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Workers at universities back reballot for strikes

UCU union branch delegates voted 98 percent in favour for a new strike ballot
Issue 2868
UCU university Grady

UCU university workers on a protest Picture: Guy Smallman

University workers have once again shown it’s possible to overturn the bad decisions of their union leaders. UCU union members forced their general secretary Jo Grady to concede and agree to hold a strike reballot so they can take more action over pay and conditions. 

Union members made their view very clear at a branch delegate meeting (BDM) last Friday. An overwhelming majority in the meeting voted for a new ballot—98 percent voted in favour, with none against and two abstentions. This clear vote in favour of a reballot was impossible for Grady and other union leaders to ignore. 

The higher education committee (HEC) meeting on Monday then voted to call a reballot. The HEC also passed a motion to back strikes at the end of September. These can be held under the existing strike mandate. 

HEC member Sean Wallis told Socialist Worker that the BDM vote showed the “sheer anger” workers still feel. “A year ago, I think workers would have looked at you strangely if you said they should strike on open day or during the clearing period, for example,” he said.

“But now, even more than ever, workers see how the bosses are destroying education. Some have suffered redundancies and pointless restructuring. Others have suffered punitive deductions in their pay for participating in the Marking and assessment boycott (Mab). They now know just how brutal university bosses are prepared to be.”

Sean added that while the general secretary was forced to concede to members, she did this through gritted teeth. “Grady and other officials don’t want this reballot. They are doing everything to delay and stall it.  Workers voted for this reballot over the summer back in May at the Higher Education Sector Conference in Glasgow. We are told this is the sovereign democratic body of the union. 

“Union officials have had months to prepare, but they have waited until the last minute because they never wanted it to go ahead. We were told it would take a while for the ballot to be prepared by those in charge, meaning there could be a gap in our mandate.

“Completely ignoring what members have voted for would have been too politically damaging for Grady and others. They’ve folded, but will now do everything to slow the reballot process down.” Sean said the long battle in universities “can feel really demoralising”. 

“Sometimes workers feel like they are not just battling the bosses but their ‘own side’ as well,” he added. “But what’s clear from this latest chapter is that it’s possible for rank and file members to overturn the decisions of the bureaucracy.” 

Throughout this dispute, Grady and her supporters have made every effort to delay and call off the action that members overwhelmingly have backed.  There can be no more delays. Union members must push for ballots to be sent out as soon as possible and back the indefinite action that can win against the university bosses.

Grady wants to end marking and assessment boycott

The University workers’ marking and assessment boycott (Mab) has been a blow against the bosses. Some students did not have their work marked, forcing universities to graduate students with incomplete degrees. 

Despite its effectiveness, Grady and UCU leaders are looking for an opportunity to call the Mab off. At the HEC they pushed through a motion to consult members on the future of the Mab. In an email to members, Grady wrote, “The Mab has been a hugely punishing undertaking, with an unprecedented vicious employer response.

“HEC has therefore decided to seek your views on how we use the tactic for the remainder of our industrial action mandate.” Employers have acted in a very punishing way. But the UCU has allowed its members on the Mab frontline to be isolated. UCU leaders have not delivered the solidarity required.

Now there is set to an e-ballot on whether to continue the Mab. E-ballots have been another tactic to set misleading questions and ultimately push through what they want. Combining the Mab with strikes is the most effective tactic that university workers have in their fight.

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