Joint Trade Unions statement on Cass, slavery and colonial legacy at City University

Many of us in the City community were unaware until last week that Sir John Cass, who City’s Business School is named after, was a major figure in the development of the trade in enslaved Black people. We are disgusted at what we have learnt.

Cass was a director of The Royal African Company, a company whose primary business was the enslavement and trafficking of Black people from West Africa. It appears that his role meant he dealt directly with the Captains of slave ships and would have been fully aware of the human cost and suffering through which he made his money.

The trade in enslaved Black people was genocide, perpetrated by Britain and other western states on free Black people from Africa. Those who profited and played a role in this reprehensible practice should in no way be publicly honoured.

Over a thousand City staff and students have signed a petition to demand that the Business School be renamed. We encourage our members to add their names here.

In response to City’s statement released Wednesday 10th June: We agree that it will be good to learn more about the history of Cass’ involvement in the trade in enslaved Black people. We further agree that it is necessary for City to review of all of the University’s historic sources of funding to determine if there are any other links with slavery. But the Business School must be renamed now.

London Metropolitan University has announced they will be renaming their Art School and removing Cass’ name. Their Vice Chancellor stated that:

“We recognise that the use of Sir John Cass’ name contributes to the redemption of a man without acknowledging the enormous pain he caused as a major figure in the early development of the slave trade, and the legacy of this pain.”

We call on City, and our President Paul Curran, to make a similar announcement on renaming our Business School. City cannot continue to contribute to Cass’ redemption. Staff, through their recognised trade unions, and students should be consulted on our Business School’s new name.

Further, we call on City to take this opportunity to commit to tackling the institutional racism of our University.

City must recognise that although we can point to individual sources of finance directly linked to the trade in enslaved Black people, our economy today is in its entirety built on the British Empire’s exploitation of enslaved Black people, which enabled modern capitalism to emerge. There is no part of our economy that has ‘clean’ hands and we must work together to change the racist structures in our society. To this end,

  • City must demonstrate its commitment to equality and justice immediately by ending the discriminatory practice of outsourcing of our cleaning and catering colleagues who are overwhelmingly Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.
  • City uses private contractors to employ these staff and they receive far worse terms and conditions than every other worker at City.
  • City must make a firm and binding commitment to closing the 22.3% racial pay gap at City.
  • City must ensure the eradication of racism in its hiring and promotion practices and ensure proportional Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation in its professoriat and its senior management/Executive Team.
  • City must support and protect its casualised members of staff who are disproportionately Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.
  • City must set up a cross-departmental “decolonising the curriculum” working group to ensure that British colonial history and Black history are a part of our students’ education.
  • City must commit and take concrete steps to closing the Black attainment gap.
  • City must offer full yearly scholarships to Black students starting in the 2020/21 academic year.
  • City must close its Dubai campus in recognition of Dubai’s atrocious human rights record that includes modern slavery.

These issues must be taken up by City as the start of a comprehensive re-evaluation of the colonial legacy of City. This must include not just conversations, gestures or meetings but substantive and far reaching change to the processes and practices of the academic, professional, and management structures of the University. City staff and students must be included in the process through the recognised Trade Unions, Staff BAME network and Students Union.

City University UCU Branch
City University UNISON Branch
City University Unite Branch

TU Recommendations from Homeworking Survey

The results of the TU Joint Survey show that staff are facing problems when working from home for City. There is also uncertainty about what might happen in the coming months but I think we cannot abandon efforts we have been making to make City a better place to work and study. It is the most important time for us to all stay in touch as best we each can to organise, support each other and be strong together even if that means doing so virtually.

That is why we are using the staff survey to drive the work of our branch in pushing City management and we hope you can join us at today’s meeting to catch up with each other. I certainly miss seeing many of you.


Almost 600 staff engaged with the survey and the trade unions have already been using these in our meetings with management. The needs that members have expressed have now been formed into a set of recommendations to management about homeworking in collaboration with our sister unions Unison and Unite. These are guiding the immediate efforts of the branch to counteract the presumption that we can be expected to deliver ‘business as usual’.

The Joint Union Recommendations were sent to City management yesterday, and we will also be presenting them for discussion at the branch meeting later today.


  • Today’s Branch Meeting is on Wednesday 22 April from 12:00 – 14:00 and will be held on Zoom.
  • To join the meeting, please using the joining information we went directly to you, or email to be re-sent these details.
  • Please join with your video disabled, leave your microphone muted (this is the default setting), and use the chat function if you would like to speak. This will make the meeting simpler to chair.  It is the first time we will have run a large virtual meeting, so please bear with us whilst we get to grips with the technology!
  • If there are specific concerns and issues you would like to raise, please email us beforehand at

Sean Rowlands
Vice-President City UCU

Joint Union Homeworking Survey – Coronavirus

Three weeks ago the recognised Trade Unions at City (UNISON, UCU and Unite) opened a joint-survey of staff on the University shutdown and home working. We are now pleased to share with you the survey report.

We launched the survey because we believed that it was urgent to find out more about how City staff were coping with changed working conditions. We asked City Senior Management if we could use internal email lists to distribute a survey to all members of staff. This request was refused. Instead we emailed a link to an online survey to our respective members and asked members to circulate the link among departmental colleagues in order to reach non-Union members. 

The executive summary of the report can be found below and the entire report is Joint Union Homeworking Survey – Report 17 April 2020

The three unions want to thank every respondent. Almost 600 staff engaged with the survey. Your response to this survey was magnificent, providing us with a detailed evidence base on which to better represent staff at City and hold management to account during this stressful period.

We will also be sending this report to University management and will request they address the many concerns raised by your responses.

Many non-union members also completed the survey. Please share this email with your colleagues so they can see the report and invite them to join one of the three trade unions too.

In solidarity,

Keith Simpson, City University UCU President

Dan Cowley, Unite Branch Secretary

Daniel Shannon-Hughes, UNISON Branch Secretary


Executive Summary

The following summarises the findings elaborated in this report. 

 Homework conditions: While 30% of staff have access to an office or study, almost half of all staff have no office equipment of any kind (neither chair nor desk). A small minority do not even have a table at which to work. These staff are sitting on the floor, bean-bags or on a bed. Much of the furniture used for homeworking is uncomfortable, especially over the long run and there are major concerns about health, especially musculoskeletal health. This is most severe for staff with pre-existing conditions. For many homeworking spaces are shared, which also produces problems for privacy.

 IT: Staff are reliant on often old and slow computer hardware. This is delaying work and increasing worries about completing work on time. Working on small laptop screens is also a major obstacle for colleagues used to a large, or multiple, screens. Intermittent or slow wifi also reduces productivity. Some staff are frustrated at having to use personal computer equipment for work demands where this is increasing the load and wear on less than robust technology and at the additional costs they are accruing in working at home. 

 Childcare: Approximately 30% of staff have childcare responsibilities, most for young (Primary or pre-Primary age) children. Most of these staff have joint childcare responsibility, but a large minority of female carers (and a much smaller minority of other carers) have sole childcare responsibility. Joint care tends to involve partners sharing variably, rather than allowing carers specified days or times to work, which increases unpredictability about availability or deadlines. Most staff with child-care responsibility can currently manage a reduced workload (e.g. half days), some can only do ‘light’ or ‘essential’ tasks, while for others even this much is ‘challenging’. Many of these staff are fitting work around childcare, working during naps or into the evening. These circumstances require changing managerial expectations and increased flexibility.

 Elder/Adult-Care: About a quarter of staff are involved in elder care either for someone they live with or someone living elsewhere. This may involve doing additional day-to-day tasks like shopping that need to be fit within the working day, but also involves significant worry. For this group a major concern is the anticipation that circumstances may suddenly worsen. 

 Communication: Quantitative scores on communication are largely positive, although academics are less positive than professional service staff. Staff are unhappy about the tone of some communication, however. 

 Work Performance and Expectations:  Staff judged their manager’s expectations on different aspects of their work as largely reasonable, although academic staff were more critical than professional service staff. In qualitative comments the positive overview was nuanced significantly. While lots of staff said their line-manager was ‘supportive’, this was not universal, with some criticising the lack of ‘checking in’. For many there were big concerns about timelines and deadlines. Even though the survey question asked about line managers, lots of respondents reframed this to focus on the expectations of Senior Managers who were seen as ultimately setting, and too often changing, priorities and deadlines. Where academic staff had been required to move to online teaching rapidly this was identified as creating a lot of stress. While the requirement to attend multiple ‘online meetings’ was an emerging problem. Staff also highlighted the problems of isolation for mental health and for maintaining productivity. 

 Looking Ahead: There was little expectation that staff constraints or capacity to work would change much over the next three months if the lockdown continued. But many staff commented on the ways that the experience of working from home would become more difficult as the goodwill required to transition wore thin and they started to ‘burn out’. Mental health was widely seen as at risk. The longer-term implications of bad workstations for back-pain in particular was raised by many. A number of staff with childcare responsibility believed that the ability to continue juggling was not sustainable. Where staff were in insecure contracts the future was especially bleak. 

 Worries: There was widespread worry about a range of Covid-19 related issues (own health; the health of a family member; financial worries; the state of the world; and generalised anxiety). Moreover, these worries are impacting work, with about sixty percent of staff stating that their concentration, and productivity, has been affected by their current emotional state. 

 Priorities: Key staff priorities for the short and medium term future included: ensuring job security; pushing for managers to recognise that this is not ‘business as usual’ and developing and communicating expectations on this basis; developing support for homeworking; prioritising staff health and safety; the development of transparent, inclusive and effective future planning; and cancelling strike deductions. 

 City’s Trade Unions: Although not asked about directly, respondents expressed considerable support for the role that the trade unions play at City, including the support and information they provide to members. 

Members Update – 13 January 20: Branch Meeting | PI Accounts

USS/Four Fights Branch Meeting

We are holding a Branch Meeting on Wednesday 22 January from 13:30 – 14:30 to discuss the next set of proposed strike dates. General Secretary Jo Grady sent out an email Friday, gathering members thoughts about the next steps for Four Fights, and what the next action should look like for both disputes. Members will note that our motion to HE Sector Conference was amended at the conference (there were a few amendments that set specific dates), and the proposed dates are Thursday 20th, Friday 21st, Monday 24th, Tuesday 25th, Wednesday 26th February; Monday 2nd, Tuesday 3rd, Wednesday 4th, Thursday 5th, Monday 9th, Tuesday 10th, Wednesday 11th, Thursday 12th, Friday 13th March.

We will have a guest speaker, and updates from Unison about the In-Sourcing campaign.

There is a national activists meeting on Saturday 25 January called by London Region and full details can be found here:

Vacancy on Branch Committee

Sadly, Emma Sheppard left City at the end of December for a permanent role at Coventry University, which means we have a vacancy for our Anti-Casualisation Officer post on the committee. This comes with a small amount of facility time that can be used to release you from duties or be paid as additional hours. You are eligible to hold the position if your: main employment is casualised, or you have, in the two years prior to nomination, been in casualised employment as your main employment.

Expressions of interest with a short statement of 250 words can be sent to me for co-option (deadline 31 January) at the next committee meeting (February).


We have been alerted to a new policy for Principal Investigator accounts containing funds accumulated from research projects which can be used at the Researcher’s discretion (please email for a copy). The change involves time-limits on funds and adds additional constraints to how these funds can be spent. The changes were not negotiated at the JCNB (Joint Consultative Negotiating Board) and we are challenging the 3-year limits on funds-use on equality grounds, and asking for further information on what is happening with historic funds.

If you have a PI account, please read through the new policy and your concerns to Your experience with PI accounts will strengthen our ability to challenge these changes. There may also be something in particular that we can help with in your case.

Back From the Pickets

A big and sincere thank you to our members for coming out these past 8 strike days and making this some of the most well attended strike action we have ever had.

Action Sort of Strike (ASOS) and Working to Contract

Returning to work means we move to action sort of strike. The Union has publish comprehensive guidance which can be found here: It has suggestions about what you should do if your contract does not explicitly state contracted hours or if you are hourly paid.

We will have some further guidance shortly for HPVL/GTA staff, as well as further information about revising assessments.

Some suggested text to include in your email signature is as follows:

Please note that I am currently taking Action Short of a Strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension, for real progress on closing the gender pay gap, and stopping the abuse of casualised contracts in Higher Education. Response times may be slower for the duration of the dispute, especially outside of normal working hours. Please support university staff by writing to university management asking them to resume negotiations with UCU immediately. *

*If most of your emails are with staff members you could include:

You can donate to our local fighting fund that supports members who have lost pay for taking strike action: UCU City LA14 Hardship Fund           Account: 20324559     Sort code: 60-83-01

As we return to work it is important to remember that there are a variety of reasons members who take strike action don’t attend pickets, but one of the results of striking alone is that some members will be feeling isolated. Please talk to one another in order to retain and extend the solidarity and collective strength of the picket-lines. But also, practically, to discuss ASOS and strategies to fight victimisation by management.

If you feel able, we encourage you to hold informal departmental or group meetings about how to manage ASOS in your area. If you would like a member of the committee to attend a local departmental meeting you have arrange please email us and we will arrange this.

If you hear of any threats of deductions, please report these immediately to us the Branch Officers.

We have strength as a collective, and it is important for us to continue this collective strength on our return.

Declaring Strike Action

If you are asked directly by your manager or HR then you should proudly declare that you took strike action and the days you took the action. We do not consider all staff emails about the pro-forma that were sent before and during the strike as requests we have to respond to. If a week has passed and you still have not been directly asked if you took strike action, we would then suggest completing the pro-forma that Mary Luckiram sent by Friday 13th December.

The university conceded to split deductions across 3 months, but there were other requests we made about deductions that we do not feel were honoured. There is therefore no incentive for us to assist management in carrying out their responsibility on this matter and see no reason for members to meet the very short deadline of the 6th December, given that we have just been on strike for 8 days, and our priorities will be managing students’ expectations, replying to their queries, and looking at what can be done about content missed for assessments. Some of us may also have urgent research or other deadlines.

Action from the pickets

For those that weren’t on the WhatsApp groups we have included a few highlights from our pickets, with special thanks to Robert Byford ( who captured some incredible pictures of our rally with the General Secretary, and students, some of which made the Financial Times.

General Secretary Jo Grady and members after lunch time rally in the rain

City UCU Pikcet Line at Gray’s Inn Place

City UCU members at Myddleton Building picket line.

City UCu members at Rhind Building picket

City UCU members at Centenary Building picket

City UCU members at Cass Business School

City UCU members at College Building picket

Health & Safety Rep Stan modelling his work place stress t-shirt

City UCU President Keith speaking at lunch time rally

Strike Information! Timeline for action and key dates

We will be holding a final pre-action Branch meeting on:

Thursday 21st November


AG22 (College Building)

Please attend if at all possible to discuss the strike and finalise preparations for the commencement of our action.


Make sure you that on Monday, 25th November, Day One of our action you join us from 7.30 am on the picket lines across City’s campus from Bunhill Row (Cass) to Northampton Square and on to Gray’s Inn Place (Law). Let’s show City’s Executive that once again CityUCU members mean business.




Before the Strike:

Read the National and CityUCU FAQs.

Meet with others in your Group or Department and work out ways to act collectively. If you identify any issues about which you have concerns or are confused let us know. It will be especially important to communicate consistently with students.

Use our slides to inform your students that you will be taking strike action, and why – click here to download the slides.. Some students won’t know what a Trade Union, or a strike is. Explain these and why we are taking action and provide personal experiences if you want, about why you are participating.

Sign up to our WhatsApp group to keep up to date with information during the strike. To join email your name and phone number to

Let us know if you want to organise a teach-out or picket line. On different days we will be focusing on the different themes that make up our claims, including casualization, the gender pay gap, workload, pay and pensions. If you have an idea about how to develop protest materials around any one of these, let us know.

Remember to turn your out of office on at the end of your last working day of the week. We’ll send some suggested wording.


During the Strike

We will have pickets at each entrance to the University (setting up from 7.30am, with pickets from 8am to 12 noon). If you work in a particular building and would like to picket that building with colleagues, let us know. Otherwise just turn up to College Building and we’ll suggest a place for you to go.

Join us for a solidarity rally most lunchtimes during the strike in Northampton Square at 12.30pm.

We plan to have lunchtime meetings 1-2pm most strikedays. We’re still locating a venue and will confirm details once we do.

The most up-to-date information on actions will be communicated via WhatsApp and in person at the picket line. We will also send update emails periodically, but obviously this is hard to do while we’re all picketing!

There will be some London-wide actions that will bring us together with members from other striking branches. More to follow on this – please keep an eye on emails, twitter, and whatsapp.


After the strike

Unless anything changes we will be participating in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). That means working to contract and not doing voluntary work, not rescheduling, nor covering the work of colleagues.

When you are asked, please provide information about the days you have been on strike. If there are any pressures put on you with respect to participating in legally sanctioned strike action, please let us know immediately.

City UCU at the Global Climate Strike

On Friday 20th September, members of the City UCU branch joined the official activity outside Islington Town Hall, standing in solidarity with other organisations such as the local NUT and Culpeper Community Garden, as well as students and even a certain local MP. The rally was part of the much larger London march, but it was brilliant to have a (smaller) local event, and to see our members getting involved.

Two branch members holding The UCU City University London banner. The banner shows several coloured squares surrounding a representation of London and the River Thames. Sean, a man in his 30s, holding a pole supporting the City UCU banner. The banner shows several coloured squares surrounding a representation of London and the River Thames. women holding a large fabric banner suspended on poles. it is a sunny day and she is wearing sunglasses.A speaker standing in front of crowdsJeremy Corbin - locking up his bike









A big thank you to all who made it, and all who stood in solidarity.

Two ballots open 9 September 2019 for Pensions and Pay & Equality

As you may have seen in recent emails from the UCU, our newly elected General Secretary Jo Grady and our UCU branch President Keith Simpson, TWO BALLOTS ON INDUSTRIAL ACTION STARTED ON MONDAY 9 SEPTEMBER.

Click the pictures for more information on the UCU website.

It is vital that members express their opinion on these disputes. Your elected branch committee and national executive voted to urge you to vote yes to strike action, and yes to action short of a strike for both the Pay and Equality Ballot, and the USS Ballot.

As there are two simultaneous ballots, I want to describe each dispute in turn, with some reference to what they mean here for us at City, University of London.

USS Pensions

The Joint Expert Panel (set up following the last UCU industrial action protected defined benefit pensions) made seven recommendations, and remodelled the costs of them based on the new 2018 valuation USS Trustees made, confirmed contributions could return to 26% of salary, split between employers (18%) and employees (8%).

Employers, including City, are refusing to push for a full implementation of the JEP recommendations. Our management are facilitating higher employee (9.6%) and employer (21.1%) contributions unnecessarily.Schools and Professional services at City have already been asked to generate 2% more income and we know that for most departments this has meant cuts to budgets. However, City management have not challenged these added pension costs in a way that other University management representatives have done at the UUK. We need to raise the pressure on them with a credible threat of action.

In the previous industrial action on the USS pension, the union members across the country revealed faulty calculations and bad governance fed into an unwarranted proposal to undermine the basic set up of our pension. Bad governance in USS and UUK is still a problem, frustrating a solution that the employer’s own representatives on the JEP recommended in consensus with staff representatives.

We need to stand up against these choices with the credible threat of strike action.

Pay and Equality

Part of the USS pension valuation methodology assumed we were getting 4% pay rises every year, and would continue to get 4% pay rises in the future but we know that is not the reality. Last year was 2%,  2017- 18 negotiations were 1.7%, and the 2016-17 negotiations saw an offer of 1.1% revised from 0.9% after strike action. In each of these recent pay and equality negotiations, UUK have given empty promises on closing the gender pay gap, reducing precarious contract use, and alleviating at workloads.

City’s pay gap data is extensive, according City’s own Equal Pay Audit 2017/18:

  • women on average paid 18.5% less than men,
  • disabled workers paid 7.7% less than non-disabled workers,
  • and black workers paid 24.6% less than white workers

As with many institutions around the UK, initiatives and programmes are in place at City but it has not been enough. Improvements have been slow at City and inequality is persisting or even rising in particular categories or job roles.

At Professorial grades, the Gender Pay Gap at City rose from a staggering 36.3% in 2016/17 to 38.0% in 2017/18. Meanwhile City increasingly relies on casualised workers such as VLs or colleagues on fixed term contracts with many at City concerned about their precarious position and second tier employment. Our colleagues on lower grades at City are in particularly difficult situations, with real term cuts over many years on already low salaries.

City does have money, however it is committed to maintaining a surplus each year as this makes us look healthy to creditors so they we can continue to borrow money for investment projects. For example, in last July’s financial report to council showed a £7.7 million budget surplus for City.

Holding back our pay is a choice made by management at City that affects the livelihood of staff disproportionately; especially those of us already in vulnerable and unequal positions such as women, BAME, disabled and casualised colleagues.

UCU has been negotiating with employers nationally with modest demands. We have offered a compromise but by offering 1.8% rise, well below inflation, they have failed meet us halfway. They have also not made any credible commitment for action on inequality or casualization.

We need to stand up against these choices with the credible threat of strike action.

Sean Rowlands

CITY UCU Vice President and representative

City Law School Academics and the move to Open Plan

The City Law School Academic staff, around 60 people, are in the process of being moved to the basement of Myddleton Building, which is an open plan office space. The move is said to be temporary – until the new Law School building is built – but the problems are multifold. Firstly, many staff have indicated that they will not be able to carry out the work they are contracted to do in an open plan space, second: the move was decided without any staff or union consultation, third, although part of the staff have already been moved and the remainder will be moved by end of July, there isn’t as yet sufficient space to meet with students, make phone or skype calls, or work quietly, to store books and papers, the Myddleton office refit isn’t yet complete, with construction still taking place while CLS staff need to continue to work, and the fear exists among staff that the move to open plan will be replicated in the new Sebastian Street building and across the university. Finally, two CLS UCU reps, Grietje Baars and Mazen Masri, were subjected to intimidation and victimisation for speaking out against the move on behalf of their colleagues.

It is a matter of fact that for most people, tasks that require a high degree of concentration and focus, are not possible to carry out in an open plan office. This includes research and writing and many other tasks (across different roles in the university). An open plan office forces people to work from home or elsewhere and this disproportionately negatively impacts, 1) women, BAME people, and sexual minorities, who due to the gender and race pay gap tend to have lower salaries and thus are more likely to live in rented, shared accommodation and unlikely to have space to work at home; 2) people with disabilities and health (e.g. back) conditions who may find it more difficult to find an accessible workspace elsewhere, or who need special desks, chairs etc which they don’t have at home or in e.g. the British Library – and those with mental health conditions which are triggered or exacerbated by the situation not the least stress and anxiety.

It is also an ongoing practice in the City Law School that when a research & teaching employee does not produce the required 3 or 4* (world-leading) REF-able articles each year, they are directly penalised by an increase in teaching hours the following year. Retention and promotion are subject to academic output. CLS academic staff have upwards of 60 personal tutees each, in addition to the students they teach and see in office hours, LLB and LLM dissertation supervisees and PhD students. All of these require a private and safe space for meeting, mentoring and support, at scheduled times but often also on an ad hoc basis. The NSS scores for law are directly related to the personal support and individual feedback students receive from their tutors. Thus, with a lack of meeting spaces and quiet working space for writing, City stands to lose dramatically in the key rankings of the REF and NSS, which will have disastrous student recruitment and thus financial consequences. Additionally, the move is triggered by a decision to get rid of the flagship Gray’s Inn premises, which has been one of the main selling points for the CLS professional programmes, and so again is likely to have a negative impact on student numbers.

The School of Health Sciences has moved to open plan, a decision that has been described by many SHS staff as deleterious. For the reasons mentioned above in relation to CLS specifically, but also because of the experience of SHS staff, and the copious amounts of internationally published research documenting the negative effects of open plan on productivity and staff mental health and retention, it is clear that this situation is unacceptable.

As UCU Reps we have a lot of other things on our plates and other battles to fight. The open plan office issue may seem relatively minor. But with dozens of workers simply unable to do their jobs they are contracted to do, with potentially disastrous impacts on the REF and student education and experience, this is rather fundamental. Ultimately this decision is financially motivated (other suitable office spaces are available to rent locally) and part of a growing trend to treat the university as a business, where managers exploit students and staff to create a fancy-looking enterprise where real education and research are no longer thought important.

Report from #UCU2018 Congress

Many members will have heard rumours about what happened at UCU’s national Congress this year. Not least from the voluminous information on social media (e.g. the hashtag #UCU2018). And even if you missed it on social media, members will have received Sally Hunt’s email in which she provides a brief, and perhaps confusing, picture of what occurred.

Below is a report from Rachel Cohen, an outgoing member of the National Executive Committee and a member of the City UCU Executive Committee.

What is Congress?

There are three days of UCU national meetings. The first and third are Congress and involve everyone. The second day splits into Sector Conferences, one each for HE and FE (HESC and FESC). Congress focuses on internal union matters and whole-union issues, such as support for equalities. The HESC and FESC focus on action within our sector, including industrial disputes over pension and pay.

Congress is attended by delegates from most branches and regions (the number of delegates who goes is in proportion to branch size). Branches can submit motions to Congress in advance on any aspect of UCU activity. The Congress Business Committee (CBC) determines whether motions are appropriate within Congress standing orders and if they are they are scheduled on the agenda. Congress delegates then vote on these (some require a 50% majority to pass; others – typically those involving a change to rules – two-thirds). If passed they become policy. Congress is chaired by the UCU President, at UCU2018 this was Joanna de Groot (following Congress it passed to Vicky Knight).

Full information on the motions submitted to and passed by Congress is here:

What happened?

The first thing to say is that Day 2 was not disrupted and delegates debated and agreed some really important things relating to our ongoing USS dispute, imminent dispute over pay and equalities and much more. Moreover, the motions from City about increasing transparency in UCU were also passed. More on this at the end – in the section on reasons to be optimistic.

Both days 1 and 3 were, however, suspended multiple times. And, eventually, at 1.18pm on day 3 (Friday 1st July) delegates were told that Congress was over. This caused considerable dissent and the majority of Congress delegates signed a statement #ourUCU.

The main cause of the disruption were two motions, 10 and 11, submitted by the University of Exeter and Kings College London branches, and ruled onto the Congress business by CBC. These, respectively, asked Congress to ‘call for’ Sally Hunt to resign, and sought to ‘censure’ her for the ways in which she reported the 28 March branch delegate meeting in all-member emails. It was almost incredible that motion 10 (call for resignation) would pass, but possible that motion 11 might. Had they passed they would have no constitutional power within the union but would have indicated members’ dissatisfaction with aspects of the General Secretary’s representation and leadership.

Delegates were not, however, able to debate either motion, despite voting four times (by increasing majorities) for the right to do so. Instead the staff employed by UCU, who work to support the Congress, including acting as tellers, and who are represented by Unite, staged a walkout and were joined by the General Secretary and the entire Presidential Team. They argued that because the General Secretary is given a five-year contract of employment once elected (n.b. something also true of MPs) criticism of her representation of members amounts to (as Sally Hunt has argued in her email on Monday) ‘very serious disciplinary penalties on an employee of the union while denying them the due process’. It was further claimed that this threatened the livelihood and wellbeing of the union’s employed staff. Yet, the only staff-member referred to by either motion was the General Secretary, who as well as being elected is also UCU CEO and line manages all staff.

Importantly, in the General Secretary’s framing of events, no distinction is drawn between a) disciplining an employee, which might occur if, for instance, work is not completed or if there are accusations of bullying towards another staff member, and b) political discussion of the adequacy, or otherwise, of an elected officer’s representation of members. Delegates rejected this conflation and voted for an emergency late motion (L8), which reaffirmed that ‘all elected officers of UCU can be subjected to criticism by members in relation to their representation of members’ and that ‘we cannot allow motions voicing dissent with the GS not to be debated.’

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of what happened was that delegates from Exeter and Kings, including new UCU members and first-time congress attendees, several of whom are on casualised contracts, were repeatedly pressured to withdraw motions their branches had voted on and mandated them to speak to and which had been submitted almost a month previously, according to the rules. This caused understandable, but avoidable, upset.

The Congress finally ended after the staff walked out and the Chair suspended congress for half an hour. The standing orders of Congress state (#33):

“In the event of grave disorder the Chair may suspend a session for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. Any subsequent decision to suspend Conference during the same session shall be open to challenge in accordance with Standing Order 26.”

The Chair did not, however, return and so could not be challenged. Instead a senior member of staff declared that Congress was ended and turned off all microphones and AV equipment.

At this point the majority of delegates, from across different/no factions elected a new Chair, incoming Vice-President Nita Sanghera, and collectively agreed the ‘Our UCU’ statement, below:

We UCU elected delegates voted repeatedly in line with the advice of our Congress Business Committee to hear motions criticising the General Secretary which were in order. Unfortunately, the General Secretary and a narrow majority of the National Executive Committee refused to accept the right of Congress to debate these motions.  We believe the union members have the right to hold our most senior elected officials to account. This is a basic democratic right in all trade union and representative systems (e.g., Parliament). We disagree with the walkouts and reject the notion that the motions include a threat to undermine staff terms and conditions. There is no issue with the conduct and performance of our wonderful and hardworking UCU staff members. To turn a debate about our democratic process as a union into a procedural employment dispute is to evacuate our capacity to act as a political body. We resolve to continue to conduct the campaigns and defence of our members over pay and pensions that we all agree on and also to urge a debate in all branches and union bodies to discuss democracy in our union. We also resolve to continue the motions at a recall conference and not be distracted from the campaign to defend our members’ jobs, pay and pensions.

Throughout the three days of Congress the General Secretary was present but chose not to speak to delegates about this issue, despite being explicitly asked for her perspective. The email sent on Monday 4th June was therefore the first comment from Sally Hunt. This is especially disappointing, since an all-member email prevents members from engaging in the two-way dialogue that is possible at Congress.

Was there anything to be optimistic about?

Despite the upheaval described above there were some very good things that happened at Congress.

  1. We voted to hold a Democracy Commission to review and proposed changes to our union. This is clearly timely and will hopefully avoid such things happening again.
  2. We voted for motions, including 9 and L1 from City, that will increase the transparency and accountability of decision making in our union.
  3. We voted to make our subscription rates more progressive this year and in future years, including a an amendment from City which reinforces this.
  4. We voted for a Higher Education Sector Conference with decision making powers to discuss the report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) on USS, when this reports (probably in September). That will put members and branches in the driving seat in determining future action. We also voted to push for greater transparency from the JEP as it does its work.
  5. In line with City amendment HE1A.2 (which also passed) we voted to rename the HE Pay Claim the HE Pay and Equality Campaign and several motions argued for a focus on casualisation, equality and workload, and to decrease pay differentials as we pursue this in the autumn. This provides UCU with a way to fight for our most precarious members, many of whom were on the picket lines this spring defending a pension scheme they are not currently paying into.
  6. Positive commitments to take collective action on pay and were voted on in FE and on the defence of workload and contracts in post-92 institutions.
  7. Finally, the upheaval at Congress produced #ourUCU, a coming together of members united in their determination to make our union more democratic and transparent. While, therefore, the struggle to assure open debate, produced chaos and upset at Congress and was distressing for many, in the long-run it may herald the start of a better and stronger union, in which the many new members who have joined are more invested and more ready to fight for the future of education.

Further reading:

There have been various other delegate reports from Congress. I especially recommend this one from Novara Media:

Or you can listen to a couple of podcasts about what happened? and where next? featuring delegates who were at Congress (inc me in the second one). Sound quality is not perfect, but you get a good sense of what went on.

To find out more about the ourUCU statement, its signatories and the ongoing fight for democracy in UCU please follow @ourUCU.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in some background reading on how UCU works, before all of this kicked off I wrote a longer piece for ‘USSBriefs’ on UCU’s national democratic structures: A case for reform