Over 200 activists in the newly formed University and College Union (UCU) met in London last Saturday for the launch conference of UCU Left, a new rank and file organisation within the union.
The Education Not For Sale conference drew together lecturers from over 80 different institutions across the further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors, and from both the old AUT and Natfhe unions.
They discussed how to begin the process of radicalising UCU by combining grassroots action over pay and conditions with a wider opposition to neo-liberalism and marketisation in education and wider society.
Much of the discussion revolved around how we can channel the anger over the recent sell-out over HE pay into both a no vote in the ballot and tactical preparation for further action. The conference also agreed to organise a no campaign to FE sector pay offer.
Industrial action by university lecturers in the form of a marking boycott was suspended by the UCU leadership in mid-June in order to ballot over an offer of 13.1 percent over three years – a deal almost identical to one rejected just a week earlier.
Many of the most popular sessions were devoted to wider political issues, such as a debate on solidarity with Palestine and the academic boycott of Israel, as well as sessions on war, racism and neo-liberalism.
The conference also saw serious discussion in workshop sessions about the problems of casualisation and hourly paid workers, and on how to end the privatisation and deterioration of FE adult education.
One key theme arising from the day was how resistance to the neo-liberal assault on education is closely tied to the social movements that have arisen in response to capitalism and war.
These links were brought out by Fanny Gilliot, a student at Paris’s Sorbonne university, who described how students and education workers had come together during the mass struggles against the CPE labour laws in France.
A final session brought these themes together to discuss how to build a democratic and fighting union.
The conference voted to push for UCU to hold sector conferences in FE and HE, as well as regional conferences to hold the union leadership to account.
The mood of the conference laid the groundwork for what promises to be a much bigger UCU Left conference this autumn.
That conference will hammer out a political platform for UCU Left, which we hope will be able to shape the resistance in education in the coming years as an integral part of the new union.
For more information go to www.uculeft.org