The UCU leadership yesterday voted narrowly to put an ultimatum to members. The latest deal from the UUK, they assert, is the best we’re going to get. Take it or leave it.
The ‘deal’ in question is a fudge, cooked up undemocratically between the bosses and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt. There has been no oversight by elected union negotiators or the membership.
This is a betrayal - and an affront to all our efforts over the past month. Sally Hunt - and any members of the Higher Education Committee (HEC) responsible for this outrage - should be immediately replaced with a leadership that has the will to fight.
The UUK’s latest offer is for an “independent valuation” by an “expert panel” to determine whether a defined benefit pension scheme is financially tenable. It provides no guarantees that the current set-up will be retained, beyond a vague promise for a scheme “broadly comparable” to the status quo.
In exchange for these crumbs, the deal (if accepted) will kick the can down the road for a year. This will give the bosses time to catch their breath and regroup.
Our strike could be suspended while members are balloted on whether to accept this deal ‒ a process that might take weeks. All the momentum of our action will be sapped.
A majority of branches across the country have adopted motions calling for renegotiation of the terms of the deal. A significant number have called for a no detriment clause to be added, to ensure that any proposal that comes out of the new valuation will result in NO changes to the existing scheme. This would protect defined benefit, and prevent an increase in contributions.
Following a meeting with branch delegates, however, the HEC has voted to ignore the membership, who are overwhelmingly in favour of changing this deal. By a vote of 10 in favour, 8 opposed, and one abstention, the HEC decided to demobilise our action and force us to vote on the offer as it stands.
Betrayal and lies
In her general secretary update, Sally Hunt reported that at the meeting of branch delegates:
“[…] only a small minority of branches wished to reject the proposal outright, a further substantial minority wished UCU to seek revisions to the proposal. A majority of branches present indicated that they wished the proposal to go to a members’ consultation.”
As outlined by this open letter, however, “according to various reports”, the chair of the Higher Education Committee refused to put UUK's offer to a vote at the branch delegate meeting. How, then, can Hunt claim that a majority of branches supported putting the proposal to an ballot? Reports from delegates point to the opposite: that a majority of branch delegates wished UCU to seek revisions to the proposal.
So not only are we being betrayed - we are possibly being lied to.
Power to the grassroots
Throughout this entire strike, the union leadership has been dragged along by the rank-and-file. It is members who have been on the picket-lines, organising teach-outs, braving the freezing cold and bullying tactics of management to stand up for our pensions.
It has been students staging occupations in solidarity with their teachers, with nothing directly to gain from this dispute, driven only by natural bonds of solidarity.
And it was members and students who joined forces a few weeks ago to beat back an attempted sell-out by the same people who are selling us out now.
A gulf has opened between the confidence and radicalism of grassroots UCU activists and their leaders. This latest development is cast-iron proof.
We are fully prepared to keep fighting into the new semester. Student support is holding strong. Unison are balloting members for strike action. And FE colleges are already striking. The potential exists to fight for radical, fundamental change to the education sector. It is our current leaders who seek to destroy this potential.
Defend pensions - defend education
The course ahead is clear. The deal must be rejected, so that the fight can go on. Members should sign this petition, created by activists from Goldsmiths, calling on members to reject the UUK’s offer and back an emergency Higher Education Sector Conference. This special meeting of branch delegates would be able to democratically debate strategy around the USS dispute.
At this special meeting, members should also move for a vote of no confidence against Sally Hunt and members of the Higher Education Committee who voted in favour of balloting members against their will.
This inadequate leadership should be removed and replaced with one that reflects our radical, fighting spirit.
From there, we must re-ballot on a broader remit: linking our fight for fair pensions to the wider struggle against casualisation and marketisation, and for free education.
This will allow us to unify with the student movement and other education workers, in order to take the fight to its source ‒ the Tory government and the capitalist system.
Hunt must go!