Below is the text of the fourth 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 will be sent on Sunday 19 May. To read the first, second, and third emails, click here, here, and here.
Further and Higher Education are part of a social context which we cannot ignore. Both sectors have been shaped in the last decade by a series of crises: from the financial crisis, to the human and macroeconomic crisis of austerity, to the ongoing crisis of Brexit. Governments have cut some costs, and shifted others to us and to our students.
Managers of universities and colleges have, at best, failed to protect us from politicians and the private sector. At worst, they have actively conspired to undermine public education. Universities and colleges could be part of the solution, but they are becoming part of the problem. It is up to us to turn things round.
You have a few days left to vote. The pre-paid envelopes in your ballot papers are Second Class, so you need to post them by Monday to be sure that they will arrive in time. Today is the last day you can order a First-Class replacement ballot.
The USS crisis: what we have learnt
Last year’s USS dispute showed how far managers’ priorities have diverged from our own. It brought out the worst in them. But it brought out the best in us. Our students supported us. We gained thousands of members. Our collective expertise and experience overturned more than a decade of conventional wisdom about the supposed decline of good, guaranteed pensions. We taught each other what is possible when we take collective action.
Building an open, democratic, proactive union
The fight for USS is not over. As I point out in my manifesto, we still need to secure our pensions for the longer term. But we also need to turn UCU into a union that can confront all the challenges I have mentioned above, and bring about sector-defining change.
We need a plan for Further Education. We can convert local action into a return to meaningful national bargaining, and rebuild the union’s FE membership in the same way we have for HE. But we also need plans to protect our international staff and students; combat climate change; repair the damage done by the Brexit Referendum; eradicate sexual harassment from our workplaces; and replace irresponsible and harmful metrics with meaningful standards for evaluating what we do.
There are no shortcuts. Nobody will do these things for us. I stood up from the ranks of university staff to stand for General Secretary because I know that we are the answer. We can turn UCU into a union that reflects the full diversity of our workforce and represents the very best of tertiary education.
We can reach out to casually employed staff; take action to support our colleagues in professional services; and advance the cause of equality in our annual bargaining.
We can make negotiations more transparent, so that our members can make informed decisions and hold their representatives to account.
We can form member ‘task groups’ to develop new campaigns, and convert our understanding of what is going wrong in each sector into meaningful action against it.
Use your vote, give me a mandate for change
My website now contains an extensive list of my responses to questions from members on a range of issues, and I continue to welcome your inquiries via email, Twitter, or Facebook.
For all our efforts over the past decade, UCU has struggled to find a way forward. This election gives us an unprecedented opportunity to do so.
If I win this election, I will have the honour of being the first General Secretary to come from the membership. I hope to see a record turnout, and a strong mandate for change.
Dr Jo Grady
Image from Scott Hurrell