The UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC) has suspended the assessment boycott until 15 January. The left minority position against suspension was defeated by 14 votes to 6 with 1 abstention. We denounced the pessimism behind the proposal to suspend action which was promoted on the basis that the employer’s side has agreed to talk to UCU. Talking is precisely what negotiations are about, this is no concession!
The position HEC has adopted completely fails to recognise the power of our members. We hadn’t even used our strike mandate which has bewildered and angered many members. It is out of line with the perceptions of members – they thought our aim was to retain a decent pension, not merely to prevent the employers side forcing a vote on their proposals.
Members had heeded the call to fight-back but, at the same time, they look for leadership and Sally Hunt’s email laying the ground for the suspension has no doubt dented the enthusiasm of many.
Retired members vote on our pensions
At the HEC meeting the Left called for the retired members on that committee, already in receipt of their USS pension, to be excluded from the vote. This was on the same grounds that post-92 members are excluded from voting as they will not be affected by the decisions made. The Chair and Head of Bargaining ruled that the meeting could not amend ‘convention’ and retired members were permitted to vote.
The UCU Left submitted 7 motions:
Our motion re-asserting the position of national strike action to support branches facing 100% pay deductions was passed. This is important for the future because, despite this currently being the agreed position, it has been ignored so far in this dispute. This has left branches with bully managements to fight alone, though Liverpool members reported on the fantastic solidarity that had rushed in from branches.
Our motion to immediately call a Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) bringing delegates back into decision making was described by one of the negotiating team as ‘unhelpful to our negotiators’. We lost the vote: 6 for, 15 against, 1 abstention.
Our motion against accepting any proposal for USS that discriminates on equality grounds was remitted, ‘in a positive way’.
Similarly, our motion promising a three week ballot during term-time on any new offer was remitted due to the ambiguity of definitions of ‘term-time’.
We proposed a motion resolving to:
- dispute all aspects of the projected deficit, including the de-risking proposals
- submit a counter proposal that would bring all staff into a final salary scheme
- withdraw proposals for current final salary members to lose pension benefits by moving to a below RPI inflation index. This was defeated.
Our two motions calling for:
- the continuation of the political campaign against the attacks on USS to ensure members are prepared for any resumption of action
- UCU to publish the principles and impact on pension provision inherent in the UCU counter-proposals were remitted due to lack of time.
There was a good discussion with everyone agreeing the issues were complex and divided but, ultimately, the votes did not reflect this.
Many members will clearly feel let down that this critical and well-supported campaign to defend our future retirement benefits has been derailed by a leadership that seems frightened of testing out our strength against the employers.
However, there is still much we can and must do to retain momentum in the USS campaign to ensure both our employers and national UCU leadership know that members are not prepared to surrender our pensions.
Activists need to:
- Pass motions calling for an urgent HESC to allow members to determine where this dispute goes – use standard wording at the end of this leaflet. The conference can give direction about what should be in the UCU proposals for USS.
- Continually debate and assert positions within branches, particularly with regard to how we can reignite our action if negotiations don’t deliver on 15 January. Inform HQ of local positions to help make the union member-led rather than an HQ driven machine. We can use the momentum recently gained in branches to campaign on local issues.
- Produce local materials for staff and students indicating that we may well be taking action again soon.
- Keep up visible local actions over USS so UCU HQ and employers see that members haven’t dropped the fight. Organise local and regional rallies, marches, discussions etc help sustain the pressure.
- Lobby University Senate meetings to push open the cracks that have been exposed amongst our employers.
- Involve post-92 branches; it is clear that TPS is likely to come under attack again soon if we don’t pick up the USS fight.
Elect a better leadership
Members may be asking how we find ourselves into this defensive position after having the upper hand and members engaging in action on the back of a brilliant ballot mandate. Part of the answer to this lies in the current leadership of UCU. Elections for some NEC seats are coming up in early 2015. Participation in these elections is traditionally low. But the HEC decision on USS shows it really does matter who we elect to represent us at the national level. We need to work to secure votes for Left candidates. Activists should consider standing in future elections. An optimistic and determined leadership that understands the power of members can deliver results.
Model Motion to call for a HESC
This UCU branch supports the call for the requisition of a Special HE Sector Conference to debate the campaigns to defend pensions in HE, and to defend the capacity of the UCU to call industrial action short of a strike as part of those campaigns.