Socialist Worker

Fight for democracy rages on in UCU university workers union

by Carlo Morelli
Issue No. 2610

Delegates defy the union leaderships attempts to shut down the annual conference

Delegates defy the union leadership's attempts to shut down the annual conference (Pic: Socialist Worker)

A recall congress of the UCU union will go ahead—and will debate motions critical of general secretary Sally Hunt.

The union’s national executive committee (NEC) accepted this last week.

The right of the NEC closed down the union’s congress in May when delegates voted to discuss motions criticising Hunt. The motions came after Hunt backed a deal to end pensions strikes in over 60 universities earlier this year.

The deal removed an immediate threat to the USS pension scheme, but gave no long term guarantees over its future.

UCU staff have now withdrawn any suggestion that disruption would take place at a recall congress.

This means delegates will be able to discuss motions 10 and 11, which call for Hunt’s resignation and for her censure.

The shift is a direct result of the power of the rank and file activists in the union who won arguments in branches.

No one at the NEC meeting last week reported on any UCU branch that voted against debating the motions.

But the debate over democracy in the union is not over. Two motions, one calling for a democracy commission and another calling for an independent inquiry into the original congress, are being hijacked by the right.

They want to reassert control over the union. Neither motion was aimed at preventing members’ control over the union, but they are being interpreted in this way.

So the democracy commission is being set up with calls for a “root and branch” rewriting of structures, rules and procedures. The aim is to bring in “experts” who back the right, not activists with real knowledge of building strikes and branches.


There is a real danger that anti-democratic rule changes could flow from this unless members fight to keep control.

These battles were also clear at the UCU’s higher education special sector conference in Manchester last Thursday. The original aim was to make the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that is looking at the USS pension scheme transparent and accountable.

The same spirit of the strikes was in the room. But disturbingly a set of motions on JEP transparency was ruled out of order.

The conference passed motions demanding that the JEP model alternative valuations of the scheme to the one USS had imposed.

It voted against any consideration of Collective Defined Contribution schemes by negotiators of the JEP. These transfer more risk to workers.

Delegates also passed a motion calling for bi-annual delegate meetings to review JEP progress. They backed a consultative ballot of workers to relaunch the dispute if progress is deemed inadequate.

There was discontent that only two and a half hours was allocated for the event. Five motions fell off the agenda.

But the meeting strengthened union members’ ability to hold the JEP and union negotiators to account.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.