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HE national disputes 2021

Strike action from February in the USS and Four Fights disputes

21 January 2022

Re-ballot results and joining UCU action

First, this is to let you know that UCU has now served notice on the employers in those universities where members voted for industrial action in the recent re-ballots. The notice sets out the action short of a strike (ASOS) members will be able to take starting on Monday 7 February. The ASOS includes: working to contract; not covering for absent colleagues; removing uploaded materials; not rescheduling lectures lost to strike action; not undertaking voluntary activities. You can find updated FAQs on how to support the action here.

Decisions from UCU's higher education committee

Last December thousands of UCU members went on strike and turned out on picket lines in our Four Fights and USS pension disputes. This week's results in the re-ballots saw twelve more branches putting themselves in a position to join the strike action and increase our leverage.

On Wednesday, your elected representatives on UCU's higher education committee (HEC) met to consider the next steps in these disputes and I can now provide you with more details.

Next steps

HEC has made an important decision to call co-ordinated UK-wide action in both disputes starting in February. 

In USS this allows us to influence employers ahead of the meetings of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee on 11 and 22 February where their pension cuts will be formalised. In Four Fights, employers are doubling down and refusing to hold meaningful talks. That will not change in the foreseeable future without further action, including the branches that just gained a mandate in the re-ballots.

Your HEC has also decided on a programme of rolling UK-wide and regional industrial action. This action will involve strikes in different regions and devolved nations on different dates, as well as UK-wide strike dates. The action will also progress to a marking and assessment boycott should employers refuse to budge.

In previous disputes, we have won important concessions but these haven't always been enough. And faced with intransigent employers we need to draw on a range of tactics.

Rolling regional action, along with bouts of co-ordinated national action bringing together our Four Fights and pension disputes, will allow our union to extend the action for much longer.

Media coverage of our disputes has so far been overwhelmingly positive and we have made employers very uncomfortable, but this coverage only lasts as long as the days we take action. Switching between UK-wide and regional action allows us to disrupt the sector for longer and extend the pressure on employers.

The combination of UK-wide and regional action culminating in a marking boycott will make this the most innovative, wide-ranging and sustained action UCU has ever called. 

Yesterday I met with Larissa Kennedy, the President of the National Union of Students. We discussed our plans to campaign for a better education system together, as staff and students, and maintain and build students' support for the disputes in every institution. 

Employers are trying to weather the storm and test your resolve and stamina and we cannot afford to take a backward step. We are stronger than those who seek to undermine us. We can win a better education sector, but only with your support.

Branches without an industrial action mandate will also play an important role. We will be calling upon them to adopt a neighbouring striking branch, and to support them with fund raising, so that every branch and member can play their part in winning these disputes.

Strike dates will be announced soon

We will be serving formal notices of strike action on employers in the coming weeks, and as soon as we do, we will also announce the dates to you via email and hold a live online event for members. The UK trade union laws prevent me saying more in this email right now, but please watch your inbox for further updates and attend any meeting that your local UCU branch calls.

Finally, don't forget to consult our online HE disputes page for more information.

In solidarity

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 21 January 2022