Socialist Worker

Brighton - why escalating action works

by Mark Abel, chair, UCU Coordinating Committee, University of Brighton (pc)
Issue No. 2553

Brighton lecturers out on strike last month

Brighton lecturers out on strike last month (Pic: Tom Hickey)


UCU union members at the University of Brighton have fought off an attempt by their management to effectively derecognise their union.

The university unilaterally cancelled part of the promotions procedure, breaching an agreement with the UCU. It demoted a group of part-time lecturers and issued redundancy notices to three lecturers.

The UCU tried to address these issues through the university’s disputes procedure. The vice chancellor refused to acknowledge the dispute, stating, “The university does not require the agreement of the UCU in respect of these issues”.

UCU members voted by more than three to one in favour of industrial action in response. A campaign of escalating strikes, beginning with a two-day strike, followed by three days two weeks later, was drawn up.

The union also instituted a work-to-contract.

The prospect of escalating action during the summer term, combined with reputational damage, forced the university to the negotiating table before the first two-day strike.

Unequivocal

The resulting agreement, endorsed overwhelmingly by members, represents an unequivocal victory. The university was forced to reinstate the promotions procedure and promise that no changes can take place without UCU agreement.

It agreed to an independent review of the demotions and made a statement which protects lecturers from being replaced by staff on lower grades.

Crucially, the university conceded that no area of staff terms and conditions was off limits for union negotiation and agreement, and committed to abide by the disputes procedure.

This was achieved by UCU members’ determination to fight. It is a clear vindication of the strategy of escalating strikes.

The university has suffered a serious setback in its attempts to erode workers’ conditions and cut its wage bill. There will be more battles in the future, but Brighton UCU is better placed to face them as a result of this victory.


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