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UCU general secretary speaks to UCU Congress 2018

Fighting casualisation of staff in universities and colleges is 'biggest challenge of our time' says Sally Hunt

30 May 2018

Tackling the 'exploitative culture of casualisation' in colleges and universities is the 'greatest challenge of our time', UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said today.

Giving the keynote address at the union's annual conference, Sally said the union had been bolstered by thousands of new members, many of whom have little job security, and that tackling casualisation should be "front and centre" of the union's work.

The union gained 16,000 new members in the past year, which Sally described as an extraordinary achievement. The largest gains have been at institutions involved in the dispute over USS pensions. However, there have been gains in all sectors of the union.

The union's membership has grown every month for the past eight months and in the last 12 months membership among casualised staff has increased by 24% and doubled for members aged under 30.

Sally said the increases were helped by a policy introduced last year that allowed staff who were new to the profession or employed at the margins of teaching free membership of the union. She said this radical offer demonstrated that UCU was a "union for everyone - not an exclusive club for the most secure or the better paid" and was "an investment in the future of our profession and our union."

Reflecting on a transformative year for the union, Sally said the union's membership represented a remarkable turnaround against a backdrop of falling union membership, as did the union's campaign against changes to the USS pension scheme. She said getting the employers to bin their damaging proposal to slash staff pensions was achieved because the union kept members fully engaged and was united.

Sally Hunt said: 'Every time we struck more people came out. Every time we balloted we got a higher turnout. We did it because we showed we were serious. Everything from the number of strikes we called to the establishment of strike funds demonstrated that we were determined to challenge the employers' disastrous proposals.

'We did it because at key moments we all saw the value of unity. We did it because of the brilliant leadership of our branches, because of our determined negotiators and - of course - our fantastic staff. When we work together we are very hard to beat.'

Sally paid tribute to the many MPs who sent messages of support and joined striking staff on the picket line. She paid particular thanks to the Labour front bench and leader Jeremy Corbyn who sent UCU delegates a video message on the eve of the conference. She also thanked students for their support during the dispute.

She said: 'We want to say a huge public thank you to students for their support in our struggles. We stood side by side with you to fight fees in 2006 and again in 2010 - and we are still with you. But your support of UCU in the USS dispute and beyond shows that we have an unbreakable alliance. On behalf of UCU I want to say to all those students who supported this union that we will never, ever forget the solidarity you showed us and we will give it back.'

Her wide-ranging address covered the current further education pay strikes and campaign for fair pay, as well as the shortcomings from universities in pay talks. She paid tribute to the campaigns run at various universities and colleges during the year, including the fight against cuts at Open University, the pay dispute at Sandwell College and the recent victory for union recognition in Coventry.

UCU meets in Manchester during the 150th anniversary year of the birth of the trade union movement in the city. Sally concluded by paying tribute to those pioneers. She said that the aim of that first meeting to "speak together in unison" was a message that never gets old and one the union must continue to embrace if it is to be successful.

Full text of Sally's speech

Last updated: 30 May 2018