University workers’ delegates voted to continue their long-running disputes at the UCU union congress on Thursday and Friday. They also reasserted their commitment to trans rights
Higher education workers voted to quickly engage in new strike ballots over pensions, pay, equality and workload. They will vote over the summer to take action in the autumn. Workers will vote in an aggregated ballot—counted nationally as a totality.
It’s a big challenge to hit the 50 percent turnout threshold under the anti-union laws. But it can be done. The recent RMT rail workers’ vote saw overall 89 percent in favour of strikes on a 71 percent turnout.
And the UCU won’t be on its own. The PCS civil service workers’ union is set to begin a national ballot in September, and 40,000 BT, Openreach and EE workers in the CWU union start a strike ballot on 15 June. Royal Mail workers are also on the verge of a national ballot.
The decision to keep up the battle is a victory for all those in the UCU who have fought hard against the delays and sabotage from the top of the union.
Delegates at congress passed two motions for increased democracy within the union and much more extensive use of branch delegate meetings (BDM). Successive BDMs have shown activists and rank and file members have been willing to escalate action in the past year. Earlier in the congress the general secretary Jo Grady only narrowly avoided censure over her handling of the disputes.
Those in further education also pushed for a fight for better pay and conditions. Workers voted decisively to reject a 2.25 percent pay offer from the bosses and fight for a 10 percent pay award.
On Friday congress heard a series of equality motions that saw commitments to LGBT+ liberation, refugee solidarity, disabled people’s rights, and women’s emancipation ratified.
There was extensive debate over a motion in support of trans rights. The motion called to oppose trans conversion therapy, recognise non-binary people and allow trans people the right to self-ID.
But several speakers, who opposed the motion, suggested it was an attack on academic freedom. They argued it would give little space to those who held “gender-critical” views. Speakers accused the union of standing aside as lecturer Kathleen Stock, accused of transphobia, was forced from her position at the University of Sussex.
Stock was not sacked, and it was right to back those who protested over her views. Megan Povey, a delegate from Leeds university, said, “We’ve never hounded anyone out of a job, and the speakers before should apologise for saying so.
“What they are trying to say is that anyone who supports trans rights is in some way going against free speech. From my perspective, this is going along with right wing rhetoric they share with the Tories.” The motion passed overwhelmingly.
Congress finished by passing motions on green jobs and opposition to fracking and nuclear power. Unfortunately, many motions were missed due to time restraints, including one about the war in Ukraine. It would have raised opposition to the Russian invasion and Nato escalation and it was expected to pass.
Workers in the UCU made it clear at the congress that they want to keep fighting and a more democratic union.
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