UCEA offer out to consultation. This is a model adopted by the last General Secretary.

The HEC voted by majority 22 to 17 to refuse to separate off the question of rejection of the offer from that of consulting members and so overturned the HEC decision of 27th May. UCU Left members voted to separate the two questions. Branches and members now need to campaign to keep the Four Fights alive. UCU must not cut the feet from under our casualised colleagues, nor ditch the campaign over equality or accept the inevitable increase in workloads now facing all staff. The Four Fights dispute arose out of the campaign by activists to force the union to ensure UCU took the questions of inequality and discrimination facing so many of our more vulnerable colleagues at the heart of our union’s work. Those members on more secure contracts recognised that without a campaign to raise the terms and conditions for the least well paid the terms of conditions for all will be lowered.

Emergency motion, Solidarity with George Floyd

HEC sends solidarity to George Floyd’s family and condemns the systematic racism that caused his death. We stand with all protesting against police brutality.

HEC believes that the UK has many BAME deaths in custody, and disproportionate BAME people in prisons. BAME are more likely to die from force or restraint and of Covid 19.

HEC demands all Principals and VCs to commit to ending institutional racist practices in the post 16 education sector.

1.  Decolonise the Curriculum

2.  End the BAME attainment gap.

3. End the race pay gap.

4. Support the protests of Black Lives Matter movements and SUTR.

5. Calls on all to join taking the knee on Wednesday 10 June at 6.00pm #TakeTheKnee

6 Supports the call to take by Dianne Abbott and Stand up to Racism for an independent inquiry into disproportionate BAME deaths in the Covid crisis in the UK.

Emergency motion, HE Casualisation crisis

HEC notes:

The consequences of the HE casualisation crisis are becoming clearer. The lack of UCU coordination on this has led to several brave campaigns being mounted by the most vulnerable precarious workers (many BAME) in defence of livelihoods, their students, and the future of the institutions.

HEC resolves:

  1. To engage in widespread media campaign to publicise grassroots anticasualisation efforts, including (but not limited to) Precarious@Gold, @EssexGTAs, @KingsGTAs, @CleanersFor, and @CoronaContract.
  2. To encourage members and branches to donate to solidarity funds for such campaigns.
  3. To expand UCU’s anti-casualisation work to support and dovetail with the work of said grassroots organisations, with the involvement of the anticasualisation committee. Said work will include both UK-wide campaigning, and concrete regional support for local branch work, via organisational and collective casework support.
  • ‘UCU to equip all members with know your rights training aiding the pushback against covering for casualised staff
  • UCU recruit and support a member, or group of members in a precedent setting case on resisting job loss due to Covid
  • to consult more closely with ACC and coronacontract
  • Jo Grady will speak directly with casualised organisers from corona contracts
  • to publicise any good practice on retaining of casualised staff’
  1. Arrange mass online meeting to organise opposition to casualization in HE, before the end of June 2020.
  • ‘Negotiate with UCEA on guarantee of at least two years job security for
  • casualised staff.
  • Develop a section of website on supporting Corona job retention
  • Name and shame institutions that engage in bad practice, by
  • media and articles by sympathetic journalists
  • Defend staff in the workplace who refuse to take on previously employed casualised colleagues’ work.
  • Consult with ACC about ALL actions concerned with casualisation’
  1. Urgently to mount a campaign to call on securely employed staff to defend casualised staff whose contracts have not been renewed or whose hours have been cut by refusing to take on new or additional work produced by redundancies, non-renewal and a reduction of their hours. This shall be accompanied by a strong and regular communications strategy with direct input from the Anti-casualisation committee.
  2. To reinstate the annual anticasualisation training and organising conference established by Congress 2013 composite motion 9, beginning in summer 2020 with an adapted online programme for the coronavirus context. It will be organised with direct guidance and input from the Anticasualisation Committee to ensure development of targeted, reproducible, confidence-building training to empower and recruit anticasualisation reps, officers and activists vital to the fight for jobs, safe working environments, and secure work.

 

Report of Meeting of Higher Education Committee, 27 May 2020

Members of the UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) met online for a half-day meeting to discuss the union’s position towards the two disputes, including the Four Fights offer.

HEC voted:

  1. To support the Day of Action on 1 June called by the National Education Union (NEU) focusing upon casualisation in HE.
  2. To call a Special Higher Education Sector Conference in early July (Motion 3, passed nem con) to discuss formulating campaigns and a draft sector-wide claim to address the threat of redundancies and pay cuts currently facing the sector. This could be a real opportunity to rebuild the fightback over casualisation begun in the Four Fights dispute.

The main part of the meeting attempted to deal with the Four Fights offer from UCEA. This is marginally improved over the offer before the last 14 days of strike action was called, but real questions about its implementation have been raised. There is no increase on pay. However, the wider problem is that instead of addressing casualisation, equality and workload problems, universities are actively looking to sack casualised staff, take no action on pay gaps and to intensify workloads!

The questions HEC had to address were:

  • should we accept or reject the offer,
  • should HEC put the question to members, and
  • what are the key strategic priorities for the union?

The HEC meeting took place after some short but quite extensive consultation with branches that was reported to the two Branch Delegate Meetings the day before. These branches voted with weighted votes.

In the Four Fights dispute, the meeting recorded 96 votes to Reject the UCEA offer and 55 to Accept. But a second question caused considerable debate.

This asked whether HEC, a Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) or ‘the members’ should decide about the offer, with a clear majority voting for the latter.

This might lead one to conclude that the democratic thing to do would be to put out an offer that branches had called on HEC to Reject out to members — but with a recommendation to Reject! This certainly was the line taken by Jo Grady and the ‘IBL’ faction.

However, there were several clear problems with this interpretation.

  • Delegates complained about Q2 simply because it was not a question that they had been asked to put to branches. If they voted to Reject, they believed that was sufficient.
  • Until the morning of the Branch Delegate Meeting, officials had told reps that an HESC was out of the question.
  • The question had no option “do not accept, do not reballot now, but rebuild the dispute” — the position that a majority of branch delegates reported their branches had arrived at.
  • In the meeting, few branch delegates reported that the option of “ballot members with a recommendation to Reject” was the position arrived at by their branch meetings.

It is worth noting that Sally Hunt was heavily criticised for interpreting questions of a branch delegate meeting in order to end the USS dispute in 2018.

HEC representatives all agree that whatever mechanism was involved, members would be consulted as part of building a new fightback. But the differences between Left and Right turned on the questions of when and how.

After a debate, HEC voted on an emergency motion to call an online Higher Education Sector Conference to debate this issue. This was lost on a tied vote 20:20. However HEC had already voted to organise a Sector Conference to debate a new sector-wide claim to UCEA (Motion 3). Given that there is no agreement to rush to reballot, the sensible position would be to address these issues at that conference.

HEC then moved to vote on a recommendation from the national officials to put the offer to members. This fell 18 votes with 21 votes against. Due to lack of time remaining motions were remitted to the next HEC meeting.

Where does this leave the union?

There may be another call to have an HEC meeting. Alternatively it might be felt that the best way forward is via the Special Sector Conference supported already (see above).

We would advise branches to call online General Meetings in the next two weeks. Many are fighting their local employers in any case.

  1. We need to renew the debate in the branches about how to take the Four Fights dispute forward. This can feed into the Special Sector Conference in July, and pass motions which may be submitted to HEC in the interim.
  2. Branches can submit motions (of 150 words or less) to the HEC via an existing HEC member (UCU Left members of the HEC can be contacted to do so). Branches can also submit motions directly to the national Head of Higher Education, but these would be recorded only for information.)

Other motions were passed, including supporting a campaign over fair rents and a ban on tenant evictions, an issue that particularly affects low-paid staff and students, and to launch an organising campaign in support of casualised staff.

In the immediate, branches should start planning to organise protests on the Day of Action on June 1st, and/or support NEU protests.

 

UCU Left ‘Four Fights’ Negotiators’ statement, 6/3/2020

Lobby of Woburn House

Lobbying UCEA HQ in December

Dear colleagues

We are writing as UCULeft ‘Four Fights’ negotiators who have been engaged in complex negotiations which are ongoing.

It is important to note that these negotiations have not yet resulted in an offer. Nothing is on the table and nothing is agreed.

The current situation is that after constructive discussions on the pay-related elements of the claim, the employers’ representatives were sent away to consult with their members.

In this context we are concerned that the General Secretary put out a statement on Thursday that was neither discussed nor agreed with the negotiators. In that statement she says that “If we can get an offer that represents the kind of movement I have set out here on all four parts of the dispute, I will recommend that our higher education committee (HEC) should consult members on whether to accept it.”

Negotiators are elected by members to engage directly with the employers to attempt to settle a dispute. During the course of negotiations we make proposals to the employers, knowing that whatever we might negotiate, there is a democratic process that holds us to account.

Offers, deals and accountability

HEC has agreed the following process for dealing with any offer from the employers. We have not had an offer, but were we to get one this is what would happen.

  1. First, negotiators would discuss it as a package and consider whether or not to recommend it for consultation as the best that could be achieved through negotiations. If it were not ready to go out, we would go straight back to the employers to negotiate further.
  2. Once it was sent out, members would see the offer, consult over and debate it in branch meetings or strike meetings, and elect delegates to a UK-wide meeting of branch reps.
  3. At that meeting, branch representatives would debate the offer at a UK-wide level, and vote on it (in a weighted vote) to decide whether to recommend to HEC as to whether or not to put it out to members.
  4. HEC would then take a vote on whether or not that offer should be sent out for a consultative ballot for members to vote on. HEC’s decision will be based on the recommendations of branch reps from the delegates meeting.

It is also strange to see a General Secretary proposing to recommend a deal that has not yet been made. It is standard practice in negotiations to say that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. The assessment of whether an offer is acceptable cannot be made until all the details are confirmed. This is not yet the situation.

Negotiating on Pay

The second issue concerns headline pay. On Tuesday, UCU negotiators adopted a negotiating position of putting 3% on the table to give UCEA the chance to consult their members about the potential for a rapid resolution of the dispute in the context of a serious global health crisis that could engulf us all.

Let’s not forget that UCU’s claim is for RPI+3%. The employers are sitting on reserves of £44bn. They can afford to meet our claim in full.

This was, and is, a genuine offer to try to resolve the dispute, but it is for members and delegates in the process outlined above to decide whether or not it is sufficient to resolve it.

It is difficult to discuss an offer that does not exist! But were we to get an offer we would have to make a serious decision as to whether we as negotiators, collectively or individually, can recommend it to members to be decided on by the process outlined above.

All the negotiators are strengthened by every single striker and picketer. We now need to sustain and strengthen the action.

Our strikes are our strongest leverage. We can win this together.

Mark Abel
Marian Mayer
Jo McNeill
Sean Wallis

Let’s push on to victory

London College of Fashion Dundee Picket
After the first five of our 14 strike days, the employers are looking for ways to settle. There were talks last week in both disputes and more to follow this week.

Both sides know that the future direction of higher education is at stake. The employers’ commitment to marketisation means that only the bottom line counts in the scramble for dominance or survival. Students are palmed off with an increasingly inferior educational experience as they are crammed into lecture halls and their contact time is cut.

While for staff, the imperative is driving down the wage bill by whatever means available. Wave after wave of voluntary severances push workloads to levels incompatible with healthy lives. A reliance on the cheapest possible employment arrangements – zero-hours contracts, worker and agency contracts which don’t come with employee rights, and short-term contracts – keep people guessing about how long they will be earning.

Riches

None of this is because the sector is impoverished. Only the contrary, higher education is richer than it has ever been. Even after the splurges on new buildings and the grasping of Vice Chancellors enriching themselves, universities are sitting on billions in reserves.

Our strike has put the employers on the back-foot. They did not expect the level of support for the demands that we have put forward.

Our demands are necessary and urgent for our members, but also counter the fragmentation and marketisation of the sector. Reinforcing the national mutual agreement to maintain the USS pension scheme and creating a new national agreement to set a floor for employment standards would limit the scope for dangerous speculation at the expense of the sector, students and staff.

How are we doing so far?

We are making real progress on USS. The employers are increasingly learning to accept they cannot assume they can pass on escalating costs to staff and accepting that ‘de-risking’ – a strategy they pursued since 2014 – is a non-starter. We have not won yet, but if we do win, we will complete unfinished business from 2018.

We are also making progress in the Four Fights, with the employers realising they are going to have to reach a national agreement of minimum standards of some sort. Our negotiators are making some progress. The employers are trying to say that they ‘have no mandate’ to enter into such an agreement. But they have gradually made concessions.

UCU negotiators are seeking from UCEA the following:

  • a UK level sector wide agreement establishing a series of expectations of employment rights and working conditions for the Higher Education sector, including abolition of zero-hours contracts and ‘worker contracts’ (apart from genuine one-off engagements).
  • a set of core principles for tackling race and gender inequality on pay outcomes and an implementation timescale.
  • a set of commitments on workload review that reinforce the Pay Framework 2004 principle of Equal Pay for Equal Value is properly realised in terms of time and bring workloads under control.
  • to a meaningful pay increase based on RPI that meets the joint unions’ claim of ‘keep up and catch up’.

If we want to defend academic freedom in every university, we have to set minimum employment standards for the sector. A national agreement will have to be backed up by local negotiations that enforce minimum standards at each institution. There can be no slippage of national minimum standards. We have to stop a race to the bottom.

Inequality

The sector is institutionally racist and sexist. The further you go up the payscale in departments and management structures, the smaller the proportion of women and BAME staff. Appointing a few professors or senior managers won’t cut it – the universities are structurally discriminatory.

Addressing casualisation and the two or three tier workforce is a basic necessity to address inequality. It is no accident that the universities with the greatest gender pay gaps are medical and research-intensive universities. Casualisation and poor promotion prospects are the ‘glass ceilings’ – the structural impediments to addressing inequality.

The money is there

So far the employers have made no meaningful improvement on the pay offer. That has to change. Our pay has fallen 20% in real terms while university incomes from student fees have skyrocketed. Staff costs are now 55% of budgets – a record low (in the 1970s they were 70% of budgets). The sector has reserves in excess of £44bn, with surpluses of over £1bn a year coming in. The money is there. We need to force the employers to rethink what they do with the money that is sloshing around the sector.

It was strikes that broke the employers’ determination to trash USS in 2018, and it has been our strikes that have dragged the employers to concede further.

We have to strengthen our action, and we have the advantage of having our students on our side. We know our action is impacting on them, but they also appreciate we are fighting for the future of the sector. We are fighting for them, whether they wish to have a future in academic employment or not.

We have to organise to win. This is not the time to let the picket lines dwindle. But we also need to reach out to the rest of the trade union and labour movement for moral and financial support. Whenever we do so we get a great response.

Sector-changing deals are within sight provided we keep the pressure up!

The Results Are In – Members are Ready to Fight!

  • Members vote more than 3:1 Yes
  • 14 more branches join the fight, 8 post-92
  • Over 50,000 HE members in 74 universities able to strike

The latest round of ballots in Higher Education were reported on Wednesday 29 January.

Another 12 institutions have joined the “Four Fights” dispute, 8 of which are post-92, and 6 have gained a strike mandate in the USS pensions fight.

It brings the total number of universities taking part to 74, 14 of which are post-92.

Two institutions have mandates for both disputes, and the University of Oxford, which won a mandate on pay but narrowly missed the threshold on USS, also crossed the threshold. Similarly University of East Anglia gained a mandate on pay.

In total, 14 additional branches have gained a mandate for strike action over one or both disputes, including Imperial College London, which also balloted locally over pay (they are outside national pay bargaining).

The figures are impressive. Slightly more than 4,500 balloted members have joined the USS fight, taking the total percentage of balloted members eligible to strike to around 87% of the pre-92 USS sector.

In the pay dispute, the total number of additional strikers is slightly more, which increases the strike coverage from 60% to 67% of the entire HE sector.

Using 2019 balloted membership figures*, the number of balloted members in branches able to participate in strikes now exceeds 50,000.

GTVO success

Some branches raised their turnout very substantially between October 2019 and January 2020.

Bath Spa, the University of the Arts London (UAL) and the University of Worcester all increased their turnout by 20 percentage points. For example UAL (with nearly 700 members balloted), increased their turnout from 34% to 54%.

Topping the list of ‘gainers’, the Royal College of Art (100 members) increased their turnout by 28 percentage points.

Unfortunately Worcester just missed out of 50% — another victim of the Tory Anti-Union Law.

Members vote Yes to action

But this is turnout. What matters democratically is whether members are voting Yes. The Yes votes are highly impressive. The average Yes strike vote on the Four Fights claim was 76%, and on USS, 79.4%.

The ballots also cover Action Short of a Strike, where numbers and mandates are very similar (Four Fights: 85% Yes, USS: 83% Yes).

Members are expecting to be asked to take 14 days’ strike action over USS, and possibly over pay. Anyone who thinks that members are not prepared to take hard-hitting action, or want yet another “consultation” needs to look closely at the ballot results.

The results are in. Members are ready to fight, and members in 15 more branches have proved it.

Balloted institutions

The institutions which achieved a turnout of 50% or more are:

USS
1. King’s College London
2. Imperial College London
3. Keele University
4. University of Oxford (already has live ballot on Pay)
5. SOAS, University of London (also on Pay)
6. Birkbeck College, University of London (also on Pay)

Pay/four fights
1. SOAS, University of London (also on USS)
2. The University of Huddersfield
3. Birkbeck College, University of London (also on USS)
4. The University of Winchester
5. University of the Arts London
6. De Montfort University
7. University of East Anglia (already has a live ballot on USS)
8. University of Greenwich
9. University of East London
10. Leeds Trinity University
11. Bath Spa University
12. Royal College of Art

Total number of institutions now able to strike over USS or pay/four fights: 14 + 60 = 74.

Not a single branch balloted voted No. But thanks to the Tory anti-union laws, thousands of members are not permitted to strike.

Note

*Membership has grown since, in some branches by as much as 20%.

UCEA: Must Try Harder

Strike to win - pickets and student supporters in Cambridge, 4 December 2019

Strike to win – pickets and student supporters in Cambridge, 4 December 2019

Colleagues will have seen the email from UCU General Secretary Jo Grady today, Tuesday 28 February, announcing UCEA’s “final offer” on the Four Fights dispute.

This “final offer”:

  • offers no increase on the 1.8% pay imposed (a real-terms pay cut of 0.8% against August RPI)
  • makes limited concessions on casualisation, but mostly says that employers should obey the law
  • makes no tangible progress on reducing catastrophic levels of workload
  • makes no tangible progress on gender and race inequality

The offer is an insult, but it does show that UCEA is frightened by the prospect of our further strike action. They are trying to buy us off, but with crumbs rather than anything meaningful.

This shows that we were right to take the 8 days of strike action, but that we will need to put on further pressure through our next 14 days of strike action in order to get a real offer.

We do not agree to trade off the interests of different groups of members.

UCEA claims it did not have a mandate to make more far-reaching commitments. But if their subscribers are under pressure from branches preparing to strike, they are far more likely to give them such a mandate.

Democracy

Jo Grady’s email bypassed UCU’s own lay elected negotiators, who did not agree its content.

But most seriously of all, it pre-empted UCU’s own Higher Education Committee, who are set to meet on Thursday.

A democratic organisation such as a trade union would normally avoid making any statement until the elected officers and reps responsible for making a decision are able to meet.

What now?

Our eight days of action shocked the employers. But it is our threat of future strike action is what is really worrying them.

We should continue to mobilise for action. The employers do not want us to take strike action on the same timeframe as the 2018 USS dispute as they know how effective we can be at that point in the academic year. So this is exactly what we need to do. We can get a far better deal than this.

It is standard practice for employers to say their offer is “final”. There is no reason to accept, and everything to lose if we do.

HEC must throw out this ‘offer’ — and UCEA must try harder.