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.


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.


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.


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:

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.


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

We won the vote – Now let’s start the action

Picketing UCL, March 2018

The ballot results are in. UCU members throughout Higher Education are ready to fight to defend their pay and pensions, and to stand up against inequality, unmanageable workloads and casualisation.

On pay, 73% of members voted yes to strike action, on a 49% total turnout. 55 university branches declared with a turnout greater than 50%. On USS, 44 out of 64 USS institutions hit the threshold. Herriot-Watt topped the poll at 71.59% turnout.

Branches in Northern Ireland do not have to beat the 50% threshold, so Queens University Belfast, Ulster University, Stranmillis University College and St Mary’s University College Belfast are also able to strike.

Pay (Four Fights) Ballot USS Ballot

62.33% of balloted UCU members are in branches eligible to take strike action over pay. In the USS pre-92 universities, the equivalent figure is 80.62%.

These are the highest votes ever in a UCU national pay campaign, outstripping those in last year’s pay ballot.

The votes were overwhelmingly for action. But thanks to the Tory Anti-Union Laws, turnout is the key. 55 branches exceeded the 50% threshold required. Given the obstacle that this represents for trade unions, our results are very positive. The union decided to conduct disaggregated ballots precisely so that some branches would be able to fight even if we didn’t reach the threshold overall.

What must happen now

It is time to name the date for action.

The 55+ branches with legal mandates must begin escalating action in mid-November (see list below). The other branches need to continue the campaign to reballot – see below.

The pension action will begin to put pressure on the employers in UCEA and UUK and on the pension bosses at USS. We know they won’t shift their positions without it.

The pay action (including equality, workload and casualisation) unifies members young and old, and unites us with our colleagues in other unions in each university or college. Pay also unifies the sector, pre- and post-92.

Successful pay ballots allow other workers who are not in UCU to participate in strikes. (It is unlawful for employers to discriminate by union membership and branches can extract statements from HR to that effect.) It also means that post-92 institutions will be able to take strike action alongside pre-92, offering mutual solidarity and presenting a united front in defence of HE and the staff who work in HE.

It is time to lift the lid on local issues of casualisation and gender and race pay inequality – and show they are endemic to our sector.

We can take action alongside postal workers defending their jobs and school students fighting climate change.

General Election

The general election gives us the perfect opportunity to put a spotlight on the future of Higher Education.

If we want to insist that government has a responsibility to ensure that universities pay their staff properly, address the scandals of rising casualisation and unequal pay, and protect the USS pension scheme for future generations with a government guarantee, we could not ask for a better moment to take action!

Reballots and organising solidarity

Meanwhile, branches who reached 40% or more should be reballoted with the aim of joining a second wave of action in January. Many branches are only a few dozen votes short of the threshold and have a very good chance of breaking through on a reballot. Bringing out more branches would be an excellent way for our action to escalate in the new year. See the graphs above. Branches which fell below 40% should have the right to opt in to the reballot.

All those not in a position to strike yet can support striking members by contributing to a strike fund levy.

UCU in Transformation – One Year On
London, Sat 2 Nov 11-5
Called by London Region UCU

In the meantime we face a major organising task. Regions have a crucial role to link up branches striking with those balloting, organising regional demonstrations and encouraging demonstrative action.

The first step to linking up activists and reps will be the #UCUTransformed2019 one-day conference called by London Region UCU on Saturday 2 November.

This will be the first chance to debate the next steps in the struggle with other reps and activists. Reps in branches that missed the threshold will want to discuss the Herriot Watt GTVO strategy. Other regions should call activist meetings as soon as possible to do the same.

Branches with live ballot mandates

The institutions in which members can now take action are:

  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Bournemouth University
  • Cardiff University
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Durham University
  • Edge Hill University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Liverpool Hope University
  • Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA)
  • Loughborough University
  • Newcastle University
  • Open University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Queen’s University, Belfast
  • Roehampton University
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • St Mary’s University College Belfast
  • Stranmillis University College
  • The Institute of Development Studies
  • The University of Aberdeen
  • The University of Bath
  • The University of Dundee
  • The University of Kent
  • The University of Leeds
  • The University of Manchester
  • The University of Nottingham
  • The University of Sheffield
  • The University of Stirling
  • Ulster University
  • University College London
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bradford
  • University of Brighton
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Lancaster
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of London, City
  • University of London, Goldsmiths
  • University of London, Queen Mary
  • University of London, Royal Holloway
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Reading
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Sussex
  • University of Wales
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York