Fighting fund banner


Jo McNeill (University of Liverpool)

29 April 2019

Election address

My name is Jo McNeill and I'm standing for General Secretary.


  • President of University of Liverpool UCU - 5 years
  • National Executive Committee  member - 5 years
  • National Negotiator (Higher Education) - 2 years
  • Chair of National Recruitment, Organising and Campaigns Committee
  • Member of UCU strategy and finance committee, and Statutes and Ordinances Group


  • Academic related UCU member
  • Part-time PhD student (on equality and access to HE)
  • Background in widening participation - worked for Aimhigher with schools, FE, Pre and Post-92s
  • Currently Fair Access in Admissions Manager at Liverpool, now permanently contracted after several years on casual contracts
  • Former Innovative Practice Editor Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning (OU Centre for Inclusion)
  • Member of the Labour Party
  • UCU Left supported candidate

When I ran in the last GS election, I won 41% of the vote because I stood on a platform of change. Last year we welcomed change in the pre-92s which came as it should, from the grassroots. The USS dispute was effective because we took meaningful industrial action.

Liverpool UCU was the first branch to say no to the ACAS offer. We fully supported the 'revise and resubmit' position and were instrumental in the mass lobbying of NEC, which overturned the first poor offer. Some of the leadership thought the first offer was the 'best we can get'.  This was mistaken. We could have won more if we'd maintained action while re-submitting for revisions.

We will have to ballot again to save USS pensions, our Post-92 and FE colleagues are now facing attacks on the TPS.  We need an effective strategy to ensure members in both sectors maintain their benefits.

FE and Adult Education
Further and Adult Education has suffered the worst funding cuts compared to any other education sector. 40% of the Adult Education budget has been cut since 2010.  Over a million adult student places have gone, 24,000 jobs have disappeared within the sector, and staff wages have been cut by 25% over the same period.  As a former Access student, this breaks my heart. I would not be here today if I hadn't been supported through my Access course by amazing tutors.

In FE, national pay bargaining was undermined but the fightback is on. We are seeing ground-breaking ballot results with high turnouts in some colleges, this is changing the narrative. Wins like those seen in CCCG and Hugh Baird (my old college!) are bolstering the rest of the sector, proving we can win in areas like pay and casualisation when we show we are willing to take sustained action.

Higher Education
Higher Education is in the middle of a market-driven 'neoliberal' experiment. This experiment is becoming increasingly unstable. Some universities are now threatening bankruptcy, while others are booming - for now. The USS dispute was triggered in part by market forces generating winners and losers. The Augur Review, (and Brexit) may force UCU into a showdown with employers very soon. Changes to TPS and attacks on the post-92 contract mean that members in post 92 need to organise and mobilise.

Subjective, harmful metrics dominate the HE environment causing increases in work related stress, performance management and forced contract changes. In Liverpool we are fighting back, UCU nationally needs to do the same.

In all sectors the anti-union laws, especially the ballot thresholds, challenge our ability to organise industrial action. We need a Labour government which will repeal the anti-TU legislation.  Meanwhile we need strong, effective industrial action strategies and to put more resources into getting the vote out.

I have worked with FE and HE colleagues to develop manifestos for each sector, which detail my proposed strategies for change. These are available on my website:

Precarity is the scourge of post-school education, and it's on the increase. UCU has been raising awareness of casualisation for years but has never effectively co-ordinated a fightback. Some in our leadership think casualisation is here to stay, I disagree. These sectors ran for decades, centuries in HE's case, without the use of casual contracts. This is a new model. It can be overturned. We need nationally co-ordinated local claims which emulate the recent ground-breaking win at the OU: 4000 casualised staff moved onto permanent contracts.

Workload is a major problem across all sectors in England and the devolved nations. Teaching hours have increased and with them, administrative burdens continue to mount year-on-year, eating up research, teaching and preparation time. Alongside this has come a growing and complex managerial structure to police the whole operation.  We need to tie our employers' hands with Health and Safety legislation to gain wins on workload. Workplace stress is a health and safety issue.

Equality and Pay Gaps
It's the 21st century and women continue to be paid less than men; BAME colleagues face an even wider gap. Our employers claim that this will take years to resolve. Why? I don't accept that position. Look at Hollywood: female actors are running a campaign called '50/50 by 2020' we should emulate this. There's no reason why women can't have equal pay. Again, we need nationally co-ordinated local action. Many employers are embarrassed by their Gender/BAME pay gap and want to work with branches. As GS I will work to provide the analytical support required for such negotiations.  Equality must always be central to our bargaining.

UCU has a comprehensive equality agenda which should underpin everything we do.  We need an inclusive approach which supports the rights of all oppressed groups (BAME, disabled, LGBT+, women and migrant members), and challenges hate crime. 

Prison Educators:
We need urgent action in prison education. Prison educators tell me they have not been listened to. They work in some of the most dangerous conditions and their employers regularly change, meaning TUPE processes and in some cases, the loss of TPS pensions.  I will prioritise Prison Educators and work with colleagues to develop the manifesto they need.

UCU Reps need better facilities time, training and support: most importantly they need to know that they can get legal advice and support, as and when needed.  We should call on a future Labour Government to improve support for workplace representation.  At a local level we should endeavour to turn casework issues into collective issues for effective local negotiation.

I stand on my record. I am a lifelong activist and have led a large, active branch to victories. My branch is leading the fight against REF. I have negotiated better terms and conditions and effective local policies for our members. I have saved jobs, had members reinstated after dismissals and supported academic and academic related members through countless cases. I am actively anti-racist, my family were Irish immigrants, we do not allow fascists on the streets of Liverpool. I have been on NEC, chaired ROCC, served as a National Negotiator and sat on national sub-committees. I wrote the emergency motion which democratised the Effective Industrial Action Commission and was elected into the North West seat. This was the forum where the 14 days of action for the USS dispute came from. I believe in democracy, transparency and accountability.  I don't preach trade unionism, I practice it every day.

If I win, I will accept any changes to the GS contract recommended by the Democracy Commission report to Congress.

I have been tried and tested and I always fight for members from all sectors. UCU must change for the better: if you want someone you can trust to deliver, vote Jo McNeill as your #1 choice.

Last updated: 29 October 2019