Sheffield HE UCU strike
Sheffield HE UCU strike

Bea Gardner, UCU member

University and College Union (UCU) members in higher education have voted by 68.32% to continue with industrial action, including strike action, as part of the ongoing ‘UCU rising’ pay and conditions dispute.

However, because of the Tories’ anti-democratic requirement for a ballot to achieve at least a 50% turnout every six months, the union cannot legally take action, having achieved a turnout of 42.59% in this reballot.

Having reached the threshold in the last two consecutive ballots – first 57.71% in November 2022 and 56.41% in April 2023 – many members, reps and activists are disappointed.

Members have not voted to end the dispute, it is the Tory anti-union laws that are preventing further action.

However, the increase in the ‘no’ vote and abstentions is a reflection of a lack of confidence in the union’s leadership, headed by general secretary Jo Grady, and confusion caused by the mishandling of the dispute, particularly in the past nine months. We have seen the bypassing of democratic decisions, delays and inaction, and a last-minute shift from national to local action in September.

Fatigue from extensive strike action and bosses’ punitive pay deductions during the marking and assessment boycott are also factors. So too the fact that some other high-profile national disputes have come to an end.

But despite all that, members still showed their determination and voted overwhelmingly to continue the dispute.

All of the issues that have driven members to take significant levels of industrial action are unresolved – cost-of-living pressures, underfunding and attacks on conditions.

The general secretary and national executive elections, starting 25 January 2024, give an opportunity to elect a new union leadership with a fighting strategy of well-prepared strike action, and bring an end to the undemocratic manoeuvres that have taken place with Grady.

But it is vital that the newly elected union leadership is also willing to put demands on what is highly likely to be a government led by Sir Keir Starmer. Demands must be made now for Labour to fully fund higher education and support UCU members’ demands for fair pay, terms and conditions.