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Jo Grady. Photo: Jo Grady for UCU General Secretary campaign

Jo Grady. Photo: Jo Grady for UCU General Secretary campaign

Jo Grady has been elected General Secretary of UCU in a victory for the left, now the rank and file need to get organised argues Graham Kirkwood

Jo Grady, a senior lecturer in employment relations at the University of Sheffield, is the UCU’s new General Secretary. In a record turnout, she won the contest with 64% of the votes cast (counting second preferences) ahead of Jo McNeill and Matt Waddup. In total, the two rank and file candidates won 74.2% of the votes in the first round with Waddup, UCU National Head of Policy & Campaigns, full time official and chosen candidate of the bureaucracy, scoring only just over a quarter of the votes. The result comes just before the UCU Congress meets in Harrogate this weekend, with crucial discussions around pay, union democracy and pensions on the agenda. 

These results come after two years of upheaval and strike action in both Further and Higher Education. Thousands of members have been radicalised through strike action and no longer feel the need for a full timer to lead their union. They want change and a union general secretary that will listen to the members.

The issues to deal with are piling up. For those in Higher Education, it is clear that the fight over our pensions needs to be restarted now with campaigning between now and September and a strike ballot if the employers insist on raising our pension contributions again in October. 

The campaign in Further Education for better pay and better jobs continues with strikes having been held at colleges up and down the country resulting in a series of important victories.

There was a danger that two rank and file candidates might have split the vote and allowed Waddup to win. However, the strength of feeling among the members for a change of direction and a fresh set of ideas proved too strong. Jo McNeill was the candidate of the organised left inside the union, UCU Left, and a highly experienced activist whose leadership skills will also be needed in the coming period. It's vital that left and rank and file groupings inside the union unite and focus on building an effective fightback around a whole host of issues including the threat to pensions in post-92 universities, redundancies, increased workloads and stress, and the need to properly fund both universities and colleges.

All in all, Grady’s victory and the combined result of the two left candidates is good news – it demonstrates a real appetite for rank and file democracy and it leaves everything to fight for.

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