Fighting fund banner


'UCU rising' share image - white on pink

My speech to the Higher Education Committee

2 November 2022

Firstly, let me start by thanking everyone on the Higher Education Committee for your work in helping to make history for the UCU. I know some of you were nervous about calling a national ballot, but the decision has undoubtedly proven to be the right one. It took courage to make that call.

Every component of the union has come together like never before. Our challenge now is to keep that unity, not only after today but until we cross the winning line in the disputes.

Today, you are also armed with more information than ever before ahead of calling strike action:

  • we have the ability to call UK wide action
  • we have engaged thousands of our members on their views of strike action
  • we have engaged our branches
  • we have information on the intent of our sister campus unions
  • we know the dates of strike action for other trade unions.

We have a huge mandate won on the back of a promise to be responsible with our members' votes. This has been backed up by the members survey and branch delegates meeting results.

We also, for the first time ever, have a strategy that is not solely focused on strike action. We will use a wide range of tactics to take the employers to a place they have never been before.

And finally, the employer is seeking a fresh mandate to reopen negotiations. They sat out the whole of the last dispute. There are no guarantees, but we have gained more of a reaction from the employer with one emphatic ballot result than we did with multiple days of strike action. They know we are organised. They know we have a plan. They know we are in control.

So, we have major decisions to make today based on all the facts that are in front of us. The actions of the employer have become erratic and knee jerk in recent years. Our role is to be confident, calm and convince our members to come with us - whatever it takes.

Therefore, I believe the strategy paper I put forward recently on action is backed up by the results of both the members survey and the branch delegate meeting votes.

Taking action on 24 and 25 November would see us join with both campus unions and the CWU.

The vote on the timing of a marking and assessment boycott was split. We cannot and I know you will not allow this to become our 'Brexit moment'. We have worked so hard to unite the union. It would be reckless of us to take such a huge decision with a split mandate. I also believe a key vote of the branch delegate meeting vote was the one which overwhelmingly endorsed the call for unity.

We know from our experiences at Queen Mary's that some employers will seek to deduct full pay for members taking part in a marking and assessment boycott. This is a dispute that will go well into 2023 and we will undoubtedly have to re-ballot our members to deliver the ultimate victory. Burning out the resolve of our members before the end of this year could damage the action and the dispute beyond repair.

We have a plan which delivers strike action, delivers a Spring term marking and assessment boycott, and delivers mass and escalated strike action in February--but just as importantly we have a plan to leverage the employers via other tactics as well.

This Committee has consistently called for:

  • solidarity action
  • early action
  • escalating action
  • a proper strategy around marking and assessment boycott
  • a wider leverage strategy.

Every single one of those points is covered in the strategy we set out last week. We have a number of motions on the table at HEC that cover many of these issues, but not all of these key areas. Crucially, some of them lack the most important thing of all--unity.

We have 70,000 members at the start line. We need 70,000 at the finish line. Let's move together--no member left behind. 

There has never been a more higher profile HEC meeting. This is not a bad thing. It is amazing that we have opened up our union and we can all be very proud of that.

I will finish by saying the Higher Education Committee has the authority to take a different view than those set out by myself, the members survey or the branch delegates meeting. I respect that and I know our branches and members do too.

My absolute priority is to keep the union united--I know that will be the priority of every single one of you too.

Dr Jo Grady
UCU General Secretary

Last updated: 2 November 2022