Resistance to austerity was the key theme of this year’s UCU union congress in Brighton.
Delegates in further and higher education voted for strike ballots to defend their pay, and for a national strategy to defend education.
Lecturers want a 5 percent pay rise after suffering real term pay cuts of around 14 percent since 2009.
The UCU hasn’t called national action for two years—but it’s clear that workers are still up for a fight.
“We must go on the offensive,” said David Armstrong from the union’s national executive committee (NEC).
Delegates passed motions expressing “grave concern” that the union had not taken national action to defend pay.
“It’s not enough to say we are a fighting union,” said Jenny Sutton from the NEC. “We have to prove it in practice.”
Further education lecturers passed an amendment committing the union to organising a ballot on pay “as near as possible to the beginning of October”.
Higher education delegates passed a motion that “all forms of industrial action should be considered” to defend pay.
Delegates stressed that the UCU should coordinate action with other unions. They voted to call a conference on defending education.
“We need a national strategy to beat this government,” said Sean Vernell
from the NEC. “We need a campaign that can engage our members.”
Delegates backed an amendment that called on the TUC “to lay urgent concrete plans for united strike action against Tory austerity policies”.
Delegates also took part in an important debate on union democracy.
General secretary Sally Hunt wants to cut jobs, the size of the NEC and the number of union committees in the name of saving money.
UCU Left, which Socialist Workers Party members are part of, argued that this would make UCU less democratic and hinder its ability to fight.
Delegates moved a motion reaffirming the union’s opposition to compulsory redundancies, safeguarding the union’s democratic structures and running a recruitment campaign.
Geoff Williams from University College London told Socialist Worker, “Sally Hunt has been making these arguments for a long time.
“She’s using the union’s financial problems as cover for putting more power in the hands of union officers.”
Veronica Killen from the NEC also opposed the proposed cuts. “It would be devastating if the NEC’s recommendations go ahead,” she told Socialist Worker.
Around 130 people came to a UCU Left fringe meeting. Lecturers there pointed out the contradiction of opposing compulsory redundancies in workplaces while accepting them within the union.
Delegates voted on five models of NEC. Two thirds of delegates to next year’s congress will have to back one before any changes take place.
Lecturers also voted to oppose academies and free schools, and to ballot for strikes in workplaces where management don’t implement the national workload agreement.
They called on the TUC to organise a national day of action to defend the NHS. They voted to oppose the bedroom tax and defend casual workers.
Delegates passed a motion opposing attempts by racists to capitalise on the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. It supported the Unite Against Fascism protest last Saturday.
Some 60 delegates came to a fringe meeting on Woolwich, organised by the Socialist Workers Party.