The Fightback on Pay and Equality has started

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The ballot results in HE and FE on pay and equality have seen both sectors achieve a significant increase in turnouts and Yes votes. 

Despite not beating the Tory anti union-threshold of 50% turnout, the HE turnout for this ballot was 42% overall with a 69% vote for strike action, the highest pay ballot ever achieved in UCU. Compared with a national turnout of about 35% and a 65% vote for strike action in 2016. It is frustrating that only 7 branches in England, Scotland and Wales got over the threshold. In Northern Ireland the law does not apply.

Many branches got very close to the threshold, and many branches below the threshold had very high votes for strike action and ASOS. To take two large union branches that fell below the threshold: Leeds had a turnout of 49.18% but a 69.87% strike vote. UCL, with a 42.44% turnout, had a 76.1% vote for strikes. Both branches had votes for ASOS that were around 10% higher. 64 branches got a turnout over 40%, and 84 were over 35%.

In FE, 85% voted for action on a 31% turnout. This is the best turnout and highest vote for action over pay in over a decade. Unfortunately, only 6 branches got over the threshold. 24 branches got 40% or over but just fell short of the threshold.

If we were looking at these results without the anti-union legislation we would be jubilant at the increase in votes for strike action and the many branches who have increased their turnout by 10% and more.

It is disappointing that so many branches across both sectors did not make the threshold, but it is also important that we build on the successes to make a case for reballoting and to encourage those branches that passed the threshold to take action as soon as possible, and give momentum and encouragement to those reballoting.

The union cannot afford to set aside the issue of achieving a decent pay rise for all, addressing the gender pay gap and taking meaningful steps towards reducing casualisation. It is clear from this ballot members do see pay, equality and casualisation as a central issue and want to fight to do something about it. 

There are a number of reasons that explain the lower turnout. The timing of the ballot at the start of the academic year coincided with one of the busiest periods in HE when many members returned to a chaotic term.

The number of ballots taking place at the same time caused confusion and ballot fatigue.

But it is also the case that the GTVO campaign varied enormously from branch to branch. HE branches that had increased their membership in the USS dispute struggled to persuade activists to campaign, and the GTVO campaign was treated primarily as an email-the-members campaign from the centre. 

The example of Herriot-Watt shows that a group of activists keen to repeat the USS GTVO strategy could get essentially the same result.

This is not to beat ourselves up about these results. They are good (and better than any previous pay ballot), but the turnout was not enough to allow us to take action – thanks to the Tories anti-union laws. 

A campaign of reballoting branches has to involve a proper grassroots campaign to rebuild confidence and to win activists to the importance of getting a high turnout in strike ballots over pay, casualisation and equality.

There are some at UCU HQ who will try and explain the FE result by arguing that there were no part 2 elements in 99% of claims. Ie you can’t win a pay ballot unless there is a local element included into the claims to entice members to vote.

Whilst this can always help and we should encourage branches to do so it is a problem if this is seen as a panacea.

If a local leadership believe that the reason why they haven’t broken through is because their members don’t think pay is an issue then it is unlikely that they will be able to get through the threshold even if there is a local issue included in their ballot. 

No doubt the more conservative officers who have campaigned against fighting over pay for a number of years have not have put themselves in a good position to turn out a good vote.

The key to success in the ballots that took place last year was the way that the more well-organised branches attempted to take a lead outside their branches. Through their regional lists throughout the ballot campaign they reported on how they were doing in the ballot and shared resources amongst each other. They also set up a regional strike committee of all those branches involved with the ballot, which met regularly. 

Unfortunately this did not happen this time – with the occasional exception.

In Further Education, FEC officers are meeting next Friday to discuss the next steps.

In HE there will be a national special conference on November 7th to which branches are encouraged to send motions. The pay conference needs to map out how that campaign can work and what an active GTVO campaign looks like.

We need to argue for

1. All branches who reached a 35% turnout or more to be re-balloted immediately, with a national campaign of publicity and branch meetings to build the vote.

2. Branches that did reach the threshold can help create the first wave of action. We should frontload more action and try and coordinate with HE branches that take action. A national day of action can be used to build the pay campaign.

3. By January we hopefully will be able to get a second wave coming into action.

4. For this to be a success we will need to create a real solidarity network to make those branches that are taking action feel that they are not fighting alone but they are striking for us all.

5. We need to be much more proactive about getting round those branches that are reballoting by visiting the branches and offering advice on how to get the vote out. Branches should be encouraged to invite speakers from places where the GTVO was particularly creative and successful. Newly merged branches need advice on how to spread the vote across less active campuses. Regional offices need to be more dynamic and imaginative about how they use their time to help GTVO. 

UCULeft national meeting and AGM Saturday November 24th. All welcome. Time and venue tba

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