Socialist Party members in UCU
Strike action is soon to be announced at 68 universities, following reballots in the University and College Union (UCU), resulting in 12 more branches passing the 50% turnout threshold in at least one of the two separate disputes the UCU is currently battling against vicious attacks on pensions, pay and conditions.
Some of the reballoted branches were extremely close to the threshold, missing the 50% mark by just a handful of votes in some cases. These branches should have the right to appeal the results and issue new ballots if they decide to.
No strike dates have been announced, but in an email to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady stated that the higher education committee has decided on a programme of “rolling UK-wide and regional industrial action”, which will involve “strikes in different regions and devolved nations on different dates, as well as UK-wide strike dates”. She also announced a marking and assessment boycott in the summer, should employers refuse to budge in the disputes.
It is the correct decision to announce further strike dates. As a minimum, there should be an escalation from the three days of UK-wide action taken last term. Coordination with other campus trade unions and students is also critical.
The UCU should look to link up any action with Unison, whose ballot result of higher education members will be known later this month. The student strike for education announced by the National Union of Students for 2 March is a big opportunity to unite students and workers around the demand for free education, and the UCU should announce strike action for this date.
A key strategic question is how to involve those branches without a legal mandate for strike action; a complication of fighting a national dispute on a disaggregated basis. Engaging the entire membership in the disputes will put more pressure on the employers to concede and build momentum for an aggregated ballot, if the current strike mandate expires without a victory.
Regional and national demonstrations around the strike action could play a part in this process, as could inviting members from striking branches to general meetings of branches not yet in the dispute.
The strategy of regional and UK-wide strikes is a new tactic for the union, yet to be tested. Given the attempts by some in the union to downplay the significance of the current strike mandates and use targetted action to step down the disputes, the left must organise at all levels to maintain the national profile of the disputes and fight for an effective strategy that builds unity and confidence of different sections of the union’s membership.
The experience of the last few months has shown that determined struggle has won significant gains and victories for workers. This should give confidence to UCU members that with the correct strategy, the union can push back against the attacks and, in the process, build the forces to fight for an end to marketisation on campus which is driving these attacks.