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HE national disputes 2021

A new strategy and next steps in our disputes

13 April 2022

Now we've had time to process the results of the industrial action reballots I want to explain the process for branches to decide what will happen next, and to set out to you what I think the best way forward is.

UCU has complex democratic structures that many members are unaware of. When our higher education sector conference passes resolutions, everyone - from me to our staff to officers and reps in branches - works as hard as they can to implement them. But I also have a duty to give my advice before decisions are made, and that is what I want to do now.

Next steps in the Four Fights dispute will be debated a week today, at our 20 April sector conference and next steps on USS will be debated on 27 April.

There are three broad options based on motions from branches and committees:

  • calling immediate and indefinite strike action - which could involve strikes on every possible day of the new six month mandate
  • calling an immediate marking boycott - which could take place either alongside or instead of strike action (indefinite or otherwise)
  • calling for a continuation of our campaigning but pledging to build now for more effective future disputes involving the entire sector in 2023.

My view is that the third option provides our best chance of winning. We need to escalate our highly successful campaign by building now for sector-wide disputes over Four Fights and USS in 2023.

I have set out how we can all take action and win together in a detailed report which I am making available to members.

You can read a three-page summary of the report here and the full report here.

It is my firm belief that we need to build on the successes we have achieved. This isn't about pushing ahead or pausing - it is about continuing our campaign and building towards bigger and more effective action next year.

In the past three years this union has transformed its approach to the Four Fights dispute in particular. From only getting seven branches over the threshold in late 2018, we have managed to get around ten times that number over the threshold in recent ballots. There have been more members on picket lines and we have generated more positive press coverage and student support than ever. I could not be prouder of the effort which tens of thousands of UCU members and our UCU staff have put in.

It is time for us to take the campaign to the next level. We know that employers are incredibly deeply entrenched and do not want to give us anything resembling a victory. That was the case before the pandemic, and it has remained the case since. If we want a big sector-wide victory, we need the entire sector involved in a campaign which engages and involves many more staff. That will involve:

  • growing our membership through proactive recruitment - so more staff are in the union
  • recruiting and training more reps and campaign volunteers in branches
  • consulting and listening to all members about your workplace issues and priorities before we ballot for action
  • conducting an aggregated ballot - which would enable all of our c.150 branches to take action.

We have been trying the current strategy for nearly four years and it has not delivered the change you need and deserve. The plan set out in my report offers a 12-18 month roadmap for winning transformative change on casualisation, on workload, on pay, on equality, and for those of you in USS institutions, on pensions.

As I said at the start of this email, it will be up to sector conference to decide. Delegates from your branch will make the decisions on your behalf. Sometimes conference or committee decisions are hard to implement - because they contradict one another, for example, or they are legally or practically impossible to carry out (this was the case with recent decisions about the timetable for the reballots, for example). But no matter what sector conference decides, I, our staff, and your elected representatives on our higher education committee will do everything possible to make it work.

Tens of thousands of members have sacrificed pay and joined picket lines and I want the debate about what we do next to be as open, democratic, and representative as possible. Whatever you think about our next steps, please look out for any opportunities your branch is offering members to give delegates a steer on how to vote, or you can contact your branch directly.

In solidarity

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 13 April 2022