The Times Higher Educational Supplement (THES) ran an article last week highlighting what it called “splits” in the UCU lecturers’ union.
It focused on disagreements between sections of the union’s leadership and the UCU Left, which includes members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and claimed that division is causing chaos in the union.
There are disagreements between members on the UCU executive, and between the left and the union’s full time leadership. A major source of argument has been how the UCU relates to the student protests.
In December an emergency national executive committee meeting voted to back further protests against fee rises, including the protests on 29 January in Manchester and London, and to defend EMA.
The motion passed at the meeting also called for more involvement of lay members in planning protests. The THES has spun this as the left trying to take over the jobs of UCU full time officials.
UCU Left supporters and SWP members proposed the motion because they believed that the UCU’s leadership had made serious mistakes.
On 9 December, the UCU and NUS held a rally and candlelit vigil on the Embankment in London, while thousands of students and workers were being kettled and attacked by police.
This only served to cut off UCU and NUS officials from the mass protest.
Had the leaderships been at Parliament Square with the students it would have strengthened them against police violence.
At the first major student protest on 10 November, thousands of students laid siege to Tory HQ at Millbank.
The left in the UCU rightly refused to condemn so-called “violence” at Millbank and defended students against the police, politicians and the press. Unfortunately UCU general secretary Sally Hunt condemned the action as that of “a mindless and totally unrepresentative minority”.
Some in the union have responded to criticisms of this by attacking the left.
SWP members and the UCU Left are in a strong position because they have been at the forefront of leading resistance against cuts.
They have stood up against the marketisation of education and the bosses’ drive to turn universities and colleges into training camps and defended the right of everyone to a decent education. This is why left wingers have been elected into positions on the UCU’s national executive and in their local branches.
The THES speculates with horror about the possibility that left candidates may even stand for the position of general secretary. But why shouldn’t they?
UCU Left members have argued for a political position within the UCU and won it after democratic debate. It is right to stand together with the students in a united fight to defend education.
On jobs, pay and pensions, the left has argued for a fight and has won a series of unanimous votes on these issues over recent months.
It’s no wonder the right wing press don’t like that—it’s a shame that some in the union don’t either.