The lecturers’ UCU congress, like every other trade union conference this year, was shaped by tumultuous events in the outside world.
Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrations and riots by students in Britain, and the mass protests sweeping Spain and Greece all found their way to the conference floor.
Alan Whitaker, outgoing UCU president, congratulated students for their protests, which he described as “magnificent occasions” that he was “proud” to have been part of.
“I salute all the young people who have taken part in protests and become politicised and radicalised,” he said.
“Their energy has given me energy.”
Time and time again, delegates showed their readiness to fight—despite sometimes facing serious management bullying (see below).
The union’s higher education sector conference voted to ballot for action over pay in the autumn if members reject the employers’ final offer.
The current offer is just a £100 a year increase.
Delegates also instructed UCU officers to ballot them for industrial action if employers refuse to “enter into meaningful negotiations on avoiding redundancies”.
They argued that fighting over jobs, pay and pensions was part of a bigger battle to stop the Tories’ vision for education.
Further education sector delegates condemned the government’s attack on provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance.
Both sectors passed motions against casual contracts, the marketisation of education, privatisation and cuts.
Delegates pointed out that the most vulnerable students would be the biggest victims of these attacks.
The congress backed a call for a general strike almost unanimously—with no votes against and only one abstention. The motion called on the TUC to organise a 24-hour general strike across the public sector against the cuts”.
Delegates backed a range of motions calling for the union to escalate industrial action and to coordinate with other unions.
It called on the TUC to organise a second “march for the alternative” in the autumn.
Congress overwhelmingly supported maintaining participatory democracy in the UCU, as opposed to having union policy based on surveys of the members.
The mood to resist was also clear at fringe meetings.
Some 120 people packed into a UCU Left meeting, which heard from a Wisconsin trade unionist, a Spanish activist, an NUT union member and a speaker from the Defend the Right to Protest campaign.
Around 80 people came to a meeting on defending multiculturalism.
Radical motions met little opposition on conference floor, while delegates who talked about the need to fight got the biggest applause.
As London Metropolitan University delegate Mark Campbell put it, “The most important thing is the defence of education. And that means we have to resist all attacks.
“We have to fight on all fronts—and we shouldn’t be scared of saying so.”
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