UCU strikers in Durham. Photo: Elaine Brunskill
UCU strikers in Durham. Photo: Elaine Brunskill

Socialist Party members in UCU

Last month’s congress of the University and College Union (UCU)  – which took place online from 1-3 June – backed ongoing action across the sector to defend jobs and win better pay and conditions.

The first day of congress included two motions which criticised, to different extents, the role of the general secretary, Jo Grady. The motion which was carried held the general secretary responsible for undermining the current disputes, and instructed her to respect and implement the decisions made by democratic bodies of the union. A motion which sought also to censure the general secretary fell, but by a narrow margin.

Despite being elected on the back of her role in the ‘no capitulation’ moment of the 2018 USS pensions disputes, Jo Grady has consistently attempted to bypass decisions of sector conferences in pursuit of her so-called ‘pause and reflect’ strategy.

The vote therefore signified the ongoing commitment of delegates to fight. But these motions, on their own, will not resolve the issue of holding the general secretary to account. We need the election of all union officials, and the right to recall, as a starting point.

The second day of congress was dedicated to the sector conferences, discussing motions of specific relevance to either further or higher education. Delegates at the higher education sector conference discussed future strategy in the ongoing pay and pension disputes. Significantly, delegates voted to return to aggregated ballots, meaning every branch can strike together if the 50% turnout threshold is met.

Two separate motions were carried calling for an aggregated ballot at different time periods: one in early summer for action in September, and the other in October for action into the spring. Subsequently, the union officials, under direction from Jo Grady, oversaw further branch consultation on ballot timings, delaying enacting either motion.

Ultimately, the decision has now been taken by the higher education committee, which has resolved to call an aggregated ballot in the early autumn, if the employers do not meet the demands in this year’s pay claim.

The important task now will be to build the biggest possible turnout in that aggregated ballot, paving the way for a strong strike should the employers fail to meet the union’s demands, and seeking to link up any action with other campus trade unions, including Unite and Unison.

Meanwhile, at the further education (FE) sector conference, delegates endorsed the current strategy of the FE negotiators, including the ballot of 33 FE branches as part of the 2022-23 pay claim. The conference also voted in favour of supporting branches to pursue national priorities through local collective agreements, and to improve how campaigns include teaching and learning support members. The key task remains winning national pay bargaining for FE. Attempts to coordinate branches in action is a positive step towards this goal. 

It was clear from congress that there remains a determined mood to fight over pay, together with all the associated issues of insecure contracts, pay inequality and workload. Since congress took place, inflation has continued to rise. Members have seen the RMT nationwide rail strike, CWU members beating the undemocratic 50% voting threshold in the BT strike ballot, and even barristers striking. All this can give confidence to UCU members in the prospect of securing a big ‘yes’ vote to join other unions taking action for the pay rise we all need.