Report From Strike Solidarity Assembly on Tuesday 25 Feb

Report From Strike Solidarity Assembly on Tuesday 25 Feb

The London Region solidarity meeting on Day 4 of the latest HE strikes saw Labour, trade union leaders and strikers come together to raise money and show their support for UCU members taking action.

Speaking from the platform, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell pledged that “we will do all we can in parliament to support you”, adding “the battle is here, it’s on the picket lines and it’s in the streets.”

Mark Serwotka PCS general secretary pledged his union would make a donation “in the thousands” to the union hardship fund. Alongside big pledges from national leaders of Unite, NEU, PCS and other unions, the meeting heard how Brent teachers had voted to make a donation of £500.

Similar donations and pledges to collect were announced from UNISON branches. RMT workers arrived with a collection of £65 they had just made at the Waterloo depot. The UCU branch for the UAL is raising money for its hardship fund using Go Fund Me and had raised over £2,000 within the first few days of action.

A rep from Tower Hamlets Unison informed the meeting it had donated £500 to Queen Mary’s UCU. Speakers from the platform and the floor applauded the action being taken and see our fight on pensions, equality workload, an end to precarious contracts and pay as part of a wider battle for social justice. City and Islington College UCU offered their solidarity to the meeting. They have collected £300 from members and are organising a levy for HE strikers.

CWU President Jane Loftus gave her union’s solidarity to the dispute, explaining that CWU members are reballoting for strike soon, and declared “it’s all the same dispute — the system is broken.”

Colleen Johnson NEU Executive member brought solidarity greetings and spoke movingly about the discrimination taking place within education as cutbacks and marketisation left disabled workers without adaptations and working on precarious contracts.

UCU Open University President Lesley Kane explained that the current strike wave has its roots in UCU’s ongoing campaign against casualisation. She described how the last USS strike had given her branch the confidence to take on their employers and win a significant victory that saw 4000 OU staff moved from casual to permanent contracts. Debby Pope from the Chicago Teachers Union spoke of their successful strikes last year that won concessions on pay, hours and support for students and how solidarity helped them.

The meeting was an important initiative by the Region and it reflected the fantastic support that exists across the whole of the trade union movement for UCU’s strike action. Our sister unions are ready and willing to help us, and they see our action as the first step in the fight back against against this government and for social justice. As Richard Burgon MP told the meeting “The Trade Union movement is now the official opposition to austerity.”

Mandy Brown – thanks!

Mandy Brown – thanks!

A big thank you from London Region UCU to Mandy Brown, who is leaving the sector after five years as Secretary.

During her time in office, London Region UCU led the way in the Further Education sector showing how to break through the TU Act threshold to launch effective strike action. The five years she spent as London Region Secretary saw the attacks on FE, HE and Adult Education intensify, yet we have seen the emergence of a strong rank and file in colleges committed to fighting back.

There has often been debate on how best to organise these struggles and Mandy’s stewardship of the Region meetings ensured both that different opinions were heard and that the region agreed on a clear direction.

As branch secretary at Lambeth College, she led a branch that has been in the front line of fighting back against attacks on FE provision and working conditions. Mandy was instrumental in progressing campaigns for migrant rights. She was first involved in our union in the Action for ESOL campaign. Her inspiring work for Care4Calais, particularly during the period of Calais Jungle in 2015/2016 meant that migrant solidarity was not an abstract policy but something real and meaningful for those that were inspired to get involved.

Mandy, we are going to miss you and we are going to keep this tradition going.

– all the best, from London Region UCU

Workshop notes, #UCUTransformed

The following notes were documented during the various workshops

Moving into action, Organising to GTVO and strike

  • Take-away points / memorable moments. Importance of Preparing The Ground before ballot. GTVO not just bureaucratic but political campaign. How to keep the momentum going that the strike has built. Broaden the scope of the things we challenge.
  • Suggested actions. Investigate issues with electronic voting. Find a balance between local and national issues.

#NoCapitulation, using social media

  • Decisions. Extend use in FE – training sessions?
  • Take-away points / memorable moments. Social media is an add on and can catalyse but not replace organising. Builds community identity but can exclude. Anonymise, share responsibility, have agreed guidelines to protect branch.

Democratising the union: putting members at the centre of change

  • Decisions Add equality/disability awareness / inc in organising events
  • Take-away points / memorable moments Clyde Workers Committee 1915: ‘We will support the officials just so long as they represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them’.
  • Suggested actions Hold academic conference on this matter, congruent with who we are and what we do, publish papers etc.. Think of ways to replicate the GTVO campaign / picket line mobilisation. Demand that key papers from HEC and FEC meetings be published. Sheffield’s Democracy Review motion
  • Questions raised (still to be answered)
    • How do we increase members’ knowledge about the union?
    • Is it too late to influence the JEP? Is this not a problem of a general democratic deficit?
  • Other Role of the Special Higher Education Sector Conference – depending on when, what its potential could be.

Reclaiming our Colleges: Students and workers organising together

  • Take-away points / memorable moments Teachouts and solidarity between students and staff. Building horizontal relationships. Not Student Union but grassroots. Building standing committees with staff and students. Lack of effective pre-strike communication between UCU and SU in some campuses
  • Suggested actions Questions of Governance (Scotland as an example?). Campaigns in defence of Statutes. For democratising our colleges. Building joint student+staff solidarity committees with a view to calling general assemblies. Continue teach-ins? Regular newsletter. Fight for education as a whole. International movement.
  • Questions raised (still to be answered) Solidarity with other university workers (e.g. cleaners, security, etc.) who also have been striking for their rights? What should students do to reclaim their students union?
  • Other University bureaucratisation & increasing admin tasks issue – important for both students and workers

 Equality Through and Through: Integrating equality demands in our industrial campaigns

  • Decisions Things must change on disabled access.
  • Take-away points / memorable moments Integrate equality. must be central to everything we do. eg pay claim to give more to lower graded workers, who are often Black members. union increase in FE in hourly paid, women, black members and disabled members are concentrated in this group and UCU must campaign for HPL as an equality issue. also pensions move to career average rather than final salary affects women (and disabled..).  HE: Cambridge used the USS strike to challenge racism and set up a network of women of Colour. new people involved must be included. ge in our access to our union events . disabled members demand we are included by equal acess and involved in planning for this in future. Midlands region has a number of equality reps at regional level and this should happen for every strand.
  • Suggested actions integrate equality. must be central to everything we do. eg pay claim to give more to lower graded workers, who are often Black members. union increase in FE in hourly paid, women, black members and disabled members are concenrtrated in this group and UCU must campaign for HPL as an equality issue. also pensions move to career average rather than final salary affects women (and disabled..).  HE: Cambridge used the USS strike to challenge racism and set up a network of women of Colour. new people involved must be included. ge in our access to our union events . disabled members demand we are included by equal acess and involved in planning for this in future.  women strike actions on 8th March in USS was a good step, but the fight to decolonise the universities and make them democratic goes on. The union is much too slow on sexual harassment.  can we integrate more carefully issues of sexual harassment
  • Questions raised (still to be answered) how can we frame our pay campaigns in such a way as to embed equality issues better?  how can we make disabiled access better (consult disabled members and campaign with us rather than put issues to back burner)  how do we shift the agenda so tht we are not limited to the constraints of the UCU lawyers advice and the law–which does not achieve equality. how do we stop Athena Swan being a token event
  • Other we have done well in winning the idea that we get equality on the agenda as an industtrial issue. we are serious about it and need to make the officials see it as an industrial issue. we need to make the union ask the question of the members, what does victory look like on equality questions?  more discussion on how everyone is involved in fighting for equality–eg not just women or not just black memebrs organising around equality. It must not be only the oppressed who are involved in changing things. should international issues be hived off into a seperate workshop from equallities in future?

USS activist guide, #UCUTransformed

A UCU Activist’s Guide to the Next Few Months

Immediate term

  • 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).

Short term

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.


  • Membership – who to include/ exclude (e.g. consultants w/ pecuniary conflict of interest (not simply having previously expressed a view)) [current criteria: no commitment to equalities (will be added)] Should be elected. Lobby for particular candidates?
  • Guided by whose interests? Beneficiaries not UUK/ UCU
  • Issues to tackle? Methodology AND data
  • Transparency/ Procedure?
    • Who will chair? Who will take minutes?
    • How will deliberations be recorded?
    • How will inputs and outputs be recorded? (e.g. UUK may channel consultants who have driven DC) Transparency on external advisors; governance; decision-making if disagreement exists [“expected to reach consensus” – what happens if they don’t?]
    • Should be regular reports to elected bodies.
  • USS must commit to accepting JEP recommendations and stop defending its flawed valuation.
  • Can they get extra time if they need added data/time?
  • First Actuarial must be included and not suppressed by UCU leadership


  • Emergency motion to NEC next Friday
  • Lobby USS Working Group (meets 16 May) which will appoint JEP by 21 May
  • Amendments and late motions to Congress/Sector Conference in May: amendment deadline = 4 May

See also Ten points for the USS valuation

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

See also