HEC must listen to members –
Start the fight now on USS and Four Fights
- No decoupling of the disputes
- Escalating action now
The Higher Education Committee (HEC) met on Wednesday 18 January to take decisions about further action in the two linked USS and Four Fights (casualiation, equality pay gaps, pay and workloads) disputes. The USS and Four Fights branch delegates meetings the previous day were intended to inform HEC members of branch views and enable them to take decisions based on them.
Tuesday’s Branch Delegate Meetings (BDMs) discussed four questions provided to branches in advance and the four HEC motions provided on the day. The mood of the BDMs was very clear. Their branches wanted the two disputes to remain linked and very strong action to start as soon as possible. There was strong support for escalating the action, indefinite action and even for action to disrupt the whole semester.
The majority of delegates were broadly in agreement with an HEC motion from two UCU Left members (Marian Mayer and Marion Hersh) on escalating indefinite action in both disputes simultaneously and starting as soon as possible. Versions of this motion had already been passed by a number of branches. There was also general, though not unanimous, opposition to two motions from Independent Broad Left members of HEC targeting action only at some employers.
The motion calling for escalating and indefinite action ended up being seconded at HEC by UCU President Vicky Blake, who referred eloquently to the BDMs. Despite the strong direction given by both BDMs, HEC narrowly voted against this motion. The other two motions were withdrawn. Instead, a series of recommendations were passed which effectively decoupled the two disputes by agreeing totally different types of action for them, one of which had not even been proposed or discussed at the BDMs. The wording of the decisions leaves considerable uncertainty as to the details of the action in both cases and how this would be finalised. In particular, no starting date was decided for Four Fight action and the decision-making mechanism remains unclear.
UCU Left supporters on HEC are very concerned and angry about this outcome. It bears no relationship to the strong sustained action starting as soon as possible that most BDM delegates recognised was needed to win these disputes.
The sector is at a crossroads. We cannot afford to see the pension scheme slashed nor can we afford to allow our pay to be cut when inflation is running at over 7%. Returning to token action will only encourage employers to go ever further with casualisation, pay discrimination and excessive workloads.
Unlike some on the HEC, we believe these disputes can be won. Members have overcome the anti-union hurdles time after time and shown their opposition to the destruction of our sector. We have overturned poor decisions by our leaders before. We call on branches to organise emergency general meetings as soon as possible to call for a Special Higher Education Sector Conference followed by a recall HEC to adopt a strategy in line with the views of branches and capable of winning these disputes.
We need a leadership that responds to members’ willingness to fight and has the courage to see our disputes through to victory. UCU Vice President and NEC elections open next week. Find the UCU Left candidates here.