– Reject the Four Fights ‘offer’!
– Build for national industrial action on jobs, pay, conditions and pensions!
– For fully publicly funded and free education – end marketisation!
The consultative e-ballot is now live for UCU members to vote on the final offer from the employers on our four fights dispute. Socialist Alternative members are strongly arguing that this so-called ‘offer’ should be rejected. We have written before about this ‘offer’, which consists of a series of unenforceable expectations on employers, rather than firm and meaningful commitments that will mean real change for university workers. There is also no updated offer on pay from the original and woefully inadequate 1.8%.
Whilst we knew the ballot was coming, the voting period was hastily announced with just two days notice. This has made it impossible to organise branch meetings to discuss with members before the ballot link was emailed out. The Higher Education Committee (HEC) and national negotiators are recommending reject but next to nothing has been done to publicise this to members and there is no mention of the ballot on the main pages of the UCU website. There are also reports that the ballot website is not working properly. Sections of the national leadership are clearly hoping that this dispute will simply go away – we cannot and must not let that happen. We need a fighting national industrial strategy now more than ever. Branch meetings should be organised as soon as possible and motions to adopt a clear reject position should be tabled where branches do not already have one in place. Branch committees should also release statements arguing for rejection and publicise these to members as widely as possible. Branches should also link up to continue the fight if our national leadership is not willing and meetings should be set up whatever the result of the ballot to set out a coordinated plan of action.
We are currently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has hugely exacerbated all of the issues we have been fighting on in the four fights dispute, in particular casualisation and workload. University managements are using a projected fall in student numbers to justify cuts to jobs, pay and conditions when these cuts are in fact a key part of their flawed business models and opaque financial strategies. The pandemic is simply an opportunity to attack the very staff that have kept the universities going throughout this crisis. Fixed-term and hourly-paid staff are being laid off in their thousands at a time when their expertise is sorely needed and permanent staff will have hugely increased workloads as a result. The new requirements for ‘blended learning’ mean that at least two different versions of modules will now need to be prepared to be delivered both online and in person, with increasing requirements for staff to undertake mandatory training. Compulsory redundancies and imposed pay cuts are also being mooted and several branches are now in local dispute or soon will be. It is clear that we have a significant fight on our hands and we must be ready to take the necessary action.
Significantly, last month UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, announced a flat-rate levy of all members to replenish the union’s fighting fund (https://ucu.org.uk/gslevymessage?list=10241). In the FAQ document (https://www.ucu.org.uk/levy-questions), it is made clear that this levy is to pay for existing claims for strike pay and not for future action. After a huge outcry, it has now been announced that the lowest paid members may be exempted from the levy, but only if a certain level of donations are received before the end of July. Building the strike fund is a political question and it is disgraceful that this was not addressed fully in preparation for and during our recent strike action, especially when it was clear that our disputes would be continuing. National drives on fundraising at these times would have been hugely successful, as local fundraising efforts showed, and would have put us in a strong position to take much-needed national strike action over our employers’ response to the pandemic. Instead, we are left with the incredibly lacklustre ‘Fund the Future’ campaign that has been launched nationally by UCU and consists of a series of webinars and calls for members to write to their MPs.
As well, the timing of the levy announcement could easily be construed as a move to de-escalate the four fights dispute. By highlighting the current lack of strike fund provision, a clear signal is being given to members, and our employers, that further widespread national industrial action is off the cards. However, this is not a decision that should be taken by a few at the top of the union. Branches should be asking questions of the union’s financial situation, especially in lieu of the postponed national congress, and should demand that the union is fully prepared financially to support members with no excuses. A special meeting of the NEC should also be called to investigate the possibilities for using the union’s reserves.
Going forward, a vote to reject would mean that we could concentrate on the next steps to further both the four fights and the USS pensions disputes. We have argued previously that it is crucial that these disputes are kept together to maximise unity within and between universities – moves to separate the two now would be disastrous. The other campus trade unions must also join with us on pay and this is becoming ever more critical. Not only would this have a huge impact on the confidence of UCU members but would also mean that we could shut down campuses in their entirety.
We must not let our 22 days of action and the progress we have made go to waste – this ‘offer’ does not resolve our dispute and must be rejected strongly and decisively.