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University and College Union recall congress
We need democratic, rank-and-file leadership to win national UCU disputes
Socialist Party members in UCU
For the first time in its history, the University and College Union (UCU) is holding a recall congress, on 18 October, due to the shutdown of our democratic annual congress in May.
This was a direct result of a staff walkout to prevent congress hearing two branch motions which were critical of UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.
Unfortunately it has just been announced that Sally Hunt has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and that her doctor has advised her to take a period of leave. Socialist Party members in UCU wish her well at this difficult time, and hope her leave has a positive effect on her health.
However, we must also make clear that it is the democratic right of UCU members to hold our elected representatives to account. Understandably, members were enraged by the general secretary's behaviour during the pensions strike in the pre-1992 universities.
We wrote at the time that the 'consultation' of branches "was a stitch-up by Sally Hunt and the full-time officials." We stand by that assessment.
The shutdown of congress only exacerbated that. The general secretary could have prevented it by appealing to staff not to exercise their right to walk out, and instead defending her record to delegates.
The branch of general union Unite which organises UCU staff has confirmed there will be no further walkouts at our recall congress. As we go to press, because of Sally Hunt's absence, it is not clear whether recall congress will hear the critical motions.
In the meantime, congress has huge achievements to celebrate. 17,000 new members have joined UCU. We have seen the beginnings of a fightback in further education. And, of course, we had the magnificent 14-day pensions strike, the first national strike in the shadow of the Tories' latest anti-democratic Trade Union Act.
But congress is also preparing for huge national struggles. In higher education, we are balloting for industrial action to reverse falling pay and force action on casualisation, workload and the gender pay gap. In further education we are also balloting for industrial action on pay.
Both of these ballots close on 19 October, the day after recall congress. These are massive disputes for our union, and for the whole education sector, that we must win.
The best way to do that is to put our members in democratic control of our disputes at this recall congress.
This year, the union elected a 'national dispute committee' to provide rank-and-file oversight of the ongoing pensions dispute. That committee should be expanded to include representatives of post-1992 universities and lead the national pay and equality dispute.
A similar body should be constituted in further education to lead the pay struggle there.
Unfortunately, it has been suggested that while the general secretary is on medical leave, her duties will again be performed by unelected senior union officials.
Unlike many other unions, UCU has no elected deputy or assistant general secretary who constitutionally could fill in. Going forward, this situation shows the need for a rule change to introduce election of full-time officials, in particular a deputy general secretary.
However, in this emergency situation, why shouldn't congress elect an acting general secretary from among the delegates, to provide democratic and accountable leadership while Sally Hunt is absent?
Our best weapon is our members and the fantastic willingness to fight back they have shown. Through united struggle, we can defend our pay and conditions, and the future of post-16 education.
In further and higher education, we face horrific casualisation, victimisation of union reps, redundancies, falling pay, sexist employment practices, attacks on international staff and students, and swingeing cuts and privatisation. These are all a result of the policies of successive Tory and Blairite governments.
Empowering our members by building a fighting, democratic, rank-and-file-controlled UCU is key to winning victories in the struggles ahead.
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