More than one member has asked me about this, one in response to my first all-member email, which went out on Monday, and others on Twitter. Here is my answer:
Thanks for asking me about this very important issue. You may have seen that I talk about climate change in the pensions section of my manifesto. Given the size of the USS pension scheme’s fund (well over £60bn at the moment), my view is that the single most important thing UCU can do is to force USS to divest from its large direct fossil fuel holdings and invest in green assets instead. This is an area where UCU could have a lot of leverage in the near future. The Joint Expert Panel is going to issue its second report soon, which will deal with the question of overhauling USS’s decision-making mechanisms, governance structures, and investment strategies. There may well be more industrial action, or threats of industrial action at that point, and that will be the perfect time to put divestment on the table.
Other members have asked me about other forms of action on climate change, including the possibility of a general strike, and I’ve already said a bit about this on Twitter. There are legal issues around a general strike: since trade union laws prevent workers from striking over anything other than their own terms and conditions, we would need to find workarounds in order to make it clear that we are in dispute with our employers about how they are handling (or rather, failing to handle) climate change, and not directly with the government or any other body. But I think the possibility is there and we have to investigate it. Students have led on this issue, and we need to find ways to support them. And there may be other local opportunities, short of a strike, to make a difference: for example by pushing some of our wealthiest institutions, e.g. the big pre-92 universities, to divest. To my mind that’s bound up with the larger enterprise of governance reform, replacing the corporate figures who tend to direct decision-making at the highest levels of universities with representatives from student and staff bodies.