Endorsement from Dr Josh Robinson, Cardiff University UCU Lead Negotiator
I joined the AUT when I started teaching as a graduate student in 2006. I’m now a senior lecturer in English literature at Cardiff University, and on the way I’ve been an hourly paid teacher and a fixed-term researcher (as well as a freelance translator).
I’ve served on the branch committee of two branches, first as a representative of hourly paid and then of research staff, and more recently in a range of roles here in Cardiff: I’ve been a caseworker, served as branch secretary, and am currently our lead negotiator and coordinate our workload campaign. I’ve been a delegate to HESC and Congress, as well as to Wales Congress and HESC/Council, and served on the forerunner to the anti-casualisation committee.
There’s no doubt that last year’s USS dispute re-enlivened UCU, at least in most of the pre-92 branches. Let’s not forget that for too long industrial action has been a pretty dispiriting experience. I’ve lost count of the days spent on picket lines going back to 2006, standing out in the cold with the same old faces (often while more senior colleagues got on with their research out of sight of the picket line). We’ve lost more in pay than we’ve gained in salary increases. We’ve acquiesced first to the introduction of a two-tier USS, and then (and as a result) to the retrospective devaluation of the final-salary pension benefits that we thought we’d accrued.
Sometimes it’s felt as if we were going through the motions of going on strike, in full knowledge that we would simply make up the work in the evenings and weekends than followed, and for no real benefit. And of course, a great many colleagues don’t join us on the picket lines. Members are disheartened and demoralised: I’ve lost count of the number of formerly active members who have left or are considering leaving UCU, disillusioned that we can’t even negotiate a pay settlement that keeps up with inflation.
We ‘know’ what it’s like to live under a period of the sustained erosion of our pay. But many of our members are protected against some of its worst effects. When I came to Cardiff on point 30 of the scale in 2013 it was difficult, especially with family, friends, colleagues and collaborators a long way away. But I’ve had an increment or a promotion every year since then, so I don’t feel the real-terms pay cuts in the same way that some do. For many colleagues things are very different: those who are stuck at the top of their grades (more likely to be our academic-related and professional-services colleagues, without a clearly defined promotion pathway) feel the effects of pay restraint much more strongly.
And of course, the people hit hardest by the sustained attacks on our pay and pensions are our lowest-paid members, often (but not always) those at the start of their careers. And the jobs on offer to early-career academics come with ever-worsening conditions: shorter contracts, less promise of job security, and increased expectations of unpaid work. Our continued failure to reverse this trend is the biggest failure of UCU: we’ve let down our most vulnerable members, and in doing so we’ve acquiesced to the further undermining of all of our conditions.
Reversing this trend is not going to be easy, and involves a frank assessment of where we are. Part of this involves recognising and learning from the mistakes that UCU has made: most obviously from the repeated failures in our industrial action strategy, as colleagues are called out and then we lose momentum as action is suspended while we ballot over an ‘offer’ that is hardly less bad than what was already on the table. Our union needs to stop mis-selling our legacy of defeats as partial victories.
To reverse this trend we need to organise to build our collective power. And the reason I’m supporting Jo Grady’s candidacy is that she represents the best prospect for doing this. Her industrial expertise and activist experience mean that she’s able not only to confront our failures, but also to come up with viable proposals to reverse them. She has the knowledge and the understanding—and the creativity and inspiration—to help us change the education systems within which we work.
Jo Grady has the vision that will help us transform UCU into a more participatory union—into a union that learns from and celebrates the experience and expertise of UCU members and staff as professionals, as educators, as researchers. She recognises that we need to create more ways for our members to get involved in the work of the union, without impeding the working of our democratic structures. And indeed, there are also ways in which these democratic structures could improve, including by being made more participatory.
None of this is going to be easy. And Jo’s not going to pretend it’s easy. She’s not going to pretend that all we have to do is unite around a plan for industrial action or elect the right kind of government to solve all our problems. We’ve got some fundamentally difficult work to do at all levels of our organisation in order to be able to confront the challenges we face. Jo Grady represents the best prospect for ensuring that we do so with the leadership and support of a General Secretary who can empower us to bring about the changes we so urgently need.