UCU union members have delivered overwhelming votes for strikes to defend their pensions, pay, contracts and conditions.
Many union members had already voted for walkouts in ballots last year. But they were reballoted because those ballots didn’t meet the Tories’ 50 percent turnout threshold required for legal strikes.
It means any future walkouts would see an additional 14 universities joining the 60 that staged a fantastic eight-day strike last year.
This time, an additional 35 out of 37 branches backed strikes, and 14 met the turnout threshold. Several others missed the threshold by very small numbers.
These results should quickly be turned into hard-hitting action as soon as possible.
Roddy is the UCU branch organiser at Imperial College London, which met the threshold this time. “We got a really good result and our reps are all very pleased,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We had a lot more people volunteering to get the vote out and there’s a lot of class anger. And the vote would have been even more emphatic if people had known about our vice chancellor’s salary.”
The strength of last years’ walkout pushed bosses into talks. Escalating strikes, involving more workers, can win more.
Yet UCU general secretary Jo Grady emailed members on Tuesday ahead of the ballot results detailing a new offer from bosses. The email came two days before UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) meets to decide on the next steps in the dispute.
She said the bosses’ UCEA group considered this to be their “full and final offer”.
Grady said the offer was a “step forward”. But she said, “This offer does not deliver on everything we have asked for.”
Roddy said the offer was “honeyed words” with no real promises. And Jo McNeill, a UCU negotiator, told Socialist Worker, “The current offer does not represent a win for our members.
“Although progress has been made—we have moved the employers into stronger wording—the proposals are vague.
“This is not an offer we can accept,” she said.
Bosses have refused to budge from a below-inflation 1.8 percent pay deal. And they have said union demands over workload, contracts and workplace stress are not their responsibility.
The offer is a green light for university bosses to continue employing workers on casual contracts, imposing low pay and overseeing soaring levels of workloads and stress.
The UCU Left group, which Socialist Worker supports, said, “The offer is an insult, but it does show that UCEA is frightened by the prospect of further strikes.
“This shows that we were right to take the eight days of strikes, but that we will need to put on further pressure through our next 14 days of strikes to get a real offer.”
Several UCU activists took to social media to call on their union leaders to stand firm ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
UCU member Laura Loyola tweeted, “I hope HEC hears loud and clear that this ‘offer’ is not acceptable and with a heavy heart will go on strike for 14 days until our demands are met.
“Together we are stronger. Hold the line.”
Yet Grady’s email referred to the “very difficult environment trade unions are operating in”. “Given we have a minority of branches in the dispute on strike, what your action has already achieved is impressive and she should be proud,” she added.
Roddy said, “Jo Grady’s email makes a mockery of all the reasons people looked to her for change in the union. We have established mechanisms, such as the HEC, to ensure greater accountability that we fought very hard for, and Jo was part of that.
He said the HEC should “overwhelmingly vote for a continuation of the dispute on a united basis—pay and pensions strikes together”.
“We’ve only got these nice-sounding noises from the employers because they know they’re looking down the barrel of another 14 days of action with an even bigger number of strikers involved,” he added.
Bosses are on the offensive in universities across Britain. Without a fight, the attacks will intensify.
On Wednesday, the UCU and Unison unions held an emergency meeting at Goldsmiths University of London over a damaging restructure plan that would cut jobs.
UCU members at Coventry University ended a two-day strike on the same day in a battle against a damaging new appraisal system.
UCU members were clear during last year’s walkout that their action wasn’t only about defending their pay, pensions and conditions. It was also part of a wider struggle to reclaim education from the bosses.
Escalating strikes will be a critical part of winning that struggle.
As Jo said, “My advice to members is to continue to mobilise for action. That is the only way we will come out of this with an actual win!”