Below is the text of the third of four emails which I am entitled to send to all members of UCU as one of the candidates in the General Secretary election. It was sent on Sunday 12 May. To read the first and second emails, click here and here.
In my last email I talked about campaigning for sector-wide agreements, starting with job security. Sector-wide agreements are vital. Without them, our employers keep undercutting each other, playing one part of each sector off against another in a race to the bottom.
I want UCU’s campaigns to be inclusive. Pay and pensions are not the only things we need to have fulfilling lives, and our demands to employers should reflect that. I also want those demands to be backed by real leverage, in the form of a plan for industrial action our members can get behind.
Inclusive campaigns, inclusive subscription rates
In Further and Higher Education, I will push for wide-ranging agreements that cover:
- Professional services staff
- International staff, non-EU and EU
- Freedom of speech and academic freedom
- Issues of racial and gender equality—not just the race and gender pay gaps
- Climate justice. I will enact UCU policy by pressing employers and USS to divest from environmentally damaging holdings
To mount inclusive campaigns, we need an inclusive union. That means reforming UCU’s regressive subscription rates. Currently, members earning £60,000 pay a lower proportion of their salary than those earning £20,000. The pace at which rates are being made fairer is glacial. But making membership affordable for those on lower pay is not enough, especially in the Further Education sector, where membership has plateaued. I have proposed elsewhere to consider rebuilding the union in that sector through special initiatives to make membership affordable for all FE staff, just as we’ve done for PhD students and sections of the FE workforce.
We need to redeploy our resources to encourage low-paid and casualised staff to join UCU and take action, and we need to do it sooner rather than later.
Effective industrial action
To make our workplaces fairer, we need to be able to take effective action. In the past, we have under-utilised the leverage at our disposal. For example, if we include our professional services colleagues in our demands, we can increase the pressure on our employers by withdrawing crucial administrative labour.
Members need to be confident that action will benefit, rather than hurt them. The available options, including strikes, have to be resourced and supported properly. That is why I propose to make the UCU strike fund transparent, easy to access, and less conservative in the support it provides.
UCU has accumulated large reserves without passing enough of them on to members who take action. I have heard from members who felt short-changed after suffering docked pay, applying to the Fighting Fund, and receiving less than they needed or expected. It does not have to be this way. We can do better, especially in Further Education, where members have faced massive pay cuts thanks to austerity, and sometimes have trouble taking action for more than a few days at a time.
Some trade unionists complain about the 50% turnout threshold imposed by Trade Union legislation. But while the law is in place, we can see it as an opportunity to organise and build support for new forms of collective action. When members take sustained action, we win. Winning is our best recruiting tool, and a larger membership galvanises all our campaigns. UCU should provide the resources to make this happen.
Accessible support for members
Some problems require personalised as well as collective solutions. I want UCU to develop versatile ways of addressing problems our members face every day. UCU has been spending more of your subscriptions on professional development courses which members struggle to find time to attend. I want to shift our focus to issues which our employers can’t or won’t deal with themselves, including:
- Reporting workplace harassment and bullying
- Reporting on workload, stress, and other health and safety issues
- Access to and control of personal membership data
We can use new technology and overhaul UCU’s online services to make these things easier than they are at present. Other unions are already doing it. So can we.
My campaign has revealed the appetite for change in UCU and started an unprecedented conversation about our future. Over 12,000 people have visited my website, and I’ve received endorsements from members across the union, from Prison Education to Higher Education.
My fourth and final email will say more about my long-term vision for UCU. Until then, please continue to contact me via email, Twitter, or Facebook, and subscribe to my mailing list. But above all, use your vote.
Dr Jo Grady