At the same time as we fight for a properly funded, financially sustainable, humane, and inclusive tertiary education sector, we must also ensure that our union embodies those qualities.

2.1 Comprehensive subscription reform to help our FE, precarious, and low-paid members

As General Secretary, I will seek to reshape our union to make it more affordable and accessible to the most materially disadvantaged workers in each sector. Above all, this means accelerating and expanding UCU’s reforms of our subscription rates. In the current system, fees for the lowest paid staff are proportionally much more expensive than for staff on higher wages, and there are steep thresholds between subscription bands. But we can go further than simply rectifying this state of affairs. It is time to consider other incentives to recruit more members: not only special rates for workers whose monthly income is not fixed, but also special initiatives to make membership affordable in areas like Further Education, where membership has declined and we need to rebuild. We must also ensure that rates do not keep increasing at a higher rate than pay, as they did in the last year. Moving to a more progressive subscription system will remove a significant obstacle in the recruitment of low-paid and casualised staff and help us to build a union that reflects the composition of the whole workforce.

2.2 Increased funding to strike against casualisation

As a result of the USS strike, our membership has finally recovered to the level it was at before its steep decline in the last few years. Many new members are younger, casualised staff. It is time to take stock of our expenditure and prioritise their needs. We can open up and liberalise UCU’s fighting fund, which appears to have been underused, despite record levels of action and donations over the past year. UCU can afford to be more proactive and welcoming in encouraging members to draw on the fund, and more responsive in the way the funds are administered. At the same time, we can save money elsewhere by capping our spending on professional development activities like grant-writing workshops, and other service activities provided by the union that should be provided by employers. In recent years, expenditure on such activities has increased. Given the challenges the sector is facing, this is not where we should be funnelling our resources. Individualised career support is never a substitute for strong collective bargaining.

2.3 Empowering national committees and the members they represent

Making union membership affordable is necessary but not sufficient. We need to improve representation and participation of marginalised groups of members at the same time. Our national Anti-Casualisation Committee does not have access to information about casualised members of UCU, and it is not currently able to communicate directly with our casualised members. Our Equality Standing Committees do not receive regular data about equality cases in our nations and regions. These committees deserve to be given the resources and tools to mobilise their own constituencies.

2.4 Task groups: putting members’ expertise and experiences to use

Formal committees do not have to be the only way members can participate and contribute to the Union. Not everybody has the capacity or means to stand for election and attend regular committees for years at a time. And yet we know from past disputes, including the recent USS strike, that our members are creative and passionate individuals. We are more than able to produce research-informed, and experience-based, solutions to the problems we face. I will trial member task groups for specific issues facing the union, placing motivated and knowledgeable members at the centre of our national campaigning. Task groups will complement and advise our national committees, and give ordinary members experience and a voice. Our employers don’t always recognise or reward our expertise, but our union will.

2.5 New approaches to negotiating

We can learn a lot from our international trade union colleagues. I would like to explore ways in which we could innovate in our collective bargaining. Alongside our traditional approach to negotiation, we should consider adopting alternative approaches that might deliver more for our members: in particular, open negotiations. Open negotiations are used elsewhere by other trade unions to incentivise negotiators to make the strongest possible case, avoid unnecessary compromises, expose employers’ attempts to misinform employees, and leave their representatives with nowhere to hide.

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