Socialist Worker

Why did Sally Hunt win the UCU general secretary election?

by Sean Vernell
Issue No. 2042

Sally Hunt has been elected general secretary of the UCU lecturers’ union.

The turnout – 14 percent – is low and wasn’t encouraged by a ballot paper that the Times Higher Education Supplement described as baffling.

Sally Hunt hasn’t exactly been swept to power. Some 100,000 UCU members didn’t vote.

Being a women candidate made a big difference for Hunt. For good reasons many UCU members wanted to see the union leadership pass outside the domain of white men.

Hunt also tacked left. During the election she threw her weight behind a petition against the privatisation of education. It attracted 4,000 signatures.

Hunt is not perceived as right wing by many former AUT union members. To many people she represented the AUT developing into a real union – despite the outcome of last year’s higher education (HE) dispute.

Sadly, despite left wing candidate Roger Kline taking the fight across the country, his campaign did not connect with the majority of UCU members who remain angry about what’s happening in FE/HE, but don’t see the union making a difference.

In HE there is deep disaffection at the outcome of the pay dispute where 10,000 – more than voted for Kline – voted no to a deal despite the fact that the action had been called off.

And in FE people have been hammered while under a left Natfhe leadership since the late 1990s.

Another factor was Peter Jones’s candidacy. To put it bluntly he split the left vote and this helped to let Sally Hunt in.

Peter’s vote is contradictory as it expresses the fact that hundreds of activists wanted what they saw as a more “radical” alternative to Roger Kline. He will also have received a lot of votes from FE members who feel marginalised in the new union.

An analysis of his vote shows that nearly as many people transferred from him to Hunt as they did to Kline.

But it was certainly unhelpful that there were two left candidates.

Peter Jones stood despite a nine to one vote at UCU Left conference against him standing. The vast majority of left activists argued that he would split the vote – and he did.

As Socialist Worker went to press the results of the national executive elections had not been announced. These will greatly affect the direction of the union.

In any case there are many issues to campaign around. 

The 1,000 strong Dundee petition for a national demo/HE special conference and the 1,000 strong lobby over the axing of Esol language courses show that many members want to fight.

The 250 strong UCU Left conference last year showed there is a big audience for the left in the union.

The election result is just one round in an ongoing battle. We’ll need to build the fight in the colleges and universities and reach out on the big political issues to draw in new activists.

Hunt takes the reins with national bargaining under threat in HE, a wave of privatisation and redundancies, and the FE sector facing a barrage of attacks.

UCU’s congress will now be a very important battleground. We have to fight to get UCU Left motions passed before the 21 March deadline and get UCU Left delegates to congress.

The UCU general secretary result

  • Sally Hunt 7,605 (first preference) plus 858 (transfers from Peter Jones), total 8,463
  • Roger Kline 6,151 (first preference) plus 966 (transfers from Peter Jones), total 7,117
  • Peter Jones 2,494

Sean is the author of the UCU London region’s FE manifesto, which has been sent to every UCU FE member in London, every MP and GLA member. For more information go to

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Article information

Sat 17 Mar 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2042
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