Statement from Socialist Alternative member Sam Morecroft who is standing for election to the Executive of his union, the UCU.
“I’m a casualised teaching staff member at the University of Sheffield International College. I’m a branch officer, member of the UCU Anti Casualisation committee and a member of Socialist Alternative. This year, I’m standing for election to the National Executive, for the position of Representative of Members in HE on Casualised Contracts.
Despite the heroic industrial action our union has taken in recent years, during the Covid-19 pandemic the current leadership of our union has been timid in defending the health and safety of members, and in campaigning to defend pay, terms and conditions.
Last year our Four Fights dispute – which included demands to end casualisation and win secure contracts – was effectively abandoned on the basis that it would be difficult to re-ballot during the pandemic. Instead, members were asked to shelve our grievances to manage the shift to online teaching. This approach clearly embodied the logic of social partnership – that by cooperating with our employers, we will be rewarded by compromises on some of our demands. This approach is being slavishly rolled out by the TUC leader, Francis O’Grady who stood on the steps of 11 Downing St with Rishi Sunak to applaud some of his economic measures.
There will be no reward from employers or this government by trying to ‘work’ with them. Only determined direct action will get results.Last summer, tens of thousands of casualised Higher Education workers lost their jobs because of fears of budget shortfalls. That’s the reality of marketised education – casualised employment creates a disposable workforce that can be dismissed or rehired as fee income from students rises or falls. This summer it is entirely possible we could face the same situation.
Recently, our sister union the NEU has shown that the only way to keep workers safe is through collective action, organising mass ‘stay aways’ which meant that schools could no longer operate. UCU could and should be doing the same, it is not enough to simply appeal to the government and management. On many campuses over 50 rent strikes are now underway, following the victory of students in Manchester, and regenerating the student movement. We should be building for action alongside students and other workers.
The fight for safe workplaces goes hand in hand with winning job security – hourly paid and fixed term contract staff are less able to refuse unsafe working conditions because of their insecure employment. Fighting for secure contracts cannot be ‘put off’ until the pandemic is over.
Nationally, individual branches are winning industrial action ballots on issues such as ending unsafe teaching practices or stopping redundancies. Members at the University of Brighton have recently taken action and will be joined by other branches soon. Yet there is no coordinated response from our national union. Despite the recent vote at a democratic special conference not to return to unsafe workplaces and to ballot for further industrial action on the Four Fights, there is no timetable for action. We need a national leadership that can support and bring together our branches in struggle.
We lack experienced class fighters on the NEC who are willing to be honest with members and speak clearly about the challenges we face. Things are not going to get easier for workers in HE. Even if vaccination gets the virus under control, we will still need to defend our jobs, terms and conditions in the face of one of the worst economic crises in modern times. That means building a democratic, member led and militant union – not attempting to compromise with bosses. We need 2021 to be the year of workers fighting back, and if elected I am committed to being part of that.”