UCU strike rally UCU strike rally. Photo: @jeremycorbyn / Twitter

A great vote to continue striking demonstrates university workers’ determination to escalate their action and reject pay cuts and poor conditions, argue Counterfire UCU members 

The re-ballot result in UCU – which will allow industrial action to continue for another six months if demands are not met – amounted to a fantastic rejection of the employers’ pathetic offers on USS pension revaluations and the Four Fights. A clear majority of members voted, and those who did gave overwhelming support to further action. The result saw us increase the percentage voting for action. This shows there is huge willingness amongst members for a real fight over proper pay and decent conditions.

There were three factors pushing such a strong vote.

First, the reality of the cost-of-living crisis, with rising food, rent and utilities bills, means that people are facing a very obvious living-standard squeeze. When inflation is over 10%, pay offers of 3% this year and 5% next (both imposed) represent more pay cuts. Just like those that have been imposed year after year since 2009.

Second, we are clearly in line with what is happening in other parts of the public sector, where union members are voting against initial employer offers. What is happening in UCU is also happening in other unions. The teachers’ union NEU recommended rejection and got an amazing 98% of those voting doing so. The CWU has also rejected a poor offer, and it looks as though sizeable numbers of nurses and paramedics will reject their 7% pay offer – even though the RCN and Unison have recommended acceptance and said that if members reject the offer, they will have to go back on strike and lose their one-off payments. It is important, therefore, given employer intransigence, that UCU members have voted for more action to deliver the pay award we deserve.

Third, the offer was so poor that members were left with no real choice. The USS offer was trumpeted by our leadership as a ‘great victory’. But in reality, it was based on a series of vague ‘wait and see’ offers from UUK who, given their actions over recent years, don’t deserve to be trusted on this or other issues. The ‘deal’ on the table from UCEA offered almost nothing on the Four Fights: a real-terms wage cut and waffle on the issues of casualisation, pay inequalities and workload.

The strong turnout and vote give us an opportunity to kickstart our campaign, which was in danger of being derailed with the mid-strike pause back in February.

Over the last few months, the leadership of UCU has prevaricated over calling action, postponed strikes at short notice, added days to strike weeks at short notice, promised the immediate start of a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) and then delayed the start of the MAB. The membership has been treated like general secretary Jo Grady’s private stage army, marched up the hill, then down, and then back up again. It’s been the UCU version of the Grand Old Duke of York.

The dispute has also been marred by the UCU leadership sending out e-polls and confused communications. Of course, we want all members to be involved in the dispute and have their voices heard, but this tactic has been used repeatedly to ride roughshod over our democratic structures and to allow the general secretary to go over their heads.

In the process the leadership is sowing confusion rather than offering clarity of strategy.

The latest e-poll asks us to ‘reject’ or ‘note’. But why is it not ‘reject’ or ‘accept’ which is much clearer? Further, the pages of documents send alongside the e-poll are akin to the small print of an insurance policy! How many people have the time to go through this in detail? Leadership is about offering a strategy, explaining to people what’s been offered and, following the Higher Education Committee, explaining why people should vote ‘reject’. This level of obfuscation has been common in the Grady approach to UCU leadership.

It is important we vote ‘reject’ in both questions in the e-poll.

It is now essential that there is a focus on delivering action that can win, and this means throwing all our efforts into the upcoming MAB starting on 20 April.

We should also demand that UCU implements the following:

  1. There should be UCU meetings held at Department, Faculty and branch level to win an active MAB strategy.
  2. The vote included the right to call more strikes. Branches should be given the authority to call strike days that coincide with exam boards and graduation days.
  3. Coordinated days of strike action over the next mandated period should be held with NEU, CWU and medical and nursing staff. United we are stronger, united we can win.
  4. All external examiners who are UCU members should be urged to resign their positions immediately.
  5. If needed, strike action should be announced for September to let employers know that the disruption will continue into the next academic year unless they get around the table and meet our demands.

Let’s not waste the vote. Increase the action to win.

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