Why I’m Running for the UCU NEC

It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to do. But here goes!

I’m a candidate for the UCU NEC (National Executive Committee) as a HE (Higher Ed…as opposed to Further Ed). I’m on twice: Once as a national rep and one as a regional (North West) rep. This is a bit of artefact of the voting system and basically ups my chance of getting one of the seats. I obviously think I’m fit for the job either way, but while being a regional rep would overlap a lot with being a national rep, there are key differences in focus.

I’m running on the UCU Commons slate. We have a very nice election guidance page and I encourage you to read it. It’s useful even if you don’t want to vote for us!

I wrote before I was motivated toward much greater involvement with the UCU because of problems I see in national governance, strategy, and communication. I’ve no complaints about my local brach and have happily picketed with them. I’ve never personally needed case work support, but I’ve see a few cases and their support has been pretty good. I’ve been a rank and file member and happy to be so.

There are a lot of a lot of challenges facing UCU members individually and collectively. The general environment is not structurally favourable: We have restrictive laws which make things challenging. We have a hostile national government bent on “remaking” (that is, breaking) the sector. We have escalating mismanagement. We have an ongoing trend toward casualisation. And, oh, the massive pandemic crisis and all it entails. (This was not an exhaustive list. It is exhausting, however!)

What prompted me to greater and more formal involvement with the UCU was the 1-2 punch of the second round of 4 fights/pension strikes plus the levy debacle. As a rank and filer I found:

  1. The stacking of essentially 5 disputes with variable, sometimes seemingly conflicting, goals made organising and communicating with e.g. students difficult. Amongst my UCU friends (mostly rank and filers like myself, i.e., willing to vote for action and undertake it but not necessarily engage with everyday branch activities), there was a consensus that all the issues were important, but challenging to explain to people. (The fact that we had 4 fights…and the other one…doesn’t make much sense unless you understand the organising reason behind it which takes you deep into the weeds of trade union law.) It wasn’t clear to us what winning meant even!
  2. I was surprised by the second wave. While technically no second consultation was needed, I certainly was surprised that such a major escalation didn’t involve much consultation of any kind. Again, my department based union friends were similarly confused. We definitely weren’t expecting something like that and it felt like it came out of nowhere. People who had been fighting union members long before I came to the UK felt demoralised and reluctant to participate. Especially people who could have had a big effect were reluctant…they didn’t want to essential destroy a whole year for our undergraduates with no plan for making them whole if we won.
    Industrial action has collateral damage in most cases (indeed, that is where there’s leverage), but it challenging to get people to inflict that damage without clear goals and some idea of mitigations.
  3. One thing I thought was well done was strike pay. I could afford to forgo it, but many people simply couldn’t. (Some people in my branch discussed how they were going to have to use holiday time for some strike days because they simply couldn’t afford losing that much pay even with strike pay.) But then came the levy which seems to have been a real failure of governance. For many people £15 isn’t a big deal but for a large segment of our membership it is not. If you are living from inadequate pay check to inadequate pay check, or get money in irregular “bursts”, a missing £15 can have large consequences (e.g., overdrafts or missed payments).
  4. I tried to track down how these decisions were made and, well, let’s just say that the UCU website wasn’t super helpful.

Whew! That’s a lot. (And one problem with comms is that there’s info overload.)

So this is why I’m running for NEC. These seem like NEC problems and I want to work on them. I will work on them however I can even if I’m not elected…but I think I can be more effective at addressing them as an NEC member. This may be a bit of unwarranted optimism, but I choose to embrace it!

More in subsequent posts. If you have particular questions email me or flag me on Twitter!

If you find the UCU Commons a good fit, I encourage you to join up. We’re still small but I think the people involved are great and welcoming. It’s one way to be involved. Should you ever want to run for NEC, I’ll happily give you whatever insight I get from this run!