A UCU Activist’s Guide to the Next Few Months
- The terms of reference for the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) were pushed through the Higher Education Committee (HEC) with no amendments permitted by the chair on 27 April. The terms are highly problematic, providing no accountability or transparency.
- The last chance to influence the JEP’s terms will be the National Executive Committee, which meets on 4 May. They may consider an emergency motion so long as it affects the whole union, not merely the HE sector. Activists should lobby NEC members to revise the JEP’s terms to ensure UCU nominees are elected, have to account regularly to the membership throughout the JEP process, and are fully transparent. See JEP Manifesto below.
- On 16 May, the UCU Superannuation Working Group (SWG) will appoint JEP members based on applications from interested parties. Activists should lobby the SWG to ensure they appoint (a) people who are not just technical expert but who are prepared to challenge the actuarial and regulatory orthodoxy that has led us to this point, i.e. who understand that the choice of assumptions behind a valuation is political, not neutral; (b) someone from UCU’s own actuaries, First Actuarial, who have done good work in the past.
- Branches can also still usefully:
- Submit amendments to motions for UCU Sector Conference (or Congress) – deadline 4 May. One on a pay dispute would be useful (see below).
- Submit late motions to Sector Conference / Congress (deadline is eve of Congress).
- Submit motions of no confidence in Sally Hunt’s leadership (as at Kent, Exeter and Queen Mary).
- Submit motions for an emergency special sector conference under rule 16.11 (as passed at over 15 institutions now – required threshold is 20).
UCU Congress and the HE Sector Conference will be held from 30 May to 1 June in Manchester. Branches need to send their full complement of delegates and support important motions submitted by other branches, including calls to:
- Establish a review of democratic mechanisms in the union to strengthen internal democracy and the accountability of the leadership;
- Hold a special HE Sector Conference in September to review the JEP’s report and, if necessary, initiate industrial action in response;
- Create a national strike committee to ensure democratic control of industrial action.
Medium term (but can start now)
See also Re-mobilising for industrial action, below.
- Need to re-start strike committees and re-engage branch members, understand why people voted in the ballot as they did, and rebuild the mobilisation seen through March, around the #WeAreTheUniversity slogan, which captures a broad range of issues stemming from marketization. UCU needs to be positioned as the main defender of education against destructive neoliberal policies.
- A dispute on pay can address many of these issues in a way the pensions dispute could not. We can claim for cost-of-living increases and the impact of any imposed cost-sharing in USS, but we can also tackle equalities, workload, precarity, casualisation, etc. An activist network needs to ensure the dispute is framed in this broad way. A pay campaign can also unite the pre- and post-92 sectors, and also build solidarity with FE, where 21 branches are already in dispute with another 150 claims underway (1/3 of institutions).
- Branches need to gear up for possible renewed strike action in the autumn after the JEP reports, if this is seriously detrimental to members’ interests.
- Branches also need to:
- Lobby employers to commit to “No Detriment” in pensions, as Oxford has.
- Lobby employers to commit to not reporting strikes as unauthorised absences to the Home Office for staff on Tier 4 visas, as this imperils their right to take action.
- Keep an eye on serious disputes emerging around redundancies at local FE colleges, the Open University, Liverpool, etc. This is linked to union-busting at London South Bank, a problem also faced at Coventry University College. Pre-92 branches are asked to “twin” with local post-92s, and HE branches with FE ones. Messages of solidarity are highly valued. Coventry also asks members to support their march on 17 May and write to MPs to support Early Day Motion 1178.
Re-mobilising for industrial action
- #WeAreTheUniversity: keep the focus on transforming HE and addressing broad issues raised during strike: reversing marketization as the root of all evils we face; UCU needs to become the defender of education in Britain
- Need to transcend the yes/no divide arising from controversial ballot. Emphasise dispute is still live, more fighting required in future around shared agenda of defending our pensions (and other issues!)
- Re-energise strike committees around new activity: discuss how to build pay+ campaign & start doing it.
- Need to broaden to/ bring in post-92s (TPS will follow USS) & keep people engage – through campaign over pay (to meet cost-sharing challenge + address casualization + equalities + workload issues specifically)
- form network to ensure dispute gets framed in this way
- emergency motion to Congress on this
- Prepare for dispute!
- Try to get individual universities to commit to No Detriment, as Oxford has. Employers are on back-foot now because of risk of imposition of cost-sharing by USS.
- Demand detailed breakdown of consultative ballot results by branch to help activists understand where members are at local scale.
- Alternative: survey your own branch members about how they feel about the ballot, UCU democracy, future disputes etc. But need to bear in mind that “yes” and “no” contain many overlapping views.
Notes by Lee Jones, QMUL, 28 April 2018