On 29 June, UCU confirmed that, between August and October this year, it will ballot HE members for industrial action over pay.
This follows a consultative members’ ballot on whether to accept the 2% pay rise offered by the Universities and Colleges’ Employers Association (UCEA). On a 47.7% turnout, 82% of UCU members rejected the offer and 65% said they would be prepared to take industrial action.
Additionally, a Special Higher Education Sector Conference (SHESC) was held on 21 June, following requests from at least 20 UCU HE branches to discuss the United Superannuation Scheme (USS) dispute. Conference passed numerous motions on the Joint Expect Panel (JEP) into the valuation of the USS, including motions relating to the workings and scrutiny of the JEP, as well as pension provision, reporting, and mechanisms for re-opening the USS dispute.
Congress also passed motions on democracy and transparency during ongoing industrial action, called for the resignation of USS CEO Bill Galvin, and called upon the UCU Higher Education Committee to identify USS members in post-92 universities so that they have a consultative voice in USS matters and the opportunity to engage in campaigning work.
All this should be taken in context of the broader political picture in UCU. As covered in Solidarity 472, UCU officials repeatedly disrupted the proceedings at the union’s Congress on 30 May-1 June, preventing discussion of motions criticising Sally Hunt, the General Secretary. This disruption included three walkouts by Hunt and other senior UCU staff members. Represented by a branch of Unite, these staffers claimed that the offending motions would violate their employment rights and declared a trade dispute.
The majority of Congress delegates signed a joint statement as “Our UCU”, which resolved to continue discussing the disputed motions at a recall conference, and to urge a debate in all UCU branches and bodies to discuss union democracy.
On Tuesday 12 June, Cambridge UCU passed two motions challenging the national leadership over the events at Congress. The first motion, which carried 23-9, called on Hunt to affirm “that she respects the sovereignty of Congress” and to “condemn the disruption to the democratic process of Congress”.
The second motion, which carried 29-4, reaffirmed UCU members’ right to dissent. It described the leadership’s disruptions as ‘a threat to democracy in the Union and a denial of the will of its members’, and demanded a recall of Congress. Other UCU branches, including those at Warwick and UCL, have since passed similar motions.
The HE pay strike ballot presents a chance to test UCU members’ newfound combativeness, but judging by the consultative ballot’s 47.7% turnout, we must work diligently to meet the 50% threshold for industrial action.
While the UCU leadership will almost certainly try to stifle dissent through calls for unity in this latest industrial dispute, we must continue to build a rank-and-file movement to transform UCU into a militant, member-led union.