This is an overview of what I did or tried to do as a UCU NEC UK wide elected HE rep.
[Argh! Life and UCU stuff ran away for me and the ballots are dropping 🙂 Gonna try to get it done this weekend (he writes on Fri 27th Jan). OTOH, there’s been 2 recent views…so 🙂 Did some updating today.]
[As of 30 Nov 2022, this is rather incomplete but I have to get my address in and want this live before then. So it will be updated over time. And it will be incomplete because that’s the nature of things. If you have a specific query, please ask and I’ll do my best to answer.]
To my recollection, I attended all HEC, NEC, conference, and congress meetings. I did not attend all Branch Delegate Meetings, but I did several (as an observer). This was not easy, as there were a lot and many were highly stressful with the clock ticking. I did do one partially while teaching which was…interesting!
I tried to be a good citizen as an N/HEC member. I believe I only had time called on my speaking twice. I aimed to use as little time as possible when speaking so as not to obstruct business. In general, I tried to help the flow wherever possible (e.g., formally seconding whenever needed).
I also called out, as required by a congress motion, problematic comments or behavior. I’ve been accused of policing, but personally I still think that things like extremely graphic transphobic rhetoric, accusing people of “betraying” members if they don’t vote a certain way, or insinuating that the officers would craft surveys for undemocratic ends are not civil. And we are called on to be civil. Either we adhere to the congress motion or we change it.
I think I abide by confidentiality and collective responsibility requirements, though it can be tricky. I’m not really fond of either. Some confidentiality is required to avoid legal issues with giving notice. Collective responsibility is tougher and…confusing. I’m not sure why we are so bound but I suspect it is a hangover when UCU was less divided. There are a lot more internal politics now and that makes some things a bit odd.
People complain about “factionalism” but…I never got that either. Some folks in in UCU Commons are or were anti-faction, but I pushed for us to accept the fact that we are a faction. Affinity groups are perfectly normal ways to organize. It’s not wrong to organize around shared values and strategic inclinations. In point of fact, the union membership is not all of one mind. Nor does it work by consensus. Pretending otherwise makes things more confusing.
However, I am enough of an institutionalist that I try to adhere to the rules and norms as best I understand them, and try to change the ones I don’t agree with. I’m not saying I’ll never go rogue (esp against a norm being honored only by some), but I prefer not to. Institutions are complex and their patterns exist for a multitude of reasons.
Motions & Speeches
these are long and fairly many so…need to figure out how best to present them; maybe a representative few?]
There was so much voting, often chaotic. So I didn’t keep a good record, alas. But I can give you a feel. (If UCU has the records and the bandwidth to share, I’d be happy for them to share all my votes.)
(Part of the problem is for the voting record to be meaningful we’d need all the motions and context. That’s not easy to assemble.)
To give you a feel for my voting pattern and indicate how I’d vote in the future (mostly about action strategy since that’s the hot topic!):
- I’ve voted for aggregated ballots consistently, and will probably do so in the future.
(I do have some ideas for how to use local disputes to build toward national action, but that’s not going to be agreed to soon.)
- I’ve been of the “make haste, slowly” camp. I want longer ballots. I want action timed to meetings. I don’t think fast escalation is a good idea. I’m ok waiting to do things more effectively rather than rushing to get something done.
For example, I tried to get a slower pattern of escalation for the current action, e.g., 1 day/week in Feb, 2 (as appropriate) in April, with extra days as appropriate for key meetings. Our disputes are mostly marathons and we have to take a long view.
- I’m cautious about random changing of structures. I’ve voted against suggestions that BDMs should have decision making force (as opposed to supplying information). BDMs are not formally constituted nor are their delegated selected by a rule or bound by anything.
- I’ve voted for care with the Fighting Fund as I’ve understood its state, which has inflected my action votes. I’m against surprises like the levy, so I’ve argued that if we are projected to take action that will exhaust the Fighting Fund that we pre-fund it.
I believe in effective action, but I also believe that there are limits to our power. To be more effective, we have to build our power and that requires long term organizing and taking wins when and where we can get them.
Transparency, Education, Mobilising
One thing many fresh faced NEC members think when they start is “I’ll help make UCU and how it works more accessible!” and then write some explainers. Only to find out that people explained things before 🙂 I am no exception! I did try to do a “TL;DR” format for things both structural and substantive.
The goal of these is to be short, reasonably neutral infosheet/explainers for various contentious topics. People seem to find them helpful. I find them an an interesting format.
- Why did the UCU Leadership “decide…”
This traced some particular decisions through the UCU structures. I think it demonstrates that “transparency” isn’t easy or simply a matter of publishing votes or minutes. Complexity introduces obscurity!
As an HEC member, I’m ex officio on my local branch exec. I’m also ex officio on the regional…er…thing. I spent a lot of time working on the branch exec. I spent no time on the regional level. (Sorry, it was just one to many things. I’d like to get space to do that as I understand a lot of cross HE-FE stuff happens there.)