UCU members report on the fightback at universities under attack by management and have put forward a model motion to show solidarity
A well-attended and determined meeting of staff in higher education has launched a campaign in defence of jobs and conditions in the universities. The online meeting, called by four University and College Union (UCU) branches, Liverpool and Roehampton Universities, and SOAS and Imperial from the University of London, was in response to their own situations where jobs have been threatened, courses cut and further attacks likely. Some of these predate the coronavirus crisis, but the present situation has increased uncertainty and the prospect of attacks in a range of institutions.
Over 500 people attended, which was a great response. The meeting was addressed by general secretary Jo Grady, which was important in showing backing from the national union, but it was clear from the contributions that a key to getting that backing is for branches affected to take a lead in organising and demanding solidarity across the sector. The disputes need to link up and be at the centre of a national campaign to defend jobs and conditions. SOAS fractional Feyzi Ismail was well-received when she argued for this approach and for permanent staff not to take on work previously done by casuals.
The national union’s response to the crisis has not been particularly strong, with a lot of emphasis on writing to MPs. The campaign cannot be fought branch by branch but must be a national one. This means activists putting demands both on university management and on the government, which is handing out contracts to its private-sector friends and bailing out areas such as the privately run railways, which has already been given over £3bn, while refusing to inject money into the university sector.
The current national dispute with university management is not resolved, with very little movement from them on the ‘four fights’ campaign’, and with threats of a pay freeze next year. This is after staff have transferred to online teaching and working from home, leading to increased workload.
Universities are going to be a very important centre of campaigning over the coming months. We need to insist that a decent publicly funded HE sector, with education seen as a right, not an expensive commodity, is vitally important. There will be many disputes over a range of issues from health and safety at work to jobs, equalities and workload, and there are real possibilities to roll back the employers if we organise and show solidarity.
The meeting passed a statement and a motion calling for a day of action next Thursday 25 June. Everyone should try to get this through their union and take some form of action on the day in solidarity with the four institutions and with others such as Goldsmiths, where casualised staff have staged a marking boycott.
We call on the UCU General Secretary, President and NEC to back the following:
1A UK-wide Defend Jobs, Defend Education day of action next Thursday 25th June, consisting of simultaneous online protest meetings in every UCU branch at 11am.
2To plan further days of action, including joint protests with other campus unions, and to build them using all national and regional resources, as well as social media platforms such as Twitter.
3To engage in a widespread media campaign to expose the scandal of the mass sackings of casualised staff, and to publicise grassroots anti-casualisation efforts, including (but not limited to) [email protected], @EssexGTAs, @KingsGTAs, @CleanersFor, and @CoronaContract.
4To designate every branch industrial dispute as having national significance, and provide it with the appropriate resources, including organising solidarity across the union.
5To open urgent UK-wide negotiations with employer bodies over a plan to protect jobs, pay and conditions.
6To mobilise members behind campaigns in defence of higher, further, adult and community education as a public good, such as the HE Convention.
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