Socialist Worker

Keep up universities and colleges pay fight

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2628

A previous university pension strike

A previous university pension strike (Pic: Guy Smallman)


UCU union members in further and higher education have voted for strikes over pay.

Some 85 percent of members in FE backed strikes, and 69 percent of those in HE supported strikes.

But the vast majority of colleges and universities failed to meet the new 50 percent turnout threshold imposed by the Tories.

Just six colleges out of 109 met the threshold— Bath, Bradford, New College Swindon, Lambeth, Croydon and Petroc.

And seven universities out of 147 got a turnout of 50 percent or more. Three universities in Northern Ireland, where the Tory anti-union laws don’t apply, also voted for strikes.

Carlo Morelli is a UCU rep at Dundee university and a member of the union’s national executive committee (NEC).

He told Socialist Worker, “It’s appalling in terms of democracy that the anti-union laws are blocking strikes.

“The overall turnout of around 42 percent is the highest we’ve ever had in a ballot on pay. The union should certainly reballot branches that got turnouts of over 40 percent, and possibly those that got over 35 percent.”

Higher 

Twenty six college UCU branches that missed the 50 percent threshold achieved a turnout of 35 percent or higher, and 18 of these were over 40 percent.

Some 76 university branches that didn't meet the 50 percent threshold delivered a turnout of 35 percent or more. In 56 of these, the turnout was over 40 percent.

Some missed the threshold by a fraction. The turnout at Leeds university for instance was 49.18 percent.

Carlo said that, although most places didn’t reach the 50 percent threshold, there are “a lot of positives” in the results. “There was a high increase in votes in lots of places,” he said.

“The turnout at Heriot-Watt University was over 64 percent. This is because the branch ran a proper Get the Vote Out campaign.

“We now need to have a discussion about how to run these in other places.”

Carlo explained some of the factors behind the results. “It’s not the case that people won’t vote for action on pay,” he said. “But it’s a question of how the union motivates people.

“The ballot started in August, which doesn’t make sense. It was run simultaneously with other ballots, which meant it wasn’t given priority.

“During our pensions dispute earlier this year, NEC members spoke to around half the branches involved.

The NEC needs to give a lead, and get out and speak to branches. It has to show it takes the pay dispute seriously.” And union leaders will have to start confronting the anti-union laws, not just going along with their restrictions.


Special conference criticises leadership

UCU union members voted to censure their general secretary, Sally Hunt, at a special conference in Manchester on Thursday of last week.

A motion calling for Hunt’s resignation was withdrawn.

The censure motion strongly criticised Hunt’s handling of a pensions dispute in older universities earlier this year.

It said that Hunt claimed that a majority of branch representatives at a union meeting supported an immediate ballot of members on a deal to end the dispute.

The deal left workers without guarantees on their pensions. The motion said Hunt failed “to provide any verifiable evidence to support this claim”.

The special congress was called to debate business that was not discussed during the union’s annual congress earlier this year. Many motions weren’t heard after Hunt, UCU staff and officials staged walkouts to prevent criticism of her.

The congress passed several equalities motions. Delegates agreed to oppose “discriminatory targeting of Muslims on the basis of dress” and to defend transgender rights.

And the conference passed support for Stand Up to Racism initiatives against the far right.


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