UCU union members were set to meet for a special one-day congress in Manchester on Thursday of this week. The aim is to discuss business that was not heard at the union’s annual congress earlier this year.
Walkouts by UCU staff and officials blocked delegates from debating motions that sought to hold general secretary Sally Hunt to account.
The motions criticised Hunt’s handling of a pensions dispute in universities earlier this year, and aspects of the union’s democracy. They were right to do so.
Carlo Morelli is a UCU member at Dundee university and a member of the union’s national executive committee. He told Socialist Worker, “There could be another attempt to stifle the discussion, this time by union trustees.
“There are a variety of views on the left about how to respond. But whatever happens with the motions, it’s important that we have a united left to fight over pay and pensions.”
The congress takes place the day before ballots for strikes over pay end in colleges and universities.
Carlo said, “We want to go for strikes. And branches that just miss the 50 percent turnout threshold should be reballoted.
“We need strikes before Christmas. We could strike around 10 November, which is Equal Pay Day.”
Carlo added that many activists are prepared for sustained action over pay. “People are talking about a repeat of the 14 days of pension strikes earlier this year.
“No one wants one day or two days. It’s sustained, escalating industrial action.”
UCU members in over 60 older universities struck for 14 days earlier this year to defend their USS pension scheme.
A Joint Expert Panel was set up in the aftermath to look at the scheme’s future.
Its first report published last month blamed bosses, pension scheme managers and the government for trying to rob workers’ pensions.
Carlo said the report is “a massive vindication of our strikes”. He added that it should give workers more confidence to keep fighting.
“We’ve got to be going all out for the pay dispute,” he said. “And we also need to keep pushing to defend USS.
“We’ve got to get organisation of the dispute in the hands of activists. The one?day conference is a good time to start these discussions.”
Debating how to win a fighting, accountable UCU
Around 100 people gathered in central London for a conference on resisting the market in education last Saturday.
The event was called by UCU Transformed, UCU Left, Branch Solidarity Network and #OurUCU.
Activists discussed democracy in the union, fighting redundancies, how to organise strikes and how to push back the far right, among other things.
A session on the USS pensions dispute was optimistic following a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report on the scheme.
It criticised bosses and the government for trying to force workers onto a worse pension scheme.
Deepa Govindarajan Driver from the University of Reading said the JEP was a “byproduct of our strike” and that she hadn’t expected the report to be so positive.
But she added, “I worry about whether there is a sting in the tail.”
Carlo Morelli told the meeting that “UCU members will not accept a significant detriment to their pension.”
In a session on democracy in the union, activists broke into groups to discuss how to involve more members in decision-making and hold officials to account.
Unison union voting on strikes
University workers in the Unison union across Britain are balloting for strikes over pay.
Most Unison union members in higher education have been offered 2 percent, with some offered 2.7 percent.
But the union says the below-inflation offer isn’t enough, and members should vote for strikes.
“Higher education workers have seen their pay worth less in real terms at a time when senior managers have seen their salaries increase on average above inflation,” said Unison national secretary Jon Richards.
The ballot result could see up to 50,000 strike. The ballot closes on 25 October.
Protest for equal pay
Women at the University of Reading staged a protest on Tuesday against the gender pay gap. The UCU union members joined an “unpaid women’s non-working lunch” to protest at unequal pay.
The gender pay gap at the university presently stands at 19.6 percent.
It means women there are effectively working unpaid for the rest of the year from Tuesday. The average gap for British universities is now 15.9 percent.
The union demanded that university bosses reaffirm their commitment to close the gap to 5 percent by 2020.
And it said the university should pay women workers extra if that isn’t achieved.
The University of Essex gave women professors a one-off payment in 2016 to close a gender pay gap.