UCU Disputes: The So-called Moral Imperative of Strike Breaking

One of the things that amazed me about UK higher education when I first came her from the US in 2006 is the fact that there was a national union that negotiated nationally on key issues. Heck, the fact that there was an agreed upon national pay scale blew me away. That UCU covers so much of the education sector is also amazing.

Of course, this means that we can face strike breaking and union busting on a national scale.

For national issues, UCU doesn’t typically negotiate directly with individual universities but with an umbrella organization. For the 4Fights, we (and our sister unions) negotiate with UCEA (the Universities and Colleges Employers Association).

Currently many individual universities are pretending that they are helpless bystanders…they don’t negotiate individually, so why strike against them?! This is, of course, nonsense. They are members of UCEA and UCEA works for them.

The chief executive of UCEA is Raj Jethwa and he has some…interesting…ideas:

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association), which represents 146 employers in pay negotiations, said the decision to cut pay for staff carrying out action short of a strike was a “direct recommendation” from his organisation to employers.

“Employers are completely within their rights to withhold pay for partial performance – they do not have to accept partial performance,” he said.

“When an employee decides to pick and choose what they do it can have a disruptive impact.”

Mr Jethwa said the UCEA had advised universities to cut 100% of staff pay for ASOS and that the institutions were “not only entitled, we think they’re compelled to do so – students will be suffering as a result of this”.

“We’re pretty sure the legal position is pretty robust and beyond that we think the moral position of employers is pretty robust as well,” he said.

This is the language and position of gilded age barons. It is also the language of union busting. Universities do have a duty toward their students and staff. But the way to fulfill that duty is to negotiate properly and work with the unions toward better conditions.

Note that this isn’t a reactive position. Jethwa’s ongoing, considered position is union busting:

Over the past decade, about half of the annual pay negotiation rounds have ended in dispute. In fact, only once during that period have we managed to reach an actual settlement in advance of the 1 August date for implementing a pay uplift.

Implementing a pay uplift that has gone through the collective pay bargaining process successfully is thus a rarity. Regardless of the pay claims and the initial and final offers, and the meticulous work undertaken by all concerned, if the bargaining structure itself is not working, then it needs to be reconsidered.

(The key question is why have pay negotiation rounds ended in dispute!?)

(This article announces a “listening” exercise which does not involve staff or unions.)

The article ends with:

This means building relationships based on mutual trust and respect. It means negotiating with our trade unions fairly and working with, rather than against, each other. Despite all of the sector’s serious distractions, it is time to take a step back and listen to what our members think.

Does 100% ongoing pay deductions sound like working “with, rather than against, each other”? Does refusing to negotiate?

Universities are parroting the Jethwa line (so much for his proposed devolution!) and threatening 100% pay deduction on very dodge grounds. For example, if you strike and a class is canceled you lose pay for that day (typically). Some Unis want to deduct your pay for every day you don’t reschedule that class.

I doubt it’s legal (but with this Government…) but it sure isn’t moral. It undermines the very ability to strike. It highlights that universities don’t respect staff as people.

Please, if you’re at a university where UCU has a mandate for action, write your VC urging them to demand that UCEA behave better. Heck, write all UCEA members!

Union busting over negotiation is never a moral position. It’s that simple.

Balloting as a form of Action Complimentary of a Strike (ACOS)

We have some ballot results. Manchester voted yes to both disputes but fell one vote shy of making threshold for the USS dispute. One way or another we’ll be reballoting.

(You may want to read my explainer on (Dis)aggregation in UCU Balloting over on the UCUCommons website. It aims to be a more descriptive discussion of the decision landscape. This is an advocacy piece on my own behalf.)

I’m convinced that an aggregated reballot on 4Fights, along the lines of Jo Grady’s proposal, is a good strategy with a lot of upside. In particular, I think it’s our best chance to win if re make the aggregated threshold. All of a sudden, every employer faces action. Immediately. It’s has a shock and awe in itself and the potential for more. It is a Big Bang threat which the employers haven’t faced recently.

It has downsides. If we don’t make threshold, then it’s pretty bad. Moreover, we don’t have a strong track record of making aggregated threshold on HE Pay disputes, though a bit better on 4Fights. If you look at Michael Carley’s handy table of historical aggregate turnout, you’ll see that pay disputes tended to fair poorly. The two recent disaggregated ballots have faired better with our most recent hitting >50% nationally.

But will that hold with an actual aggregated ballot? Not just a ballot but a reballot?! Will “no’s” turn to “abstains”, making it much harder? While I wasn’t heavily involved in the GTOV at Manchester (course duties plus illness; I did do some including wrestling Word into email merging for me…finally), what I did I did not enjoy. (My anxiety really doesn’t like such things.)

It feels redundant. I heard several people express that they want to be done with balloting. They are happy to help other branches get over…but having to repester people?

A Positive Case

Put aside the outcome. I presume we’d all love to have everyone in play with a snap of our fingers. If we could file a form to retroactively convert our result into an aggregated one…we all would! I don’t think there’s a conflict there.

I think a nationally oriented GTVO effort could be an effective form of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). Or rather, of Action Other Than a Strike (AOTS) or Action Complimentary To a Strike (ACTS). We tend to under value ACTS or lump it under “organizing” which suggests that it isn’t the thing, but the precursor to the thing.

As long as we adhere to our contracts, we are not engaged in industrial action which needs statutory approval. We can still protest, organize, raise awareness, and build momentum. The employers can’t dock our pay or discipline us (…unless they really go off the rails) for AOTS. So it’s cheap for us, but potentially expensive for them. How, if we’re not withdrawing our labour?

  1. Many branches can withdraw their labour in tandem! We have mandates! Short, sharp actions send a strong signal and can be combined with more public GTVO actions. There’s potential element of “You think this is bad…it’s gonna get a lot worse”.
  2. GTVO can be combined with student awareness raising, letter writing campaigns, and protests. At Manchester, 89% of surveyed students blamed management, not staff for the strikes. We can pitch the aggregated reballot as a way to pressure management while minimizing the harm to students. “Help us avoid disruptive strikes!” “We’re trying to convince them before we have to strike everywhere! Help us by writing the VC and helping us GTVO.

In general, we want to maximize the anticipation of pain in the employers, while avoiding retaliation as much as possible. It’s mostly a psychological war, since it’s hard to make a direct financial hit. So we need to play that game.

Everyone can take effective GTVO action. Most strike days I take will be primarily being counted and showing solidarity, since I don’t have any more classes to be disrupted at the right times. (Project students yes…but projects are hard to disrupt because few deadlines and only weekly meetings.) Many research only staff really struggle to produce meaningful to the employer strike action of ASOS.

But if we make a campaign highly visible though a mixture of industrial action, GTVO for a massive mandate, and student engagement, we can mobilise everyone against all employers. For up to 8 weeks! With some very dramatic action in the wings (final assessment marks…).

Possible Downsides

It may not work. We might not get significant activity (it’s somewhat novel). We might fail to make threshold. We might still lose. These are real possibilities.

Disaggregated approaches have downside risks as well. Action falls on fewer people. We immediately start with things the employers can hit back on, which depresses participation. We typically hurt students which can backlash. We can fail to cover enough branches to win. We might do so and still use.

People (rightly) talk about their feeling demoralized about having to reballot. But there are people who (rightly) feel demoralized (still!) about the 2019 strikes. (I was radicalized and ended up running for HEC because as a rank and filer, I really disliked the strategy and comms around it in 2019. So, if I annoy you, you can correctly blame that strategy :)) And some people are just beaten down by all the crap. It doesn’t energize everyone. Without polling, it’s hard to know what proportions of the membership feel which ways.

I think both strategies involve big asks, though potentially of different sets of people.

No No-Brainers

In the end, if a strategy works, it’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s terrible. There’s a lot of guesswork and gut feelings here. I personally really like the idea of a multifaceted, cheaper for us, harder on the employers campaign. I’m less enthused by intensive strike action at what feels like an inopportune time to me. You might feel the opposite! I hope my sketch approach highlights some of the possible advantages of the aggregated approach. I’m certainly reading disaggregated proposals and talking with folks about it. (Interestingly, in the UCUC, there’s quite a diversity of opinion and feeling. Just about every combination of view crops up 🙂 Nothing I’ve written is a consensus view not on the UCUC blog and certainly not here.

Indeed, one view “on my side” I hadn’t considered is how this could help center and highlight the untenable situation of casualised workers and link it to less causal workers situations. I’m still mulling it, hence not embedding it deeply in this post.)

Other Strategies

I’ll try to link to other strategy proposals and analysis as I become aware of them. Please let me know of others!

UCU Ballots: Vote and Vote Yes #OneOfUsAllOfUs

I meant to write something earlier during this whirlwind balloting, but class and illness precluded. With one more “safe” day to get your ballot in, I thought I’d try to pump out something.

Should You Vote?

Yes. Unquestionably. Your vote makes a direct difference in two ways: 1) it’s needed to get over the threshold and 2) it’s needed to determine what industrial action we can do wrt USS and the 4 Fights for the next six months. If the vote is inconclusive or no, then the only sorts of actions we can do is protest and persuasion. We will not be legally allowed to withdraw our labor.

Indirectly, a big turnout (and a big Yes vote) is evidence that is used by the negotiators to persuade the employers to, y’know, negotiate. A week turnout hurts our bargaining position. Even a strong no vote is better because it shows we’re engaged.

Should You Vote “Yes”?

Well, I argued “yes” 4 times i.e., for strike and action short of a strike for both disputes.

From a “send a message to employers” perspective, a bit yes vote is the best thing. A really big yes vote will make action less likely. The employers are counting on fatigue and scare tactics to minimize the action and a weak action isn’t good. Threat of a big action seems likely to motivate them to try to head it off by, y’know, negotiating.

Obviously, voting yes requires some confidence in the Higher Education Committee (of which I am a member) and the branch committees. We decide the particulars (e.g., strike days). All I can say as that as and HEC member, I will do my level best to make sure that any planned actions are sensible, sustainable, and have some chance of working. I am but one voice, however. Please vote in the next NEC (and thus HEC) elections.

Voting no will send a message as well, and I’d guess mostly to UCU. It won’t be a good message and we’ll be in bad shape.

Even if you don’t agree with the timing/how the last actions were run/whatever…no or no vote is likely a worse option.

Substantively, there’s no question we’re in the right. The employers are freaking out of control here. They are somewhat boxed in by the Government but they are adding a layer of badness to it all.

Can These Actions Settle The Disputes

No.

Sorry, but even if we win, we’re in for a long campaign.

We’ve seen this with USS. They (esp USS itself) really want to kill our pensions and they are happy to come at us again and again. That’s not a reason not to fight and fight to win. It’s just the reality.

The fact that we’re dealing with a Government that is quite hostile to our sector makes it ever more difficulty. That’s not a reason to give up, but to plan for the long haul.

Solidarity Omertà or…Not

When is ok to publicly critique (some part of UCU) and when isn’t it? I’m never 100% sure because sometimes it feels that if I do it, it’s wrong, but when the people who tell me I’m wrong do it, it’s fine.

As is common with people, how one feels about the target also seems to play a big role in the whether public criticism violates solidarity or is part of a robust feedback mechanism.

Per usual, I can only speak for me.

UCU is engaging with the Labour Party conference. In spite of some big ass problems, I think this is the right move. I do believe that this is a live question:

The Labour Party’s apparent tolerance of trans- and biphobic views from a sitting MP prompts us to ask whether we, other groups, charities, or organisations, or indeed trade unions, can currently support or canvas for the Labour Party while it platforms harmful narratives and hostility towards trans and bi people.

I tend to think that the answer is, unfortunately, “yes” though I understand why people might answer otherwise. My general theory of party and electoral politics is “harm minimization” which involves a lot of lessor of two evils moves and uncomfortable alliances. My observations of the US Democratic Party’s evolution is that being a reliable part of the coalition (however vocally critical) tends to produce more change than exiting. Of course, there’s plenty of work to be done outside the party on things like trans rights, so it’s not the only way. But it can help.

Indeed, I think we should affiliate. UCU would be in a much better position to push for trans issues in Labour if it were part of Labour. But it ain’t an easy call.

Ok, so this is already fraught. But then we have UCU central posting photos of General Secretary Jo Grady addressing a Young Labour meeting and…almost no one is masked. There’s a later fringe UCU event that was advertised as masked, but photos suggest not so much. We later find out that attendees are supposed to be fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test which…is better than nothing, but not ideal.

This is obviously not a good look or a good move, esp given that many branches (and UCU central!) is trying to get more robust measures in place in universities. My personal reaction is inflected both by the fact that I generally like UCU and Jo Grady, I generally hate UCU comms, and I really am worried about lack of masking and other safety measures. From a personal perspective, it feels like something unpleasant and unfortunately that I have to swallow (as a clinically odd person).

So, step up your game, please. I know it’s challenging but that’s true all around.

On the flip side, I notice that at least some of the people I observe saying things to the effect that this is a gift to the employers, I did not observe complaining about 2 USS negotiators being cited by employers as saying that the UCU proposals were not viable. I’ve not highlighted this at the time though I am still quite upset about it. In one case we have, essentially, bad comms. In the other, we have possible sabotage of negotiations to force a dispute.

In reality, I’d be surprised if my local H&S negotiators would find UCU Centrals fuck up a material issue. “But Jo Grady went unmasked!!!” is pretty easily countered by “But they were all vaccinated or tested” (which is not the case at universities) or even “She should have done better”. Or even “One off events are different than full time work.”

So there you are. I can now stand (masked) in the middle of a room and everyone has a reason to throw unicorn pony buns at me!

Yes, unicorn ponies are my thing now.

Quick Hit on Long Campaigns

UCU is mobilising to ballot on strike action on USS and the 4 Fights very soon. Part of that is a very short ballot window (3 weeks). Because of union busting laws, we have to get 50% turnout for the vote to be valid and then win on Yes to take action. We also have vote by…postal mail which is expensive (a big needless drain on our resources) and depresses turnout (the ballot has to go to the right place and you have to physically fill it out and get it to a mailbox).

Adding friction to voting is a well known anti-democratic tactic, cf voter ID.

In any case, we’re going to ballot and we’re going on a disaggregated basis. That is, each branch has it’s own vote (and own threshold) to pass. So if University McMilitant has 100 members, and 51 vote and 27 vote yes, they can take action. But if over at University McBeatendown only gets 30 of its 100 members turnout, it cannot. Each branch can move which makes the likelihood of some action higher, even with the tight timeframes.

An aggregated ballot would ballot the union as a whole and let us go on action as a whole. So if McMilitant got 90 turned out and McBeatendown still got its 30, 90 + 30 = 120 which is more than half of their collective 200 and the vote is valid. If McMilitant had 70 yes votes then McBeatendown could get 20 no votes and still take action.

Both strategies have virtues, but I don’t want to debate that at the moment. Instead, I want to point out that in both disputes, we have to recognize that we’re in a long term fight.

Take USS. They got us to back down on final salary and set a DB ceiling, both radical changes to the scheme. But that wasn’t enough. They came back again. And will again even if we win this round. This isn’t a minor blip. This is a combination of forces with a goal of breaking the USS pension scheme as we know it. (It’s an obviously bad idea and it’s not even the case that there is direct collusion between USS, the regulator, and the universities: they are all bad actors in somewhat different ways. But they all are bad actors with a common mindset when it comes to slashing pensions.)

Similar, the 4 Fights is nominally tied to two years of pay negotiations. But it’s not like inadequate pay rises are a new thing…it’s been going on for over a decade. Similarly, casualisation isn’t new and the ever increasingly levels aren’t a single decision. Same for workloads. Same for pay equity. These are generational fights against the backdrop of a Government with a real fundamental dislike of the sector, at best, and a hatred of wide swaths of it. We’re lucky when they are indifferent! That’s a massive step up!

We’re fighting a regime and states have large amounts of power. Unfortunately, the opposition is…not doing well with a succession of Labour leaders who, no matter which end of the political spectrum they hail from, just haven’t demonstrated the ability to win a government. (Heck, they’ve been pretty bad at managing the party.)

All this put together means we have to plan for the long haul. That doesn’t mean we can skimp on the current battle. But we need a sustainable campaign.

It’s not a secret that what we’re currently doing isn’t what I thought best. But the real question is how to build for the long haul. Industrial action is by no means the only tool! We need to win hearts and minds of the broader populace, esp students but also other staff members. We need to take over university senates and boards of governors (to the degree we can). We need to fight for policy and, yes, take over management or at least work with sensible people in management.

The system is in engineered (as well as opportunistic) chaos. We need to be a force for sense.

The UK university system is truly an amazing thing and a key part of UK society, culture, and the economy. It’s worth preserving and improving. That will be a generational challenge.

Start of the Semester Freakout Begins…NOW!

Paging students: If you’re feeling bewildered and overwhelmed…many of us feel pretty much the same way, with the added dread of messing stuff up for hundreds of people instead of just ourselves.

Even in the before times, even for very experienced folks, many of us experience extra anxiety at the beginning of a year. Just meeting all sorts of new people is stressful for many (e.g., me!)

My recommendation: Give yourself a break and give everyone else breaks. The first week doesn’t define your experience unless you let it. Second, third, fourth, fifth…”chances” abound. Indeed, “chances” probably are too point like. It’s an unfolding experience a la the “end of the movie”:

Because life is a gradual series of revelations
That occur over a period of time
It’s not some carefully crafted story
It’s a mess, and we’re all gonna die
If you saw a movie that was like real life
You’d be like, “What the hell was that movie about?
It was really all over the place.
Life doesn’t make narrative sense
Nuh-uh

Unicorn Pony Retraction and Atonement Donation to the Fighting Fund

I wrote:

The motions contain things which are nigh impossible and things which are not sensible. Strike action for 4 Fights should be “escalating and indefinite”?!? I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a unicorn pony as well.

I got two sorts of push back on this. The (temporally) first was that this was (at least) bad form on my part: minimally being divisive, violating solidarity, and perhaps being anti-democratic. I don’t think it can be anti-democratic per se for me to express my disappointment in a decision. (I mean unless the content of the decision is “for democracy” and my opposition is anti democracy.) Obviously, as we see everywhere, it’s possible to oppose decision making in a way so as to undermine democracy, but, again, “I don’t think people voted sensibly”, even if expressed in salty language, is that sort of thing. Delegates themselves may have been voting against their conscience because they were bound by their branches. Yes yes that’s fine. You can read my “I’m disappointed with the delgates” as “I’m disappointed with the delegations.”

Again, this isn’t really the kind of thing that is anti-democratic. I notice people are often using “democratic” to mean “good” or “the way I want it to be” or even “in accordance with the rules”. As we can easily see in the US, rule following isn’t always democracy promoting, cf the Electoral College. And this doesn’t even break any rules.

I find it much harder to defend against divisveness or lack of solidarity, but eh. Let me grant it. I wasn’t civil and lack of civility is something people dislike. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if tone policing and tutting are effective counter-mechanisms. I’ve kept quiet about a lot of things and that doesn’t seem to help.

HOWEVER, a kind person replied in a comment to the heart of my unicorn pony complaint:

I feel you’re being overly literal with your interpretation there (for the record, I voted against motion 9 following a branch mandate, but that wasn’t the problematic clause for my mandate)

Strike action being escalating and indefinite doesn’t mean that the *escalation* itself has to be indefinite – though it could be, with a suitable asymptotic function – just that “escalating” and “indefinite” both have to independently describe the strike action carried out.

(Please read the rest. It’s helpful.)

Ok, that’s fair. I’m not sure it was meant that way and I’m not sure it will be read that way, but it’s not an impossible thing to do and it is a possible, perhaps even most charitable, reading.

Thus my unicon pony comment was not just salty but probably incorrect. Note my trust is low in this because when I was a rank and file member, I was upset at the 2019-2020 strikes and people seeming to blithely going on about long strikes. Personally, “wide” strikes seem more important than “long” strikes but ok. This is more my issue than a bonkerosity in the motion itself. I hereby retract the unicorn pony line and I appreciate someone taking the time to talk me down.

I said on Twitter I would give someone a plushie unicorn pony if they could explain that lanauge as non-bonkers. I wrote to the commentor offering to buy them this:

“Hi! My name isn’t Indefinite Escalator”

But they’ve not replied, so instead, for my penance, I’ve donated £100 to the Fighting Fund. Please consider donating even if you weren’t probably wrong on the internet.

ETA: The commenter contacted me and was cool for the donation, yay! We had a nice email chat.

Problematic Outcomes of the Special HE Sector Conference (Sept 2021)

Well the votes are in and…I was voting with the losing side about almost everything.

Attached to this post are PDFs of my voting as it appeared in the online form. At some point I’ll extract them out into some sort of structured format, but it seemed easier just to screenshot it.

The net result of the Conference is a strong push toward a 2020 style fight: disaggregated ballots, super tightly coupled USS and 4 Fights disputes (e.g., balloted together), super early ballot, no clear, achievable goals or strategy, no plan for compromise or partial wins.

This scenario isn’t entirely forced by the conference, but it’s a natural reading and it’s certainly what a lot of motion proposers were aiming for. The defeat of Motion 1 is esp. disheartening to me, because it puts us on the back foot for planning.

I’m deeply disappointed with the sector conference delegates. [Note for clarity: this is a description of my personal psychological reaction. Delegates might disagree with me. They may agree but be bound by eg branch decisions. However, this is my reaction.] The motions contain things which are nigh impossible and things which are not sensible. Strike action for 4 Fights should be “escalating and indefinite”?!? I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a unicorn pony as well.

This reminds me a lot of “strategy” stuff we get from management. Something is required without any resource allocation or plausible mechanism. Indefinite strikes aren’t…legal, I don’t think. There are limits. At the very least we must ballot every 6 months. Similarly, the main way that strikes can escalate is by having more people go on strike. Do we have any evidence that we’ll attract more members to strike over time?

This is part of the horrorshow of not delegating timing and strategy to HEC. We can’t ask whether any of this stuff makes sense except in narrow ways. If it’s not legally possible to “immediately begin the balloting of members for industrial action to defend the USS DB scheme on its current basis, on a schedule sufficient to enable members to take action in the Autumn Term,” then that’s not happening, obviously. But what if we could technically do it but that means weak GOTV and many institutions not making the ballot threshold? The vote for this was 79 in favour, 52 against, and 11 registered abstentions…and we have no idea how this maps onto institutions.

We’ll do the best we can, but…

I dearly hope I’m completely and utterly wrong. These decisions seem to not take the lessons of the 2019-2020 experience to heart at all.

My Statement in Support of Motion 1 at Special HE Sector Conference (Sept 2021)

(I checked with UCU central and it’s ok for me to post my personal opinion, which this is, but not report on the debate, which I won’t. I might revisit after the minutes are out if that’s allowed.)

Motion 1:

1       Timing of Industrial Action on USS           Bangor University

SHESC notes:
1.     that the recommendations of the Superannuation Working Group (SWG) were adopted at HESC on 2/6/2020;
2.     the SWG recommendation that we negotiate, campaign and lobby for the protection of USS member benefits at current levels and pressure employers to reject cuts to future benefits;
3.     the SWG recommendation that we use all the campaigning and industrial tools at our disposal up to and including a ballot for industrial action.
SHESC believes that a strong result in an industrial action ballot is more likely to be achieved if the ballot comes at the culmination of an effective member-led campaign, which takes time to organise.
SHESC therefore resolves that a ballot on industrial action is called when HEC judges that the USS negotiators have had sufficient time to explore all options with the employers’ representatives and the USS Trustee and branches have had sufficient time to organise for victory.

(While I’m normally a “wing it” sort of person, for these timed slots, I try to write out what I’ll say and time it. My timing here was way off so I had to finish early. I added some stuff in speaking but this is pretty close to what I said.)

I’m speaking in favor of motion 1.

I’m ready to strike. I’m ready to donate to the fighting fund. I’m personally in a strong position to do both. But I don’t see that we are ready as a union. That we have had time doesn’t mean we’re ready now. That we want things “immediately” doesn’t mean it’s feasible to produce them.

There is political science research that suggests that 50% of non-violent large scale mass action campaigns succeed (vs. 25% of violent ones). That means 50% of them fail.

We’re not just in conflict with the employers but with the government as well. That’s not an easy fight. Nor is it a quick one. Nor will there be a knock out blow. Even a strong victory on the ridiculous USS valuation or April changes won’t mean they won’t try again and soon. We need to build a long haul, powerful campaign and one that feeds into the 4 fights. There are no slam dunks here.

Many members at all universities are exhausted. At Manchester, we had difficulty getting people at risk of redundancy to even talk with us. Jo McNeill of Liverpool came to a branch meeting to discuss their amazing efforts in fighting redundancy and her description of the effort required…multi hour meetings a day, enormous fundraising, and starting long before the strikes happened. This was necessary to bring in “on the fence” members and was frankly daunting.

At many USS institutions we have a overwhelming wave of students and a year of students we’ve not met in person. We need them on our side. We need them on the lines with us. We need them to connect our fights with their fights.

We have other disputes including the Four Fights. This increases the complexity of campaigning. We need to coordinate action so one dispute doesn’t shortchange the other and that success on one front feeds into success in the others.[ended about here]

This takes time, coordination, and planning. Trying to rush it will strongly increase the risk of both short term and long term failure.

If your branch is ready, hurrah! Start campaigning! Raise awareness! Get things bubbling. Engage with all staff, not just members. Expand the membership. Share you experience with less ready branches.

Let’s not hobble ourselves with timetables. As the saying goes, Festina Lente, that is, “make haste slowly”.

Upcoming UCU Challenges

Things are tough both at the local and national level.

We have a special sector conference this week where we’ll primarily be making decision about upcoming national disputes, the big salient ones being the USS pension debacle and some variant of the 4 fights.

Locally, we have an ongoing risk of redundancies due to a by choice restructuring of professional services which has already made things worse but as the full vision flips in is highly likely to make things much much worse for everyone, but esp those who lose their jobs. There’s also what the hell are we going to do about controlling COVID as we seem to be ready to revise last years disastrous spike those, we hope, with much less morbidity and mortality due to vaccinations. The base infection rate is high, though, and the hard to control mixing of having students come from all over the country and world plus mixing of staff (who may have to commute quite some ways) with those students is a recipe for a big leap in daily cases both within the university and in the community in general.

I’m hoping we can avoid union infighting though some extreme differences of opinion makes it difficult as does the extremely challenging environment. The employers seem to be making literally zero effort to reduce tensions or mitigate issues that functionally necessitate industrial action…which is wildly irresponsible.

Given that we’re heading into a v. busy semester for me for normal stuff, this is not fun! And, given my job security and excellent situation (save for health) this still puts me in a far better place that many people in and out of UCU. I’m thinking of you and wishing for the best and trying hard to make things better.