The USS results followed the pattern of the Four Fights votes. Twenty-four branches secured a mandate for action. This is obviously considerably fewer than in the last round, but that’s not the whole story.
The votes for action were strong. Not a single branch voted against action, and the overall percentages for action actually increased. Like the Four Fights, where the overall majority for strike action rose from 70% in November to 74%, the USS vote for strike action was nearly 80%, up from 77%.
We need to be clear that it is the obstacles put in place by the Trade Union Act 2016 – the 50% threshold plus the requirement to renew mandates after six months – that have caused this situation, not any weakening of the willingness of UCU members to fight these disputes. Even with fewer branches over the line, 45% of the union’s USS membership has a mandate for action next term.
Given the challenges of the anti-union laws, the decision by Head Office not to implement HEC’s decision for a five-week ballot window was a huge mistake. An extra week would have made a big difference, especially as the revelation that the alleged deficit in the scheme had magically shrunk from £14bn to £2bn emerged well into the ballot period.
We can still win these disputes. The branches with a mandate need to take hard-hitting industrial action next term while being backed by a serious strategy of financial support from the remaining branches. Hitting a minority of institutions can work to our advantage by causing splits among the employers as some complain they are being targeted while their competitors are let off the hook.
A reballot over a long ballot window during the summer can replenish our forces in time for action in induction weeks in the majority of institutions.
The forthcoming SHESCs will be crucial for asserting member control over the disputes, organising the twinning of branches, planning the reballot and setting a strategy that can win.
Come to the pre-SHESC meeting called by UCU Left.