University workers were set to vote on the strategy they want to take for upcoming national strikes over pay, pensions and conditions as Socialist Worker went to press. Members of the UCU union gathered for a Branch Delegate Meeting (BDM) on Tuesday where they were to be presented with two choices.
The first was a plan by general secretary Jo Grady for blocks of limited strike days in February, March and April. This plan will not have the power to win against university bosses who have made clear they will try and wait the strikes out.
The second was a plan agreed upon by the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) for a marking and assessment boycott from this month and an all-out strike from February. HEC members argue all-out reflects the wishes of rank and file workers.
University branches that have passed motions in favour of indefinite action include UAL, Brighton, Greenwich and Dundee. Other universities have backed continuous four-day strikes every week.
But this is not on the agenda for the BDM, and if they wanted it actioned they would first have to defeat Grady’s plan. Almost 200 activists gathered on Zoom on Thursday of last week for a “big debate” organised by the UCU Solidarity Movement.
The meeting was an open platform for union members to discuss where the dispute should go—something the union’s bureaucracy hasn’t offered. One activist from Queen Mary University of London told the meeting that they backed indefinite action.
“I’m speaking in favour of indefinite action, in principle, as early as possible. This decision is informed by the brutal attacks we’ve faced from our employer,” they said. “I don’t think this has to be a forever strike. The reason I support indefinite action is because I think it is the fastest way to victory.”
Other activists pointed out that while members have put forward a range of different strategies, the union bureaucracy has only presented a choice between two. The overall message that came from the meeting is that workers need to take control of their union to win.
Ahead of the BDM, the UCU Left group wrote, “Members have the right to decide on the forms of action they take, not to have them imposed from above.
“We need democratically‑run BDMs that champion the creative thinking of our activists, and are empowered to discuss and vote on motions submitted by branches, not locked-down forums controlled by head office that offer no space for debate.
“And we need a nationally elected strike committee to run our action and ensure our union is genuinely democratic and member-led.”
A vote for hard-hitting action—and overturning the general secretary’s plan—would be a powerful encouragement to other workers presently striking.
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