Letter from Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary (22/1/21)
Upcoming survey on industrial action
Delegates at September's HE sector conference voted to survey members about the union's approach to industrial action. That survey launches on Monday 25 January and closes on Wednesday 17 February. Emails will be sent to members with a unique link to complete the survey.
The survey asks members about their participation in previous industrial action, and what will make them likely to participate in industrial action in the future. It covers options for action short of a strike (ASOS) as well as strike action, and it covers demands which the union can include in future negotiations with employers.
This survey is a really important opportunity for your members to have their democratic say about future action, so you need to do everything you can to maximise turnout in your branch.
To win major UK-wide disputes we need as many members of staff in as many institutions as possible to participate in industrial action. That starts with listening carefully to what members have to say. This is just as important for branches that did not take part in last year's industrial action as it is for branches that did.
We intend to share a branch-specific breakdown of the results with officers in each branch. The higher your branch's turnout, the more information we can share with you about your members' responses. That branch-level information will be really helpful for shaping your local campaigns and negotiations with your employer, as well as our UK-wide agenda.
Please take the following steps after the survey launches:
A few days after the survey launches, email your members to remind them to fill the survey in and explain why both the branch and the whole union need as many responses as possible
Ask any departmental reps or other contacts to send a follow-up email to their respective departments a week or so after you've emailed the entire branch
Place the survey on the agenda for discussion at your next committee and all-member meetings
After the survey: online ballot of members on current negotiations with employers
Last year's Four Fights dispute is still live after members voted in July to reject an offer from the employer representative, UCEA. Negotiations have continued, with employers insisting on a pay freeze for the 2020-21 bargaining round despite the fact that finances have held up throughout most of the sector. To shift the employers from this position will require a serious threat of industrial action, at the very least.
Alongside the industrial action survey which I just mentioned, there will be an online consultation of members on this year's offer from employers (as per December's sector conference resolution HE3). After that, your elected reps on the higher education committee (HEC) will meet to consider our next steps.
Local disputes on health and safety, redundancies, and more
Many branches are in local disputes with employers about redundancies, Covid-19 related health and safety, or other issues. A lot of those disputes have already seen successful ballots for industrial action supported by regional/devolved national and head office staff.
Congratulations in particular to Northumbria University UCU, who became the first union branch in the UK to cross the 50% ballot threshold for industrial action on Covid-19 related health and safety, with an impressive 67% turnout. Well done also to Birmingham City University, who recently joined Northumbria in crossing that threshold for their Covid-19 related dispute, and to the University of East London who also crossed the threshold and are taking action against compulsory redundancies.
As a union we're becoming more and more effective at mobilising members to vote to give us leverage in negotiations. Some of these local campaigns have already led to significant victories for the branches involved, by causing the employer to back down on in-person work, compulsory redundancies, and other attacks on staff. Well done and solidarity to all of you currently in local struggles.
Visiting your branch
I've been attending branch meetings via MS Teams or Zoom on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. If I haven't paid your members a visit recently, now is a good time to schedule one given everything that will be happening across the union and the sector in the coming months. Please contact Alan Scobbie to make the necessary arrangements.
In the meantime, for any questions about the industrial action survey or negotiations with employers please get in touch with our head of HE, Paul Bridge.
UCU general secretary
Find out how to claim from from the UCU strike fund here