The national congress of the UCU was held in Manchester on 29th & 30th May. The Higher Education section of the conference was dominated by a debate about why the recent pay campaign had fallen so far short of achieving its goals. Although it was agreed that we would have won nothing at all without a fight, delegates expressed anger at the mishandling of the dispute by the executive (HEC), who were accused of departing from the agreed policy by de-escalating the campaign with the introduction of 2-hour strikes in January and delaying the marking boycott.

Members of the HEC responded by declaring their right to assess the situation during the course of a dispute and amend the tactics accordingly. They sought to justify their actions by pointing to the scale of the vote in favour of the 2% settlement in April. However, a majority of the conference supported those arguing that it was the lack of serious, effective leadership – in particular the failure to use our most powerful weapon, the marking boycott – that led members to accept the offer, not a shortage of resolve on the part of members.

The meeting passed Brighton UCU’s motion of censure of the HEC which also condemned the leadership for failing to respond effectively to the punitive pay docking suffered by some branches and for publishing to the employers the full results of the April ballot. Conference reaffirmed its support for a ‘keep up and catch up’ pay campaign seeking a multi-year settlement from 2015. A motion calling on the union to explore local pay bargaining as a mechanism for topping up national pay awards was overwhelmingly defeated.

In general, the conference divided over the underlying question of what kind of union the UCU should be. On almost every issue, those with a vision of a member-led union, capable of fighting collectively to defend and improve its members’ conditions defeated those who sought a shift to a more top-down structure, focussing on providing services to individuals. It was disappointing, therefore, that the motion to create a new UCU branch at our Hastings site was narrowly defeated.

The full congress brought together delegates from HE and FE who expressed their shared concerns about the attacks on post-16 education as a whole. The union committed itself to redoubling its efforts to resist marketisation and privatisation as well as combatting zero hours contracts and casualisation for staff.

On wider political questions, an emergency motion responded to the recent success of UKIP in the European elections. Delegates warned of the threat posed by the growth of right-wing populist parties both to the non-discriminatory ethos of education and to trade unionism itself. The motion passed labelled UKIP a racist party and made UCU the first national union to affiliate to a new organisation set up to oppose it, Stand Up to UKIP.

Finally, the conference debated proposals from the executive to impose rule changes on local branches and regions. Delegates overwhelmingly supported the argument that the proposed new rules would weaken democracy in the union by giving too much power to the leadership, and rejected them. A more detailed commentary on Brighton motions is available on request.

Mark Abel, Nadia Edmond, Patricia McManus 05/06/14


For a full report of motions and votes see the UCU website: The Brighton motions were HE2, HE6, HE28 and HE41.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email