UCU elections: A Pyrrhic victory for Jo Grady as left gains majority of seats

The fourth UCU GS election is over, and Jo Grady is the victor.

Grady argues that she now has a mandate to carry out the policies she campaigned over. The reality, though, is rather different. The GS presides over a more divided union compared to the one before the election started and an NEC which is even further from her views. Left NEC candidates received around 60% of the vote, which provides a real opportunity to build a serious grassroots movement in the union.

Despite being the incumbent candidate, Jo Grady’s support collapsed from her dominant win five years ago to scraping in with a narrow margin on the final round. After all preferences were counted, she beat the next closest candidate, Ewan McGaughey, by fewer than 200 votes. And, despite Grady campaigning for members to support her slate, UCU left supporters now have more seats on the NEC than any other grouping. The wider left have a comfortable majority on all three committees: the NEC, FEC and HEC.

Grady’s preferred VP candidate, David Hunter, also won. But again, his group is in a minority on the FEC.

UCU Left put up candidates for both the GS and VP positions. Although they did not win, these campaigns were successful in ensuring the voice of the rank and file was heard, and provided an important pole of attraction for everyone who wanted to see a more militant and democratic union. In a crowded field, one in six members gave their first preferences to Saira Weiner for GS. Peter Evans, our VP candidate, got the highest total vote of any UCU left VP candidate since the union was formed.

There is a clear appetite for change within the union.

Our candidates made sure that Palestine was part of the election debates. Their unwavering support for Gaza increased the pressure on the union to stand up for Palestinian solidarity actions. It meant that calls were put out by the GS’s office to members to support the Days of Action, the most recent of which saw 66 colleges and universities take part.

The election result also reflects the frustration and anger of members, especially in HE, where members have engaged in a bruising battles with the employers, and are angry with the way the GS and much of the leadership conducted these campaigns. This is the main reason why Grady’s vote collapsed from the last GS election where she received over 50% of the first preference vote.

Many members felt that Ewan McGaughey’s campaign, that focused on legal means to achieve results that members so desperately desire, was the way forward. Unfortunately, whereas legal challenges are important and UCU is far too conservative in pursuing legal paths, the law cannot be a substitute for mass action, as our USS victory proved. It was members’ strike action that secured victory over the employers.

We now need to ensure that the wider left unites, not just on the NEC, over the fights ahead. We will need to commit to building maximum solidarity for everyone fighting job losses and education cuts in both sectors. We need to support every branch resisting attacks on contractual rights and nationally-agreed pay levels.

For example, in Further Education we will need to unite against the newly-elected GS and VP’s attempt to undermine FE members’ democratic decision to hold an aggregated ballot over binding national, pay and workload agreements. Already Mr Hunter has questioned the FEC’s democratic mandate to implement the ‘levelling up campaign’ despite it being passed not once but twice at Further Education Sector Conferences!

We will also need to continue to maximise our efforts to stop the genocide in Palestine as Israeli tanks prepare to roll into Rafah and oppose racism at home.

It is these issues and more that UCU Left hopes will enable the left to put our differences aside and unite to build a powerful movement that can challenge the corrosive marketisation of post-16 education.

Let us move forward in unity to defend education, jobs, our employment rights and working conditions, to fight for equality in our sector, and build a stronger union for all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.