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: https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2018

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: http://novaramedia.com/2018/06/04/ourucu-the-real-culmination-of-the-ucus-turnaround-year.

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

Report from HEC meeting 27 April 2018

This report represents the personal views of Rachel Cohen, NEC member for HE, London and the East and member of CityUCU.

At the Higher Education Committee (HEC) on 27th April, members voted in favour of a report from officials which set out a series of recommendations. These will determine how the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to investigate the USS valuation is constituted and reports. At the Joint Negotiating Committee (between UCU and UUK) later that day the January Defined Contribution proposal was taken off the table. This was a major victory, and the result of our collective action. But the preceding HEC meeting highlighted the need to democratise our union’s spaces or this is not going to be a sustainable victory.

HEC Meeting:

We received the official’s report and recommendations at the start of the meeting (11.05) and were given twenty minutes to read it. When the discussion on this began we were initially allocated 45 minutes. This was later extended to about 1.5 hours, which included a short break for lunch. It also included multiple disputes about how the discussion was structured. The Chair, Douglas Chalmers, ruled that:

  •  we could not amend *anything* in the official’s report, including recommendations, terms of reference, proposed timings, or proposed method of selecting UCU JEP members;
  • that most other motions would fall if we voted through the report even though there was no obvious reason why most were contrary to the report’s recommendations – or why there should be these ‘consequentials’;
  • that we would vote on the official’s report first. This needlessly put people in a bind. For instance, I thought most of the report and recommendations were good, but wanted to amend some parts and did not want to lose the other motions on the table. Therefore I ended up voting against it. This should not have happened.

I and other members of the HEC made formal ‘challenges to the chair’ to overturn these decisions. In all cases these challenges were lost, with a majority voting in favour of the Chair’s organisation of the meeting.

Because time was short the report was introduced by the official, everyone who had submitted a motion was given up to two minutes to propose their motion. We then went straight to vote on the report, with no opportunity to discuss or debate either the report or motions, which contained critical decisions about the JEP and UCU’s involvement in it.

Key points of contention/decision included:

1) The JEP Chair will be approved by the SWG (Superannuation Working Group) and UUK – there are already suggested names that our officials know about, but we were provided with no additional information about who they were or how these people might be selected.

2) The UCU JEP members will be selected by SWG on the basis of a person specification that was distributed. An amendment that would require that SWG shortlist candidates to ensure suitability but that UCU members (either at Congress or via e-ballot) are then given the opportunity to elect our representatives was not permitted as an amendment (based on the logic that we cannot amend reports). It was then submitted as a motion and was judged to have fallen when the report was passed. This means members will have no direct say in our JEP representatives.

3) JEP is expected to issue its first report on the 2017 valuation in Sept 2018. It will then work on more general issues around the valuation. It was not entirely clear how the first report will or will not be constrained in lieu of more general agreements on valuation.

4) A motion that I submitted that would have ensured UCU JEP members are accountable to members (see below) was ruled to have fallen. This would have required regular reports to members, provided a means by which members could contact UCU JEP members and engage with the process and would have scheduled a voting delegate meeting to review the report in September. I argued that transparency and accountability were critical and that there was nothing in this motion that was in conflict with the report, but the Chair insisted that it fell when the report passed. Other motions that called for a special meeting to discuss the ongoing dispute also fell.

5) The terms of reference for the JEP emphasise ‘Confidentiality’ – for ‘all panel meetings’ and ‘all material provided to the panel …whether from the evidence pack, expert witnesses or submitted evidence.’ This was challenged. I asked why transparency wasn’t the default with confidentiality only if and as when absolutely essential. We were told that this ‘would not work’.

6) Several motions that required negotiators or the JEP to take particular positions also fell, including one that required the HEC mandated UCU negotiators to vote in favour of the removal of DC (now achieved via the JNC), removing the proposal for cost sharing and extending the implementation deadline.

7) On equalities (an update because some people have asked about this). There was no mention of equality in the initial specification for JEP members. I submitted an amendment to correct this, but was not permitted to amend this in the meeting for the reasons discussed above. In this case, however, we were assured by the official that it would be included in the final version of the specifications. This is obviously a good thing. But the fact that this can informally be changed highlights that there was no need to prevent amendments to other aspects of the report and recommendations.

The second part of the meeting was spent discussing the pay claim and various other reports. These were less controversial. But time remained short and discussion abbreviated.

This was a thoroughly frustrating meeting. We had a rushed discussion of a critical issue in which key decisions were made without any discussion.

It is likely that the issues relating to UCU internal democracy will be central to discussions at the upcoming UCU Congress. City has submitted a motion on this (see end of previous blog post), as have other branches.

Additional Note:

My motion to HEC: ‘Holding the JEP Accountable’

HEC notes concerns about USS and UUK accountability and transparency and that similar concerns have been raised about the working processes of the JEP.

HEC resolves:
• To name and provide contact information for UCU members of the JEP;
• To provide regular (typically monthly) opportunities for branches and members to receive reports from and ask questions of UCU JEP members;
• To facilitate open calls to a wider group of interested parties, including members, inviting contributions to JEP deliberations around specific topics;
• To call on the JEP to provide an interim report by the start of September 2018, in which any agreed understandings and terms of reference are reported, key points of difference clarified and future reporting and meeting dates of JEP, JNC and USS are detailed;
• To hold a branch delegates meeting, with voting rights and HEC (or ‘National Strike Committee’) to discuss the interim report.

This motion fell because the Chair said it was incompatible with the official’s report and the latter was voted on first and agreed.

Emergency Branch Meeting – 5 April 2018

On Thursday 5 April about 60 members attended an Emergency General Meeting of City UCU. Most of the meeting was spent discussing the pensions dispute. There were a lot of questions and members raised concerns about the clarity – or lack of clarity – of the latest offer.

Members present were very clear that the unity that our branch has achieved should not be undermined. Our branch has grown in number, with about 190 new members since January. We have also grown in strength and confidence. Whatever the outcome of this vote, we will need to continue to work together to fight on pensions now and in the future, but also to fight on the issues that are impacting our everyday working lives at City: workload, casualisation, bullying, inequality and more.

A motion (copied in full below) in support of a ‘No’ vote was moved and was passed by a majority of those at the meeting. As such City UCU Branch Policy, as democratically decided is to RECOMMEND A NO VOTE in the current USS ballot for the reasons outlined in the motion. The vote on the motion was not, however, unanimous and a significant minority of members at the meeting either voted against or abstained. We recognise that this difference of opinion will persist and we strongly support ongoing comradely dialogue and discussion.

The branch vote to support a reject vote rested on the belief that UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents. And that industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

For those looking for more detailed rationales on why our branch voted to recommend a No vote we recommend the collection of USSBriefs https://ussbriefs.com/, to which our member, Claire Marris, has contributed. These include three briefs (ussbriefs6, ussbriefs11 and ussbriefs14) that detail the arguments in favour of a No vote as well as other material on the background to the dispute and that provide other perspectives.

In line with the motion we will also be calling on the national union to hold a special conference on USS before or after the May Congress. This is to enable the broader discussion and concerns of members to be voiced and to create the time and space to develop national pension policy in a democratic way.

We also very briefly discussed, and passed unanimously, a motion that we will submit to UCU Congress. This motion is an attempt to address the concerns of members about transparency in the way that our union operates nationally during a dispute.

Members have until 14:00 on Friday 13 April to vote in the ballot, and we would encourage all members to vote whatever their inclination is.

City UCU Committee

Motion in support of a NO vote – passed by a majority.

This UCU branch notes:

  1. the support and energy of our membership during the course of the fourteen days of strike action in defence of our pensions the branch delegates meeting (held on the 28th March at UCU HQ, London) on the USS dispute where last-minute evidence was tabled, on which delegates had no opportunity to consult their members;
  2. that at the conclusion of the branch delegates meeting no vote was taken on what was clearly the crucial issue the Higher Education Committee (HEC) were going to decide on afterwards – whether to send the UUK offer as it stands to a ballot or not;
  3. that according to branch delegates present at the meeting a majority of branches favoured a ‘revise and resubmit’ position rather than putting the current offer to ballot;
  4. the HEC meeting decided by a narrow majority of 10-8 to ballot members on a proposal from UUK whose wording was not the outcome of a formal negotiating process between the properly constituted UCU negotiating group on USS and UUK;
  5. that the UUK offer contains many areas of uncertainty that need to be clarified before an offer can be accepted, including:
  6. There have been no details provided by UUK about how it envisages any revised contributions and benefits will be shared between the employer and USS members.
  7. There have been no details provided by UUK about the valuation that will be used to inform the future pension scheme.  Our principle worry is shared by leading pensions experts who warn that unless this uncertainly is cleared up, the offer on the table will simply revert to the notorious ‘November valuation’ provided by USS.  If this happens, our pension would revert to being a defined contribution scheme by default and the UUK offer would be effectively nullified.
  8. We have no concrete assurances about the intent of USS and the Pensions Regulator that any mutually agreed settlement will be acceptable to them.  This is important, since any deal requires the final agreement of both.   However, since the offer was made public, USS has signaled its intention to revert to the November valuation.

This UCU branch believes:

  1. That UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents
  2. That industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

This UCU branch resolves:

  1. To recommend to members to vote against the UUK proposal in the consultation
  2. To circulate this petition to members along with other materials urging a vote against the UUK proposal: https://goo.gl/forms/jpuLLPtkgLOigF2O2
  3. To call for a Special Meeting of UCU Higher Education Sector Conference to discuss the USS dispute under Rule11.* If possible this Special Meeting would be held immediately prior to or following Congress.

Late Congress Motion: Union transparency and accountability during disputes – passed unanimously.

The USS dispute, branch delegate and HEC meetings and ballot have produced member anger around issues of transparency and accountability within UCU.

Congress resolves that:

  1. The role and purpose of Branch Delegate Meetings during a dispute should be clarified, including voting rights (per branch or weighted by membership and when and how votes can be called).
  2. During a dispute, any five HEC/FEC members may call for a reconvened meeting of HEC/FEC, within two weeks, to progress the dispute.
  3. HEC/FEC must agree contextual information accompanying national ballots of members. Ballot text will be circulated to branch officers at least 1 working day in advance of the ballot going live.
  4. A means for members/branches to contact HEC/FEC members is publicised.
  5. Information about upcoming HEC/FEC/NEC meetings and agenda items is publicised.
  6. Mechanisms for HEC/FEC to consider relevant branch motions is determined.

A reflection on today’s UCU meetings [28 March 2018].

The following is a personal reflection on the meetings that took place on 28 March at UCU HQ from Rachel Cohen.

There were two meetings at UCU HQ today. At 11am was a Branch Delegates Meeting, with delegates from most of the striking universities. This was followed by a Higher Education Committee (HEC) meeting. I, and other members of the HEC, attended the Delegates meeting, to listen to what was said, but we did not participate.

The Branch Delegates Meeting

At the start of the Branch Delegates Meeting Sally outlined the process by which UUK had arrived at the current proposal. She also distributed a printed copy of a letter from Alistair Jarvis, UUK Chief Executive, in which he said that UUK ‘are committed to maintaining a meaningful Defined Benefit pension offer at this valuation.’ And that UUK would like to ‘rebuild the trust that has been damaged’.

Some members’ concerns were covered by this letter and by oral assurances from Sally about USS trustees and the Pension Regulator’s willingness to work with UUK and UCU. But many other questions remained. These included, but were not limited to questions about how the Joint Expert Panel would be constituted; about formal equality assurances; about timing and deadlines; about decision making within the new body; about responding to local reprisals, and much more. Several delegates asked why, since we were in a position of strength, we were simply accepting what UUK offered us.

While most welcomed Sally’s clarifications, several branch delegates expressed frustration that new assurances were being given at the meeting, so that it was impossible to discuss these within branches, nor could they feed into member responses. Consequently, Branch Reports were punctuated with delegates guessing whether the concessions were sufficient to assuage their members’ concerns.

Branch reports followed the Q&A and were brief but much more varied than at the meeting two weeks ago when members almost unanimously rejected the 12 March ‘deal’. A couple of trends stood out, however:

  • Where branches had members’ meetings (many had been very large meetings) large majorities tended to vote in favour of some version of “Revise and Resubmit” – mandating our negotiators to go back to UUK with a counter-offer that built on UUK’s proposal, while adding clarification/specification. Some of these branches had voted in favour of ‘no detriment’ motions. Others had not, but were nonetheless clear that the current offer was essentially a first draft on which the employers should be pushed for further concessions.
  • Where branches had conducted e-ballots they typically got majorities ‘in favour’. But these were a little difficult to interpret because different questions were asked: some branches asked members whether they were in favour of the offer and others asked whether they were in favour of going to ballot. Several delegates pointed out that members frequently added qualitative provisos to their votes (in either direction). Only some branches included a ‘middle ground’ in e-ballots. Typically, ‘revise and resubmit’ or ‘continue negotiations and then ballot’. Where a middle option was included it seemed popular.
  • Where branches had held both e-ballots and meetings both the above trends were sometimes visible. Moreover, delegates reported that members who had voted one way in an e-ballot sometimes changed their mind after coming to a meeting and discussing the issues in more detail, suggesting the dynamic nature of the debate.

Taking all of this into account, my sense was that overall there was a small, but clear, majority of branches whose members were in favour of ongoing negotiations (at least 60%), but with considerable variation around what the primary target/minimum outcome of negotiation might be.

On several occasions a delegate suggested a vote to get a non-binding sense of this (yellow voting cards had been supplied). The chair, UCU President Joanna de Groot, rejected this suggestion, and no votes occurred. In consequence, any tallies about branch opinion – whether those made by officials or by observers like me – are speculative.

The HEC

When the Delegates Meeting ended the HEC went downstairs. The meeting started late and only at 2.50pm did we receive a paper from officials that contained a recommended course of action (including going to ballot). We were given ten minutes to read this paper, alongside six motions submitted by HEC members. The meeting finally started at 3pm with a ten minute presentation of the official paper and ended an hour later. Given that there were 19 voting USS-HEC members present, alongside paid officials and other (non-voting non-USS) HEC members, the time for discussion was very limited, and debate was minimal.

The most critical decision of the meeting was taken by the Chair, UCU Vice-President Douglas Chalmers (see below for more on who chairs these meetings), when he ordered the business for discussion as follows: a) that if HEC voted to accept the official recommendations all other motions would fall (except one, which would be remitted), and b) that HEC would vote on the officials’ paper first. Some of us challenged, but were were unable to change, this decision. The Chair’s ordering of business meant that any HEC member broadly sympathetic to the officials’ paper, which included balloting members (no timeframe given), who *also* wanted to see some changes negotiated first, was unable to vote for this combination. Instead it became a binary debate: for a ballot or not. As has been communicated elsewhere, the vote on this paper was 10 for, 8 against (including me), and one HEC member abstained out of (understandable) frustration at this process.

Among the motions that were consequently ruled to have fallen were ones that I and others had submitted and that covered a range of changes to the timing, scope, language and process of what was being proposed, including one on ‘no detriment’. I was frustrated – and confused – that a motion I’d put about transparency and accountability in decision making during industrial disputes fell. A consequence of going to ballot should not be that we also fail to agree a more transparent process for future decision making. Most frustrating, however, was that we were unable to vote on a motion that, written in response to the Delegate Meeting discussion, proposed a three-week revise and resubmit process (week one to develop a counter-proposal; week two to negotiate; week three to discuss outcome with branches and reconvene HEC), after which we could potentially go to ballot. This relatively short timeline would have allowed us to retake ownership of the agenda, without delaying decision-making in an irreversible way. This was designed as a consensus motion. I believe that most members – including those who want to be balloted – would happily wait three weeks to see what else is possible.

Finally, some of us asked about, but were not able to discuss, what would be on the consultative ballot. My understanding is that it will *not* have a recommendation to accept or reject (the HEC would have to vote on this and we did not). Nonetheless meaning may be conveyed by the contextual information sent out with the ballot.

As this has emerged as an issue since, I want to state categorically that at NO point did anyone in any position suggest we suspend the action before the ballot results were known.

This HEC left me with various thoughts.

  • Pensions: We are going to have to remain vigilant and ready to take further serious action. This may be in May/June if the consultative ballot is ‘Reject’. If not it’s likely to be next year after we know more about the valuation. The assurances so far in place, whether from UUK, tPR or USS, are not strong enough and we have learnt that the only thing that makes UUK accountable is us posing a credible threat. We have done that brilliantly in this dispute, showing strength of purpose and unity.
  • The ballot: we don’t yet know exactly what will be on it, and my impression is that neither do Sally or our officials, who continue to seek ‘clarifications’ from UUK. I believe that it is unlikely that these clarifications will cover the diverse concerns raised by branch delegates.
  • Splits and disagreements: I am both hugely frustrated at the outcome and process of HEC, but also recognise that victory here, and in future disputes requires that we work together. Our USS action has been successful because we have been on the same page. Currently we are not. But, whether members accept or reject the offer, we need to continue to be able to mobilise collectively – around both national and local fights to come. In most local branches we achieve this unity-despite-disagreement, because we know – and even like – one another. It’s harder, but just as necessary, to do nationally.
  • Internal democracy: it matters who participates in our national democratic bodies (HEC, FEC, NEC, Branch Delegate Meetings, Congress), but also who chairs these. Chairs come from the Presidential Team. Therefore, it matters who we elect [we elect an FE and HE Vice-President in alternate years. Once elected this person serves a FOUR-year term: as, in order, VP; President-Elect; President; Immediate Past President, playing a key role across that period].
  • Transparency/accountability: Our new surge in members, and in members’ level of engagement, makes urgent that we develop processes that are as transparent and accountable as possible. At the last two meetings (NEC and HEC) I’ve brought motions on increasing transparency and clarity around industrial action decision making. These have now been timed out (NEC) and ruled to have fallen (HEC). Nonetheless member pressure is forcing us (UCU nationally) to act in an increasingly open way. All of us (HEC or not) should be pushing for this.
  • The collective action that I have experienced locally at City has been amazing – creative, collegial, transformative, critical and fun. I am aware that this experience is widespread and it gives me confidence that we are now readier to take on fights around marketisation, casualisation, jobs and inequality in HE. If the fight for decent Defined Benefit pensions is part of a bigger struggle it’s up to us to extend the fight, not end it.

Rachel Cohen, City UCU and HEC member for London and the East.

The above are personal reflections. Other HEC members and Branch Delegates will, of course, have left these meetings with different impressions.

 

USS Strike – Days Six to Nine

This week our branch continued with a really strong showing on the pickets, and had some a major success that made national news. It has been quite an inspiring week (and previous 3 months) to be part of City UCU, particularly since we are in the 3rd week of action, and there has been a bit of strike fatigue.

We’ve seen our membership numbers have a rapid growth, with nearly 100 new members in the past 5 weeks. Each day there have been new faces on the picket lines, with members making friends across departments and schools, something that the university seems to really struggle to do. The atmosphere has been warm and friendly (dispute the cold, snow, rain, and savage winds) something that can be seen on our branch twitter https://twitter.com/cityucu, on the USS hashtags https://twitter.com/hashtag/strikeforuss, and across the country on UCU’s twitter https://twitter.com/ucu.

Fresh from a weekend of rest (hopefully because members were keeping to ASOS and keeping the weekends for themselves rather than for work) we kicked off on Monday with a strong united set of pickets, including a few pooches on the picket, followed by a fully vegan lunch in the Blacksmith & Toffemaker (https://www.theblacksmithandthetoffeemaker.co.uk/) provided by the branch. We had a quick branch meeting where we discussed ideas for the escalating of action, which the committee then reported by to HQ. In the evening Rebecca and I then went to Finsbury Park Mosque to speak at the Stand up to Racism event (http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/), where they very kindly did a collection and gave us donation to the hardship fund. For those interested there is a national demo on Saturday 17 March (details http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/march-racism-un-anti-racism-day-saturday-17-march-2018/).

Tuesday saw Vince Cable refuse to cross the picket to attend an event at Cass Business School after some quick mobilisation from members who tweeted him directly, while a small group were poised at Bunhill Row ready to hand him strike materials if he did still cross. This was all kept hush hush to ensure management didn’t get wind of our plans and change venues last minute, and it was thanks our members quick fingers that he cancelled, and it even got a mention in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/06/oxford-university-blocks-challenge-to-staff-pension-cuts-proposals-universities-strike. That afternoon we returned to the Sekforde Arms for our Second Teach-Out, organised by Dr Claire Marris (Senior Lecturer, Centre for Food Policy), where we sheltered from the cold, learnt about festival Welfare and drug policy, Brexit and the impact on food, resistance and global justice, surveillance of education, food sovereignty in the Czech Republic and art to encourage social change, and had our Regional Officer give a rousing speech about UUK being on the back foot.

Wednesday afternoon there was poster making in preparation for the Women’s Strike event on Thursday, and the Three Corners community centre near Spa Fields kindly let a few members use the venue for free. http://www.3corners.org.uk/

Thursday saw Dr Grietje Baars (Lecturer, City Law School) organise a Teach Out themed around International Women’s Day with topics on intersectionality, Mothers behaving badly, Social Media as a tool for feminist action, and on the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike. The group then walked to Myddelton Street Building to picket an IWD event that was still taking place before marching on to Russel Square to join the Women Strike demo https://womenstrike.org.uk/.

It has been really refreshing and inspiring seeing the branch not only become more active, but also more political in its action. There is definitely a change in the air, and other Trade Unions are really inspired by UCU’s action, particularly after the aggressive Trade Union Bill. We can, and we will win. ONWARD TO VICTORY COMRADES.

Martin Chivers, Branch Secretary

What you can do to help

  • Find out more https://www.ucu.org.uk/why-we-are-taking-action-over-USS
  • Come join us on the picket lines March 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. Student support is welcome.
  • Come talk and learn at our free Teach-Outs (Monday 12 at 12:00 in the Toffeemaker, or @cityucu)
  • Contact City President, Professor Sir Paul Curran, and tell him that you support the UCU action and want to him to call on UUK to reach a compromise: Curran@city.ac.uk
  • Tweet your support: #USSstrike #UCUstrike @cityUCU @CityUniLondon @CityUniSU
  • Contact your MP and ask them to campaign for the government to protect and support our USS pensions. ucu.org.uk/USS-emailyourMP
  • If you can afford it please donate to: UCU City LA14 Hardship Fund, 60-83-01, 20324559

UCU USS Industrial Action to Save Our Pensions

City UCU members, will be taking action to defend our pensions, alongside UCU members at 61 other institutions.

It is estimated that members will lose up to £200,000 in pension benefits. For a typical lecturer that may be the difference between a pension of approximately £18,000 and £10,000 a year. See a fuller analysis by First Actuarial and use this webpage by Cambridge UCU to reveal how much you stand to lose.

The pension cuts being imposed on us by our employers, Universities UK (UUK), are unecessary – there is a huge ‘best estimate’ surplus in the USS, our pension scheme.

Additional background information:

Further info is available from www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss.

For members taking action.

If you have a question about what to do, please look at the detailed Strike and ASOS FAQ. If this doesn’t answer your question, please get in touch with the national UCU or contact City UCU. 

The most important thing you can do in the days leading up to the action is talk to your colleagues. Together we are stronger. And you will feel more able to take action for all of us if you are doing this with your colleagues.

It is important that members’ anger is visible. So please join us on the picket lines on strike days. More information to follow soon. There will be a London-wide Demonstration on 28th February. And a Teach Out on Tuesday the 27th.

For City Students.

If you want to know more about what’s going on, please see the slide show we have produced. UCU USS Strike 2018 – What’s it about and also this video.

There is also a very helpful statement from City Students Union.

The scheduled strike days are listed below. On these days union members will not be involved in teaching or other work. This means that lectures, seminars, labs, office hours and other meetings are all likely to be cancelled. Anyone involved in strike action will not be paid and so will not be making up lost work on other times.

We value education and are committed to working with our fantastic City students. That means that UCU members will be available to meet and work with you before and after the strike. We hope that you understand that we do not want to damage your education. Rather, we believe that if universities impose this change it will lead to many of the best people leaving and the best new educators being discouraged from entering the sector. This will damage future generations of students.

Because we believe in the value of education and talking about ideas, we are organising a free Teach Out on Tuesday 27th February. It’s open to all. So come along!

Please email the University President and tell him that you want him to publicly call on UUK to return to negotiations. Other University leaders have done this and it is the best way to resolve this dispute quickly.

Scheduled strike days:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
22 Feb 23 Feb
26 Feb 27 Feb 28 Feb
5 March 6 March 7 March 8 March
12 March 13 March 14 March 15 March 16 March

UCU AGM 2017

Our AGM takes place on Tuesday 13th June, 5pm in C308. Spread the word!

At each Annual General Meeting we elect the branch committee for the following year. We have several vacancies for 2017-18, and invite nominations for all positions. If you are interested in standing or would like to know what is involved, get in touch:

  • email us at info@cityucu.org.uk
  • come to the drop-in advice session every Monday, 12.30-1.30 in B408
  • ring the UCU office on x 4839

Please print a copy of the poster below for displaying in your work kitchen, office door, window, notice board, etc.

Employers’ pay offer: branch meetings

As you will have read in recent emails from UCU Head Office, the employers have issued their final offer on the 2017/18 pay round.

The branch invites you to attend one of two meetings next Tuesday 9th May, to discuss the pay claim, ask questions, and contribute to City UCU’s response to the UCU consultation on the offer.

Tuesday 9th May

BLG08

12.30pm and again at 5pm

Read about the specifics of the unions’ joint pay claim here.

Read the full text of the employers’ offer here.

In summary:

The third and final timetabled negotiating meeting took place through JNCHES on 27 April and the national employers’ representatives UCEA made a final offer, which included an offer of base pay uplift of 1.7%, with higher increases for the lower paid. On other elements:

  • gender pay: UCEA has offered to develop some further joint work with the unions
  • precarious employment: UCEA want to wait for the outcome of the joint working group that already is considering fixed term and variable hours contracts
  • workload/stress: UCEA do not want JNCHES to progress this issue at a UK level
  • Scottish sub-committee: UCEA are interested to receive a report from the trade unions on dialogue that takes place in Scotland with Universities Scotland
  • external examiners: our claim for minimal rates for external examiners has been rejected.

taken from https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8691/HE-national-negotiations-2017-18