By Sophie Squire
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It’s time for a revolt against UCU union leaders

Union leaders have delayed and obstructed the dispute
Issue 2806
A group of strikers with UCU union banners.

UCU union members on strike at Richmond College on Monday (Pic: Jess Walsh)

The extent of the betrayals of Jo Grady and the leadership of the UCU union became clear this week. The union leadership called a meeting of the 40 branches that had a university strike mandate and launch a marking and assessment boycott from Monday.

It asked the membership whether they would be prepared to strike in June—which isn’t term time for most universities. Workers had wanted to begin the strikes and boycotts earlier—as had been democratically agreed— and then had wanted further action in September.

The leadership took this to mean that the marking and assessment boycott should be called off. In total 18 branches will now not take part in the boycott

After a Guardian article said that branches were dropping out of the action, Edinburgh UCU wrote on Twitter, “UCU Edinburgh has not pulled out of the boycott, merely paused due to where we are currently in the academic calendar.  We are still very much committed to action and to winning these disputes.”

The problem for many branches is that the marking boycott has come way too late to have any real impact. The fact that 20 branches still want to go ahead with the boycott shows workers are still committed to this dispute.

But throughout this dispute, Grady and her supporters have done everything to confuse, misdirect and delay the members.

Further attacks are coming thick and fast from university bosses and the Tories. These are only encouraged by the union leaders’ retreats.

 Around half of academic staff at the University of Roehampton face losing their jobs. Bosses at the south London university have threatened over 220 posts. They sent an email to workers in the creative arts, education, humanities, life sciences, and psychology departments last week saying their jobs would be at risk.

Linda Cronin, Roehampton UCU union branch chair, described the cuts as the “P&O of education”—a reference to ferry bosses sacking 800 workers in March. “Workers are furious about this attack,” she told Socialist Worker. “The university’s restructuring plans will mean that staff will be asked to reapply for the same jobs, others will find they will have a different job description.”

At De Montfort university in Leicester, management plans to cut 58 roles for professional services, teaching and professorial staff under the guise of the coronavirus crisis.

At Wolverhampton university in the West Midlands, the bosses announced that they would no longer recruit students to 138 courses for at least a year.

FE pay fights at colleges in north west England

Workers began a five‑day strike at Richmond College in west London on Monday against fire and rehire. Management’s plan will see 127 members of sacked and then made to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions.

Around 50 people joined a rally outside the college. They were joined by several MPs and UCU general secretary Jo Grady. College workers struck in several areas across north west England last week to demand a pay rise of at least 8.5 percent.

UCU union members walked out at Burnley College, Bury College, City of Liverpool College, Hopwood Hall, Nelson & Colne College Group and Oldham College on Wednesday. Workers at The Manchester College struck last Friday.

Since 2009 workers’ wages in further education have plummeted by as much as 35 percent in real terms.

Strikers organised a rally in Manchester. Janet Farrar, the president-elect of UCU, told the crowd that workers are demanding, “proper pay for staff, improved staff lives but also improves students’ education”.

There was solidarity at the rally from the Unison union and North West TUC union federation. Jay McKenna offered full support from the TUC, saying, “It’s only trade unions taking action that will make a difference.

There were cheers from the crowd when one worker stood up and proposed that strikes continue.

Scottish lecturers escalate pay strikes

Thousands of Scottish further education lecturers in the EIS union plan to step up their national strikes to two days a week from Monday.

They were set for their eighth day of national strikes this week with very strong support for previous action on picket lines.

Workers are also withdrawing goodwill and are not giving out exam results to colleges or other bodies.

Incredibly the Scottish government refuses to push through a settlement even though the union’s claim is based on figures that emerged last June when inflation was far lower.

The EIS says that during negotiations it reduced the pay claim to a £1,300 salary uplift, from £2,000.

Meanwhile, management has only increased the offer from a £750 uplift to a £850 uplift, with an additional £200, one off “thank you” payment.

A special meeting of the EIS executive last week authorised the payment of universal hardship payments to  lecturers engaged in the ongoing strikes.

Instead of telling college bosses to pay the full claim—and more to recognise current inflation—the Scottish government is acting just like Boris Johnson’s regime.

Richard Lochhead, the SNP minister for employment and fair work, said last Sunday that workers should ask themselves whether their pay rise asks would be “affordable” and to compromise amid inflation.

This is set to become an even more urgent question as students want to know their futures.

Educational disruption is wholly the responsibility of the college bosses and the Scottish government.

  • The EIS and other unions have rejected a pay offer from local authorities and the Scottish government of 2 percent for Scottish school teachers. The EIS Council has already agreed to a ballot for industrial action unless there is a “fair pay settlement”.

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