Unison higher education ballot: 62% vote to strike but anti-union rules block action

Unison pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison pay strike, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Unison higher education activists

Unison trade union members at universities across the UK voted 62% in favour of strike action after rejecting the employers’ final offer of 2% (with slightly higher increases for the lowest paid of up to 2.7%).

While this is a significant result, and the best for many years, the turnout of 31% falls short of what’s required to take action under the anti-democratic Trade Union Act.

Many activists will be angry and frustrated about our union’s apparent inability to engage with members enough to inspire more of them to vote in this important ballot.

For many of us, it felt like this year would be different and that we could fight alongside the University and College Union (UCU), with the support of thousands of students, to improve the offer to match inflation and make up for the many years of derisory pay offers.

The way forward starts with a sober assessment of the vote and discussion on what steps are required to bring the levels of confidence and engagement up to a point where serious and effective action can make a difference.

Throughout the campaign there was no serious attempt to contact individual members and adopt a systematic approach to making sure that members voted.

Much of this work was carried out by the heroic efforts of branch activists in the workplaces. But the lack of stewards and reps with the time and confidence to campaign to deliver the vote was demonstrated by the result.

Many members will question why the tactic of an aggregate ballot (requiring a national 50% turnout) was adopted, when a disaggregate ballot (individual ballots by institution) could have proved more effective.

The results of the UCU ballot over the same issue – where some institutions gained a 50% turnout and a legal mandate for action – show that strong, confident branches are able to mobilise members sufficiently.

Delegates to the Unison higher education conference in January will want to hold the leadership to account and support motions which commit Unison’s higher education service group to a strategy which is most likely to deliver effective action and significant results next year.