With decisions on the next steps in the USS and Four Fights disputes about to be announced imminently, Socialist Alternative members in UCU were very concerned to hear that at Friday’s meeting of the Higher Education Committee, a “key motion” was lost on a tied vote when one of the proposers was unable to vote due to access issues in the online meeting. We fully reject this bureaucratic maneuvering. Members concerned about the equalities issues involved as well as the neglect of basic voting rights can show their solidarity by writing to the chair and vice-chairs of HEC. This is part of a pattern of undemocratic decision-making in our union: the previous HEC concluded by approving a proposal that had never been put to members, despite holding branch delegates’ meetings to discuss motions for the supposed purpose of informing their decision. This time, not only do members not yet know what has been decided by HEC about next steps in the disputes and who voted on these decisions, we were not even informed of the content of the majority of the motions debated regarding the strikes.
Nevertheless, the close nature of the vote demonstrates that these decisions are highly contested, putting further emphasis on the power that members have to shape the disputes. As members, we cannot be complacent towards the leadership of the union and must demand a more democratic and transparent approach which respects the clear demands of members to escalate our strike action. However, in the absence of democratic bodies for strike planning, we must focus on building an industrial strategy ourselves, both at branch level and through the development of national strike committees. Recent meetings of branches to discuss ASOS deductions and strike strategy are a first step in this direction, but we need to take this further and pressure union leadership to take the views of such bodies seriously.
We agree that it is “good news” that there will be further action this term, but given the hostile approach that employers have taken across the sector, most notably the threat of 100% pay deductions, the need to fight should not have been a contested issue. The proposed strategy until now appears to have relied upon naive overconfidence about the employers’ willingness to offer a deal on USS (with Four Fights apparently on the back burner), and an underestimation of what it would truly take to win.
In reality, employers will not back down without significant action on our part. However, this does not mean these disputes cannot be won – they can be, but we will need to do what it takes. Members are angry at the continuous disrespect offered by university management and are willing to take action to reverse the relentless attacks on pensions, pay, and working conditions. We should prepare to go on the offensive by building strong strikes, throwing energy into reballoting, and escalating to a marking boycott of exams.