UCU Left member Liz Lawrence has been elected as the union’s vice president. Elections for national officer and national executive committee positions in the lecturers’ union ended earlier this month.
Several members of the UCU Left, which Socialist Worker supports, were elected. They include Mandy Brown, Dawn Livingston, Loraine Monk, Brian O’Sullivan and Paul Blackledge.
Liz Lawrence spoke to Socialist Worker about the challenges facing the union and what UCU Left members are fighting for.
“We need to link the defence of education with the defence of our jobs, conditions of service, pensions and pay,” she said.
“This means making alliances with students and parents, with pensioners and anti-cuts activists, and other trade unions.
“We need to publicise successful disputes and explain that active unions can make a real difference. There are a lot of potential members we need to recruit.”
Lecturers, face an onslaught from the Tories. Liz said that workload was a major issue.
“Many members feel ground down with unreasonable workloads,” she said. “They find it hard to get to meetings, read union literature, vote in elections or become active.
“We need to tackle workload so we can tackle everything else—privatisation and attacks on jobs, provision, pensions and pay.”
UCU Left members stood on a platform of wanting a union that would effectively fight these attacks. It hasn’t always been easy to win such action.
“It’s a mistake to see members as all keen to take action and a wicked, evil bureaucracy holding them back,” Liz said.
“There is a problem, however, if union leaderships lose confidence in the ability of members to fight.”
She added that pay is a key area that the union should be fighting over. Lecturers have had below-inflation pay rises on top of increased pension contributions—slashing their pay in real terms.
UCU estimates that its higher education (HE) members have lost around 13 percent in the last four years.
“We should develop joint claims with other unions in higher education and try to take industrial action together,” said Liz.
“But we should not make united action a precondition for any action.
“We are not going to tie ourselves to a position where we can only take action if everyone else does too.
“That was the decision of our special HE sector conference.”
Liz said the potential for beating the Tories back is there. “The objective conditions for a fightback are more than present,” she said.
“Members need to know the union leadership is serious about being prepared to authorise and support action.
“Negotiators have to be prepared to explain that without industrial action we are unlikely to get offers that come anywhere near meeting our claims.
The election results show the potential for building a fighting union. “Many of our comrades who were elected are known as hard-working activists doing their best to resist austerity and build the union,” said Liz. “In times like these, members value serious activists.”