UCU picket line at Keele University in February before the lockdown

UCU picket line at Keele University in February before the lockdown   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party members in UCU

Over the last 12 months University and College Union (UCU) members have undertaken a determined struggle in the ‘four fights’ dispute, taking 22 days of strike action over pay, casualisation, workload and pay inequality. The most recent offer tabled by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) fails to move on key demands. But the UCU leadership is encouraging acceptance of the offer, capitulating to university management in the hope it can save jobs in the wake of the higher education funding crisis.

We reject the offer put forward by UCEA. It fails to make any movement on the current 1.8% pay offer, even though the value of higher education pay has been eroded by 20% in the last decade. Next-to-no progress has been made on workload, the ‘expectations’ set out on equal pay are essentially driven by legal frameworks and the casualisation ‘expectation’ provide get-out-clauses for employers. The offer does not bind university management to these ‘expectations’ and instead puts pressure back on local branches to implement and negotiate the key terms of the offer. Many activists rightly believe that accepting the offer in its current form is an abandonment of the most casualised members of the union. There are concerns that casualised staff are being sacrificed in an attempt to save jobs for permanent staff. It is vital that members stay unified – not only will the loss of casualised staff lead to increased workloads for retained staff, but ultimately membership divisions will weaken the union.

Yet, the UCU leadership are telling members that we cannot achieve a better offer, leading members down a path of retreat and, ultimately, betrayal at a time when we need a fighting leadership more than ever. They also proposed an outrageous and unnecessary timescale (five working days!) for branch consultation which left no time for democratic decision making at the branch level. Branch delegates were then asked to vote on their branches response to questions that had not been given to consult members on. There was a clear demand from delegates for members to be consulted directly. In an attempt to secure the acceptance offer the leadership has repeatedly tried to conflate the issue of rejecting the offer with an unpopular strategy for immediate reballot in June. Members must not be forced to choose between an ultra-left strategy and capitulation: serious member consultation and discussion on tactics is needed.

As previously reported in the Socialist, the higher education sector faces a major funding shortage due to anticipated falls in student numbers this September. Many members are understandably concerned about job losses arising from this crisis, questioning the strategy and timing for reballot in the ‘four fights’ dispute, previously scheduled for this month. The fight against Covid-19 related attacks on univeristy workers will not be advanced by accepting an unacceptable offer on the ‘four fights’ – these issues will only be exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, particularly job insecurity and a higher workloads.

Socialist Party members call for a rejection of the offer and demand that members are given an opportunity for a democratic discussion over the re-ballot strategy, in-light of the changes in our sectors’ situation. We call for a higher education sector conference to determine the next steps in the dispute. We say a re-ballot should be coordinated with other campus trade unions: cross union action is needed to defend jobs and higher education. The unions should immediately launch a campaign in defence of the sector, targeting not only the university employers but, crucially, the government. The funding crisis concretely poses the need for the renationalisation of our sector – the running of universities as a public service – and demonstrates the unsustainability of a university system based on fee-paying. Socialist Party members in UCU stand for the scrapping of fees, bringing universities under public ownership and under democratic control of staff and students.

We have reached a critical point for our union and our sector. We must refuse to pay for the cost of the higher education funding crisis through our terms and conditions. Students should also not pay for the crisis through increased fees and lower quality education – staff and students must stand together. This starts with rejecting the ‘four fights’ offer and the building of a cross-union campaign in defence of education.

We Say:

  • Union leadership must call and campaign for rejection of offer in membership ballot
  • Launch campaign now to prepare fight for pay conditions and against the new jobs threat and for a new strike
  • For joint union-student campaign