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.

 

Countdown to Strike Action

There is still time to take action ahead of tomorrow’s strike and show your support for the Fair Pay in HE campaign. If you’re worried about striking, or you have not been on strike before, you are not alone. Read about one member’s experience of the 31st October strike at http://cityucu.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/reflections-on-the-first-fairpayinhe-strike/

 Today 2nd December:

 Tomorrow 3rd December:

  • Arrive at your allocated picket line. The plan for the 3rd is to have presence at all buildings from 07.30 onwards. If you’ve not had a chance to sign up for a picket line prior to the day you can still come along to Northampton Square entrance before 3pm to show your support.
  • Wrap up warm tomorrow.

 

After the strike:

  • When asked by management, members should feel proud to inform City University London that they took part in the strike.

Support your colleagues. Stand up for fair pay in HE. Join the picket line tomorrow.

 

Thank you! ASOS Working to contract starts today! #fairpayinHE

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A massive thanks to all our members who took strike action yesterday and especially to those who braved the weather to join the picket lines  at every major entrance to City University, London. Together with our colleagues in UNITE and UNISON we delivered the largest and most effective strike in recent years. Our action was replicated across the country and demonstrated the strength of our arguments and we hope that UCEA, led by our Vice Chancellor, will quickly wish to return to the negotiating table. Today UCU start Action Short of Strike Action to keep the pressure on our Employers. Below is guidance from the National UCU;

Working to contract: What action is the union asking me to take?

UCU is calling on all members in higher education to begin working to contract and working to rule from 1 November 2013.

This means that we’re asking you to abide strictly by the terms of your contract, so the first thing to do is to dig out your contract of employment and refer to that when reading this advice.

We’ve put together this advice to help you to understand the kinds of things you should and should not be doing.

In brief, members should

  • to work no more than their contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, or where they are stipulated in a workload agreement and in any event not to exceed the maximum number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations (48 hours a week)
  • to perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required)
  • to set and mark no work beyond that work which they are contractually obliged to set and/or mark
  • to attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary on the part of the members
  • to undertake no duties that breach health and safety policies or other significant employer’s policies

Some of it sounds simple and basic but we know from experience that Universities run on significant amounts on unpaid labour and goodwill. This is what we are withdrawing in this action.

Full information including FAQ is available on http://www.ucu.org.uk/workingtocontract

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A timeline for strike action for City UCU members

Evening prior to strike: Wednesday 30th October
Set an out of office message from your University email – suggested text below.

UCU, Unite and Unison members are striking on Thursday 31st October in dispute over the pay squeeze on University staff salaries. I will not be responding to any emails or phone messages received on 31st October. Please email or call again on Friday 1st November.

Why are we striking?
The joint unions are taking industrial action in protest against falling pay. Salaries in HE have fallen by around 13% in 5 years, when inflation is taken into account.

What do we hope to achieve?
By taking industrial action, trade union members are sending a message to university management that they deserve proper support and remuneration for their work. For more information on the strike visit the UCU webpage at: http://www.ucu.org.uk/hepay13

Strike Day: Thursday 31st October 2013
•    If you are available for the picket line do turn up at your allocated entrance by 7:30am for set up. Pickets start from 8am.
•    If you are not able to make it for 8am, but are available later in the morning do come along to the Northampton Square entrance.
•    If you are taking strike action, whether or not you are available for picketing or if you have child-care responsibilities during half-term you are welcome to come to the rally at Northampton Square entrance from 11am.
•    A rally has been organised to take place at 2pm on Thursday. The rally will take place in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, near Holborn. There will be speakers from all of the three striking trades’ unions.

After the strike
•    When asked by management members should feel proud to inform City University London that they took part in the strike.
•    UCU members will commence work to contract on 1st November – further instructions to follow.

If you have any questions, please contact your rep or email ucu@city.ac.uk

We wish you all the best and see you on the 31st!

For fair pay, for job security, for working conditions!

A message from the UCU

Dear colleague,
 
So far this week, people are joining UCU at three times the normal rate so they can take strike action for fair pay alongside colleagues this coming Thursday 31 October.
 
If you want to join and take part in the strike, it’s easy. Just click here:
http://join.web.ucu.org.uk/rep-53136&LE071&fairpayinhe
 
Thank you for reading this email.

Matt Waddup
UCU National Head of Campaigns

 —

At City University (in spite of many members leaving due to the dreadful PSR job cuts and downgrading) membership continues to rise to a new high and last week saw the largest number of new members we can recall. The tide is turning, make sure you join today and join the action tomorrow.

If you have any problems with the link above just – search engine Join UCU

There will be picket lines on every major entrance to the University. Volunteer for picket lines on
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1v09VPt6iq_biYB_KAg6yujI1hUQUQWNzfZixtLcib2A/viewform

 

Best wishes,

Keith

Keith Simpson

UCU City University President

City University Students Union Executive voted unanimously in support of the strike action!

We are delighted to inform you that City University Students Union Executive voted unanimously in support of the strike action being taken by UCU, UNISON & UNITE on 31st October 2013. We wish to extend the thanks of all our members to the Executive for their support.

We are working closely with the Students Union Officers and will keep you updated with our plans for the 31st October. Let’s hope that this show of strength and solidarity will see our VC, Paul Curran, as the Chair of UCEA (the employers association) request an early return to the negotiating table.

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It is YesYes!

Ballot result

The ballot closed at noon on 10 October. Turnout was 35.0%. The responses to the two questions you were balloted on are as follows:

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?

  • Number of ballot papers returned: 20,741
  • Number voting YES: 12,754 (61.5%)
  • Number voting NO: 7,985 (38.5%)
  • Number of papers found to be invalid: 2

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of a strike?

  • Number of ballot papers returned: 20,741
  • Number voting YES: 15,967 (77.0%)
  • Number voting NO: 4,772 (23.0%)
  • Number of papers found to be invalid:: 2

The union’s Higher Education Committee will discuss the result and the next steps tomorrow, Friday 11 October. UCU is working closely with the other higher education unions and their results will be considered as well. A further report will be sent to branches early next week. http://www.ucu.org.uk/hepay13 http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/h/c/ucu_heballotresults_oct13.pdf