This year’s congress saw the exciting outcome of the the USS and FE strikes which transformed the union and led to the election of a left, grassroots general secretary – Jo Grady. (Click here for full analysis.)
UCULeft GS candidate Jo McNeill welcomed the result and said she looked forward to working with Jo by taking the fight over pensions and pay to the employers.
Congress reflected the union’s transformation and saw an emergence of many new activists speaking to motions and ideas which pushed the debates on industrial action and equality to the left.
Within hours of the new left GS being elected, the Telegraph had launched an attack on Jo Grady for her views on the trans debate. Nita Sanghera and Jo McNeill both read out statements of support and solidarity against such attacks.
FE REPRESENTATION AT CONGRESS
Motion 78, moves by IBL members in the name of Southampton branch, sought rule changes which would overall reduce representation and debate at congress but specifically and most damagingly reduce FE delegate representation by nearly 50%.
It also sought to remove lay members’ voice further from congress by removing all regional delegates, observers and rights to submit regional motions and amendments. This was one of the most contentious motions at congress and saw an unprecedented queue of over 80 speakers against, lining up to oppose the motion, including many of the IBL and GS elect Jo Grady. It was rightly defeated with only two votes for and the whole of the rest of congress against.
FE Fight Back Continues!
The UCU Further Education Sector Conference (FESC) heard from a significant number of first-time delegates.
Branches that have not taken action for a number of years reported on their successes in winning their GTVO campaigns. Branches taking action are winning. This set the tone for a united FESC which resolved to launch a serious nationally coordinated campaign. FESC mapped out a strategy for a nationally coordinated pay and conditions campaign. National FEC officers stressed the need for branches to join the campaign. 40 colleges have so far participated in the nationally coordinated campaign. We need now need to line up another 40 to put in pay and conditions claims to keep the campaign going.
Branches are strongly encouraged to make a part 2 claim focussed on winning permanent contracts for hourly paid and casual members. We should follow the example of CCCG who won 5% plus 50 hourly paid members put on contracts (read about their campaign here).
We now have the potential for every FE branch in the country to launch a popular ballot and for a nationally coordinated strike.
Bradford College is facing 132 FTE job losses. This is reckless educational vandalism. Conference pledged our full solidarity and calls on the whole union to support them.
• West Midlands delegates called on conference to back the #savestourbridgecollege demonstration on 29 June.
• Delegates discussed the need for a National Education Service (NES).
• Many of the issues of rising workloads, poor education policy, inequity and inequality on pay were exacerbated by incorporation. Conference called for a lobby and march in autumn to end incorporation.
• Delegates voted to remove compulsory English and Maths introduced with new study programmes for 16-19 year old students; and to develop alternatives to GCSE and functional skills based on inspiring and relevant curriculums.
The conference concluded with a session to discuss and share ideas from all the branches that have taken action. We heard from CCCG, Lambeth College, Tower Hamlets College, Hugh Baird College and Wolverhampton College as well as colleges that are preparing the ground to join the campaign like Leeds City College.
Branches outlined how they were able to develop popular and effective GTVO (Get the Vote Out) campaigns. Branches and regions need to leave conference with a plan to ensure every college joins the campaign by launching a claim now in preparation to ballot before summer. There will be several branches taking more action before the end of term like Tower Hamlets College that will need our support by sending messages of supports and collecting money. Decisions by FESC could see FE and HE fighting side by side together on pay and pensions. This fight will be a voice for education for human flourishing not competition and profit.
HE FIGHTING ON PAY AND PENSIONS
Pay and equality
HE Sector Conference rejected the report of the HE committee and the recommendations of the national pay negotiators, largely because it focussed on another consultative ballot on taking industrial action on pay.
Delegates pointed out the undermining effect on real ballots that consultative ballots can have. HESC adopted motion HE4 committing the union to initiating a concerted campaign to win industrial action ballots for a fight over pay starting in the Autumn.
Voice after voice supported us not giving an inch on loss of benefits or contributions. There is no deficit and we know from the 2018 strike we can win. Conference voted to call upon employers to pick up any additional contributions, including contingent contributions, and reiterated the unions position of no detriment.
Delegates resolved to take industrial action if the employers don’t agree to pick up additional employee contributions from Oct 2019.
Conference called again for the resignation of the USS CEO and for a public enquiry into the undermining of the defined benefit scheme. This was in the context of UCU-appointed USS director, Jane Hutton, whistleblowing about her concerns with regard to the 2017 valuation.
Conference condemned the irresponsible decision by Trinity College Cambridge to initiate withdrawal from USS and called for censure and academic boycott of Trinity.
See further analysis here https://uculeft.org/2019/06/the-fight-of-our-lives-round-2/
Conference also debated the looming crisis in the Teachers Pension Scheme, which covers members in post-92 universities and FE colleges. A delegate from Winchester University reported their success in using the threat of strike action to fight off compulsory redundancies which their management blamed on the increase in TPS employer contributions. He warned that the government’s marketisation strategy requires the bankruptcy at least one institution and that the increased burden of TPS was bringing that prospect closer.
A delegate from Coventry alerted conference to the tendency for some universities to force staff off TPS by employing them through subsidiary companies with vastly inferior pension arrangements. The mechanisms vary, but whether USS or TPS, our pensions are under attack. Conference instructed the leadership to raise the profile of its TPS campaign and to prepare for the fights that are inevitably on the way.
Congress met just as EU election results were announced. The far right have begun to organise on campuses. Trump’s visit and success for right parties in Europe will give the racists here more confidence.
UCU members voted to mobilise against the far right, to open up its political fund to campaign against them and recognised that whether UCU members voted Leave or Remain racist Nigel Farage is a huge threat.
Congress voted to organise an anti-racist campus tour with Stand Up To Racism and to back its international conference on 19 October. Some 90 delegates attended a Stand Up To Racism fringe meeting with Vice President Nita Sanghera.
Important motions at congress and the FE and HE Sector conferences were debated on equality issues from casualisation to migrants rights and trans rights.
The obscene effects of fixed term contracts were highlighted again, including the effects on migrant staff whose visas preclude them from taking up posts of less than 12 months.
Movers of motions 83-85 for organisation and protection of migrants’ rights spoke passionately about the need for the union to create new spaces for migrants issues to be discussed and campaigned on. The opportunities for this new group to work alongside the existing Black Members Standing committee and for both committees to strengthen each other eg around free movement were welcomed by both groups.
The links with decolonising our institutions were made in the context of the EU funding research on the global south which researchers from the global south are precluded from participating in.
A boycott of London Senate House was agreed until outsourced workers there are brought back in house.
Motion HE32 on trans rights was fully debated. There were 2 amendments including one by the LGBT+ committee to “construct spaces in which gender diversity can be explored through respectful dialog …” Because the motion as amended was not clear that people promoting transphobic views would not be invited into such spaces, the amended motion fell.
Motion 18 on sexual harassment was passed with two elements remitted to the NEC. UCU Left NEC members are determined to make sure that the principles of this motion are taken forward.
Congress also voted to initiate a Civil Crimes Tribunal to investigate the breaches of human rights committees due to austerity and austerity driven government policies.
Motions on the following were debated:
• Race, gender and disability pay gaps
• Mental health
• Sexual harassment
Lee Humber and TU Victimisation
The motion passed at Congress on Saturday in support of the dispute at Ruskin College was a massive step towards getting Lee Humber reinstated after seven weeks of being suspended. Congress’s overwhelming support is a great boost for the Ruskin UCU branch and a clear reflection of the level of support shown by UCU members nationally.
The next steps
• Congress agreed to draw on the support shown by other trade unions and ask leaders of national unions to sign a public statement condemning the suspension and demanding Lee be reinstated.
• Second, Congress enthusiastically supported the call for our new GS, Jo Grady, to address a meeting in Oxford in support of Lee.
Both of these things are underway.
What can you do?
• Continue sending solidarity messages – this is vital to the moral of the branch.
• Continue to write to the Principal and the Chair of Board of Governors condemning this attack.
• Support any future demonstration called by the branch or by the national union.
This is an attack on a union officer. Any officer in any union is less safe if Lee does not get reinstated.
• Who can you approach in other unions local to you to raise support?