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HE national disputes 2021

Four Fights and USS update: after the sector conferences

21 April 2022

Since I circulated my report on industrial strategy last week there has been a wide ranging discussion in branches about the best way forward. 

Anyone asked to take sustained industrial action deserves to have the fullest possible say -- not just by ticking a box on a ballot paper but by giving their view about our overall goals and strategy. A lot of branches have managed to consult members by a range of methods since the re-ballot results came out, which is great to see. 

The discussion continued yesterday at the first of our two special sector conferences, which was attended by over 200 delegates from over 100 branches and committees. Online voting will close on Monday and delegates will be taking decisions on your behalf. On Wednesday there will be a second meeting of sector conference to consider the USS dispute

Some branches' members have indicated a preference for building towards sector-wide disputes in 2023 whereas others prefer an immediate escalation in the 40 branches with a mandate for strike action and/or action short of a strike (ASOS). From all the evidence I have seen, there is not an overwhelming majority on either side of the debate -- this is a genuinely difficult decision to make about disputes that are crucial for us as a union and have already seen thousands of members sacrifice time, energy, and money. 

Whatever conference decides, we all need to unite behind its decisions, get organised and make the next phase of our campaigning as effective as possible. 

Once the results of voting have been published, your elected representatives on the higher education committee (HEC) will meet to consider how to implement conference's decisions. 

If conference votes for a marking boycott and/or strikes this term: 

Last week I asked officers in branches with a mandate to be ready to provide information about when action will be most effective for their branch. Time will be of the essence. The law requires us to give each employer two weeks' notice before taking action. Preparing, sending and confirming receipt of multiple tailored and legally watertight notices of action for different disputes will add to that time. Summative marking is well underway in many institutions -- so HEC will need to make very quick decisions about the scheduling of action. 

If conference votes for immediate action in branches with a mandate, raising money for the Fighting Fund will become even more of a priority -- especially since a marking boycott will almost certainly see all employers imposing 100% pay deductions.  

Yesterday's conference considered various ways to seek donations from members in branches without a mandate. I will also continue to call on the wider trade union movement to support our disputes, to add to the generous donations we have received from many of our sister unions so far.  

If conference votes to build for a sector-wide dispute in 2023:

If conference votes against immediately calling further action, my report sets out a month by month timeline, starting in May, for building towards a sector-wide dispute and potential aggregate ballot in 2023. I will be presenting the full campaign plan to HEC and asking for its endorsement. 

Whatever is decided, I will be in touch with you in early May with more information about our next steps. Please contact me in the meantime with any questions and I will do my best to address them in future emails. 

In solidarity

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 21 April 2022