This has been a transformative year in many ways. After decades of low-level strike action millions of workers have fought back, many for the first time. Unions have become rallying points for resistance. But there is a growing realisation amongst many that our union leaders are not prepared for the new circumstances. With the General Election likely to be next year, unions need to be at the forefront of protecting workers’ rights. UCU needs a General Secretary, and a leadership that will fight for members and support them all the way.
Following our Annual General Meeting, UCU Left are pleased to announce we will be standing in the upcoming National Executive Committee elections. We will also be standing candidates for the Vice President (FE) and for the General Secretary.
Why do we need UCU Left?
UCU has been through a tumultuous year with a rise in industrial action. The strikes and Marking & Assessment Boycott (MAB) in Higher Education have seen thousands of our members on picket lines, putting themselves, their families, finances and futures on the line. Members committed to extensive industrial action due to increasingly draconian employers and the impact of the cost of living which has pushed many members into very difficult financial situations.
At Brighton University we have seen the employer attempt to smash one of the strongest branches in the country by using compulsory redundancies and victimisation. This dispute is of national significance and should be a key focus for our union leadership – sadly this is not the case.
In FE, UCU members at 32 branches will be taking strike action in November. Although this is a step in the right direction, unfortunately it is not the number of branches that it could have been. Moreover, if an aggregated ballot of all FE branches had been implemented after the successful e-consultative ballot, we could have won the ballot and be in a better position to gain a new national binding bargaining framework. Additionally, Adult and Community Education (ACE) has been left out of FE funding promises, and Prison Educators continue to work in deplorable conditions.
During this period of intense industrial struggle, members have unfortunately not only been fighting the employer but also fighting the union leadership to ensure democratic decisions were honoured.
In the upcoming elections it is important to remember our General Secretary Jo Grady was elected on the back of the 2018 revolt against the previous GS Sally Hunt and the #NoCapitulation moment on USS. Grady campaigned on improving democracy and ensuring UCU was a member-led union.
But our GS has consistently argued against resistance, instead proposing to delay the fight until a hypothetical ‘super majority’ is built. Such a strategy would have meant that the victory on USS, won by our members actions that she now claims to have led, would never have happened.
Time and again the decisions of UCU members have been overridden or ignored; from the infamous ‘pause’ in action last February to the gagging of the Higher Education Committee when it voted for the indefinite strike action (an action that could have won the Four Fights dispute well before the MAB). More recently, the abandonment of the MAB without any agreement on deductions, and the recent ‘opt out’ on national strike action that exposed us to punitive employers.
This is why the GS was rightly censured at Conference and faced votes of no confidence and continued calls to resign. This is why UCU Left are standing a candidate for GS, to argue for a strong, coherent industrial strategy that respects the democratic processes of this union.
Hard hitting strike action and indefinite strike action are not the outdated language of the 1970’s – they are the only way to break through. More limited action against employers, with the government behind them has not proved successful, no matter how ‘reasonable’ it sounds. That’s why those union activists who have drawn these conclusions need a voice. We need a GS that will speak for the rank and file that have led the action.
But it’s not just about the industrial strategy, we also need to improve our political work.
The union failed to emphasise the educational impact of the MAB. It has not driven through the decolonisation agenda following the mass BLM movement, which is now threatened by Chichester University’s dismissal of Professor Adi, the first African-British professor of history. We need to be bolder on defending abortion rights and taking on the ongoing attacks by the government and some academics on trans rights. As Gaza is under siege we cannot afford the slightest equivocation on the issue of Palestine – UCU must continue to support BDS in the face of this bloody assault. UCU Left candidates stand for equality and justice and will commit to tackling these issues.
Vicky Blake has announced she will be running for GS. Vicky has many good qualities and a much better record than Grady on following union processes and on addressing industrial questions. Both Vicky and Saira have been active within the rank-and-file UCU Solidarity Movement that has improved democratic discussion within the union. However, we have a different view on some key votes at NEC and HEC, and different perspectives on issues of industrial and international significance. Additionally, there have been times when Vicky could have taken on the GS more openly and firmly, while recognising this is more challenging for an individual when they are not part of an organised collective within the union such as UCU Left.
Some will say that standing against Grady will ‘split the left vote’ and allow Grady to win. However, in a single transferable vote (STV) election, this simply isn’t an issue as people can indicate an order of preference as they do for NEC elections. Therefore, we will argue that anyone who votes for our candidate, Saira Weiner, should use their second preference for Vicky, and we hope she will argue the same for Saira.
Others might say that we are fed up with ‘factions’ in UCU and as Vicky is independent, she will be a better option. However, we’ve been here before. Jo Grady said she would rise above ‘factions’ only for her closest supporters to form UCU Commons and bloc vote on the NEC with the old UCU right wing – the Independent Broad Left (IBL) some of whom are now Campaign for UCU Democracy (CUD).
The advantage of groupings inside the union – and across the unions – is that you get what it says on the tin. Within UCU Left, we collectively debate the best way to achieve the union’s goals, based on our understanding from being rooted in our branches and regions. UCU Left has a democratic structure with published policy, so UCU Left candidates are accountable to follow through on what has been agreed to ensure we further the demands of the wider membership. We have only put forward a candidate for GS after a debate and vote on whether to stand, and then a vote between a choice of candidates. Therefore, this democratic process ensures UCU Left candidates will follow through on what they campaign for.
UCU Left campaigns for a member-led democratic union, and as a union we are currently failing on this. We have to fundamentally change the way our union and disputes work. Branch Delegate Meetings, Congress and strike committees are not just places for members to discuss, which can then be forgotten about when decisions are taken and implemented.
We need a new kind of trade unionism where those putting themselves on the line actually take the decisions. Where casualised staff, women, black, migrant and LGBT+ members are at the centre of our fights. And where FE, post 92 universities, prisons, Adult & Community Education and land-based institutions are not an add-on to the debate.
We also believe that on some key issues, including international questions such as Palestine, there are differences that members deserve to see debated.
Saira Weiner for General Secretary
Saira has a long-standing record in UCU in her branch and UK-wide. She is regional Vice-Chair / HE Chair in the North West and as a former NEC member she has chaired the Women Members Standing Committee and Recruitment, Organising and Campaigns Committee. Saira is a disabled granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and unequivocally supports Palestinian rights. She is a staunch anti-racist and ally to our LGBTQIA+ members and will defend our trans and non-binary members against increasing political attacks.
As the Branch Secretary of Liverpool John Moores UCU Saira has taken part in extensive UK-wide strike action over the last 12 months, as well as the MAB. Congress and Sector Conferences are the sovereign policy-making bodies of the union, and decisions made need to be honoured. Saira believes that when Sector Conferences agree to set up strike committees, take significant action, and have a summer ballot, this is exactly what should happen. The members should be informed of what is happening at all times and confidentiality should not be used unnecessarily to keep members in the dark. She knows what it’s like to experience the punitive pay deductions that many UCU members have faced – she will fight for a union that supports its members at every step of industrial action. The question should always be how will we do this, not can we do it.
Peter Evans for Vice-President (FE)
Peter is an active and passionate campaigner in his branch at Hammersmith and West London College where he serves as Vice Chair, he has been instrumental in increasing grass roots member activity in the branch and in London Region where he was Regional Chair. He is committed to ensuring UCU campaigns are brought closer to local memberships and less London centric. Peter is an active member of Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party where he sits on the General Committee as a Socialist Education Association delegate, he is an experienced trade unionist and political campaigner, taking up issues now under threat in a post-Brexit UK, and with the consequences of Covid.
Peter’s work with the LGBT+ Members Standing Committee where he is Chair and the Equality Committee where he has served as Vice Chair has been instrumental in fighting for liberation for everyone and draws on his experience of building the early Pride movement and as a founder member of Stonewall’s steering committee. Peter is committed to the rights of trans and older comrades within UCU and will continue to campaign for them. Peter is committed to opposing the rampant marketisation of education and developing UCU’s policy and campaigning to effectively challenge and reverse that process, as a rank-and-file trade unionist he has often spoken out against the ‘education factory’ in the struggles over financial models for both FE and HE.
UCU members have been at the forefront of resistance to the cost-of-living crisis. They have probably taken more action across the UK than any other union – and have probably achieved a bigger victory than any other workers with the win over the USS scheme. But every step of the way we have had to fight our union leadership to win.
This simply can’t go on – these elections are crucial and deserve to be taken seriously to ensure all the key issues are raised and debated.
We urge you to back Saira and Peter’s campaigns and to help transform our union for good.
The National Executive Committee Candidates and Trustees candidates have been agreed and will be announced soon, along with our Election Manifesto.