By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2849

University workers’ battle at key moment

Behind the complex manoeuvres there is the basic issue of whether to surrender and accept rotten offers
Issue 2849
Group of UCU union strikers, most smiling, some with raised fists and with banner 'Strike to win' behind them

On the UCU picket line in February (Picture: Guy Smallman)

University workers are battling to restart effective action against their bosses, And they are also having to combat their UCU union leaders to keep the disputes alive. 

The UCU leaders have embroiled members in repeated consultations which are designed to break the momentum of strikes and strangle the life out of resistance. It has become a hugely-complex, confusing process that is alien to most people who don’t follow every twist and turn of the union’s inner workings.

It’s important to restate some basics. At present, the UCU is still in the section of unions that are resisting wage offers far below inflation.

The present offer would mean a 15 percent pay cut over two years. The bosses have made only vague promises about other issues. So whatever question they are asked, UCU members should vote to continue the battle.

On Monday at 3pm the union will announce the results of a ballot across all universities over continuing the fightback.

If the vote is for more action, the next hurdle will be a union consultation on rotten offers tabled by the bosses.  

The alternative to acceptance—pushed by left activists and many others—is to restart resistance with a marking and assessment boycott (Mab) at a key time in the academic year, backed with strikes.

Carlo Morelli, co-president of Dundee UCU, told Socialist Worker that in his branch, “Members voted to start a marking and assessment boycott decisively. Overall I think that the willingness among workers to continue this dispute is still there.” 

“There are still large numbers of workers who actually don’t want to accept rubbish deals or even be consulted on them.” 

Carlo added that the anger at the undemocratic way general secretary Jo Grady and her inner circle have run this dispute is mounting. 

“There’s still a lot of confusion among members. And lots of mixed messages were sent from the top. But I don’t think this is leading to disillusionment. Instead, anger is aimed at where members think bad decisions are being made. 

“In my branch, we narrowly passed a motion of no confidence in Jo Grady by two votes,” Carlo added. 

The calls for no confidence and censure against Grady are getting louder. 

At UCU Scotland Congress on Friday, a motion of no confidence in the general secretary was ruled out of the agenda. There was a vote to put it back on the agenda — which the majority of those present backed. But it did not reach the two-thirds vote required to be discussed.

There will be debates about Grady’s strategy and leadership at the union’s congress in May. 

Such a reckoning matters. The key issue is to renew and build the struggle, but it must go hand in hand with building the democracy of the union and workers’ control and direct participation in decision-making.

  • For activists’ updates go to UCU Left on Twitter here 
  • Full UCU Left statement on what’s happening and the arguments to reject the deals here
  • Register for UCU Left meeting, Monday 3 April, 7.30pm. After the Reballot Result: Vote No and start the MAB

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