The UCU lecturers’ union conference in Manchester last week was dominated by discussion of how Labour’s neoliberal policies are harming education. It was marked by a growing confidence that lecturers can fight back.
Linda Newman, outgoing president of UCU, opened the conference by saying, “The greatest challenge for us is the creeping marketisation and privatisation of education.”
Many delegates condemned government plans to introduce more “vocational” courses that would be geared towards the needs of business rather than providing a rounded education to students.
They also spoke of the detrimental impact on workers’ pay and conditions that these plans would have.
Motions calling for campaigns against privatisation in education, including prison education, were passed unanimously.
Delegates celebrated the joint public sector strike on 24 April that further education (FE) lecturers took part in.
Brian Ingham from the national executive called it “a spectacular day of success that showed the strength of our members”.
The strike had a huge impact on UCU branches. David O’Toole, chair of UCU at Newcastle college, told Socialist Worker, “We recruited 60 new members to our branch in the run-up to the strike and the week after.
“On the strike day there were never fewer than 50 pickets across four picket lines – sometimes there were between 90 and 100. The union feels different now. There’s a buzz about the place.”
FE lecturers overwhelmingly passed a motion congratulating members for taking the action, backing the union’s strategy of linking up with other public sector unions and endorsing further industrial action.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt argued, “We don’t think that just a one day-strike will get us anywhere. We need a long strategy of action linked to a political campaign taking on the government’s definition of education.”
There was set to be a national day of action in colleges on Wednesday of this week, with rallies involving both UCU and Unison union members (see » London lecturers strike over pay)
On 9 June FE lecturers in London will take part in a one-day strike to coincide with the TUC lobby of parliament over pay.
Pay was also a key issue for higher education (HE) delegates. HE members are in the middle of a three-year deal that will end next year.
They should be awarded 2.5 percent in October or the RPI inflation figure – whichever is greater. But members are concerned that some colleges will not honour the deal, which has a caveat of “affordability” written into it.
The UCU conference passed an emergency motion supporting action against such colleges.
HE members will submit their claim for next year while the current deal is still running. The details of the claim are still being debated.
Earlier this year UCU members rejected new negotiating structures that would have limited their ability to take industrial action.
If employers refuse to honour the current deal or to negotiate over next year’s claim, UCU members will be able to call a dispute at any time and take action to defend their pay.
The UCU conference made a number of key decisions. A motion confirming UCU’s affiliation to Abortion Rights was passed overwhelmingly, as was a motion opposing military recruitment on university and college campuses.
The conference also passed motions to affiliate to the No2ID campaign against identity cards, to defend academic freedom and oppose Islamophobia on campuses.
An emergency motion defending Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, the staff member and student arrested at Nottingham university, was passed unanimously.
Another emergency motion supporting the national demonstration against the fascist British National Party on 21 June was also passed.
Delegates passed a motion calling on members to “consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions”.
The UCU Left played an important role in shaping the conference. Up to 100 people came to a fringe meeting organised by UCU Left out of a conference of 400 delegates.