Around 80 UCU union members from across Britain met in London last Saturday to discuss building struggles over pay and pensions—and transforming their union.
The meeting was called by UCU London region to debate where next after the union’s congress in Manchester last month.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt orchestrated three walkouts of union staff at the congress in response to motions that were critical of her.
The disruption meant that motion 10, which called for Hunt to resign, and motion 11, which aimed to censure her, were not heard.
Sean Vernell from City and Islington College and the union’s national executive committee said Hunt’s behaviour was about who controls the union.
He said strikes in higher education this year over pensions “saw the return of the rank and file”.
“It let the genie of working class struggle out of the bottle,” he said. “General secretaries don’t like it when things start getting out of control.
“They’re happier to lose several thousand members than allow the control to go to the rank and file.”
The meeting reflected big changes in the union following the university pensions strikes. Anne from Cambridge university said her branch had “almost doubled” as a result of the action.
Martin from Liverpool university said the UCU branch committee there was usually ten people. “This week we elected a committee of 25,” he said.
Many workers stressed that activists on the left must campaign to make sure that battles over pay and pensions go ahead. Margot from Croydon college said, “It’s only through action that we’re going to transform the union.”
Lesley from Leeds university said “the rank and file is the key”. But she added that activists should also think about “the elected bodies” of the union. “Those structures are an impediment if we don’t use them,” she said.
Nita Sanghera, new vice president of the UCU, told Socialist Worker, “Members have campaigns on pay, pensions, anti-casualisation and equality. However parallel to this we must also battle for the democracy of our union.”
The meeting voted to ask branches to pass motions calling for the conference motions 10 and 11 to be heard. Workers also decided to collate questions to Hunt and publish them on the Our UCU website.
And activists called a lobby of the union’s next national executive committee meeting on Friday 22 June.
In higher education, activists are organising to get as many people as possible to register for a Special Higher Education Sector conference on 21 June. In further education, workers are building a national activist meeting on pay on 29 June.
The meeting showed the potential to build a bigger left in the union. As Nita said, “Time and time again the general secretary has acquiesced to employers’ demands.
“This time it is too much for new members and a re-energised union to accept.”
College battle wins payout
UCU union members at Capital City College Group have suspended action after accepting a pay offer. The group includes City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London.
The deal doesn’t include a pay rise. But it gives workers a one-off £500 payment and promises workers no loss of pay for three of their strike days.
It also includes a fractionalisation agreement that will see 45 hourly-paid lecturers offered permanent jobs before the new academic term.
The UCU is now conducting a national consultative ballot of members in higher education (HE) over pay.
The ballot ends on 27 June.
HE members have been offered 2 percent—the union is urging workers to reject it.
UCU union members at Hull College Group were set to begin a five-day strike from Monday of next week. They plan a further two-day strike from Tuesday 26 June.
Workers struck for three days in May against bosses’ plans to slash 231 full time equivalent jobs across the college group’s three sites.
The union said this amounts to a third of the workforce.