I’m a Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations at the University of Sheffield. I joined UCU as a Lancaster University postgraduate student in 2006, the same year it was founded. As a trade union officer and activist I live and breathe my academic research and teaching, as it informs what I do in both my professional and civic life. The issues that face our union are issues I campaign on, and also write about for a number of audiences, including The Independent, LabourList and Wonkhe, and also in academic journals where I discuss gender, pensions, and precarity. My expertise has also informed USS pension coverage from Jo Cumbo in The Financial Times and UCU strike coverage from Richard Adams in The Guardian. I am also a co-founder of USSbriefs, an initiative started by members of UCU during the industrial dispute over the USS pension scheme, with the aim of providing accessible, informative research about issues relating to the dispute.
I was born in 1984 to a striking miner, and a mother who was raising my two brothers in tough times. Lively discussions about workers’ rights were a staple of my upbringing, and cultivated my ability and predisposition for organising. Alongside UCU work I help organise feminist, anti-racist, and anti-fascist assemblies, and have acted as a Trustee for a domestic violence charity.
I grew up and attended my local comprehensive and Further Education college in Wakefield. I was the first in my family to go to university, and I understand the transformative power of education—both the things education can do for individuals, and the way it changes families and communities. Further Education was the route I accessed university and I’m disturbed by the impact of devastating cuts in that sector. The issues we see in Higher Education are invariably more intense in Further Education, and it’s important we defend Further Education from further attacks and help rebuild the sector. My commitment to helping students like myself who come from a working-class background is also evident in the widening participation roles I held at Universities of Lancaster and Leicester.
I did my undergraduate, Masters, and PhD at Lancaster University; my doctoral thesis was entitled UK pension reform and the trade union movement: a neoliberal dilemma. When my postgraduate scholarship ended in 2009, I was appointed to my first full-time post (Lecturer in Human Resources Management and Employment Relations) at the University of Leicester. When I started at Leicester, I became the Leicester UCU departmental rep for the School of Management (later School of Business), a post I held until I left in 2017. I managed the fallout of a forced merger with another department and the wholesale restructuring this resulted. Leicester management attempted to intensify the workload by 30%, a move we successfully resisted due to a campaign that I coordinated. When I left University of Leicester in 2017, we had approximately 90% union membership density in the School of Business. We were a very successful and well organised department, which was down to the hard work and deep organising that I and other departmental reps engaged in.
In 2016 I took up the role of Co-Branch Secretary at Leicester during turbulent and challenging times. The then Vice-Chancellor, Prof Paul Boyle, attempted to make wholesale redundancies (the target was 150 staff) and departmental closures. This coincided with the intensification of workloads and the implementation of lecture capture. I was a central organiser during this period on many issues. Along with our branch Chair I led our continued campaigns on equal pay highlighting the appalling gender pay gap at Leicester, which led to me serving on the institutional gender pay gap committee, both as a local UCU representative, but also as a member of the Women’s Forum that was established as a result of our campaigns. I also ran a long and very public campaign against the closure of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, supported other branch colleagues in related campaigns against redundancies and departmental closures elsewhere on campus, and we successfully fought back against involuntary participation of lecture capture. My experience at Leicester taught me just how powerful branches are in determining local events, but also how important it is that we’re properly supported by our national union—otherwise local officers and activists will burn out.
In 2017 I moved to University of Sheffield where I became a Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations, and took up the post as Sheffield UCU Pensions Officer. In 2018 I was also elected to the UCU National Dispute Committee for USS, playing a central role in developing key communications and materials for our branches and officers. I also sit on the University of Sheffield USS Pension Valuation Working Group. This is a joint union-employer committee that is working to resolve the USS dispute by bringing together specialist expertise. Over the years I attended UCU congress, and various national special sector conferences on pay and pensions on behalf of the branch. In 2019 I was honoured to be elected to the UCU National Executive Committee with an overwhelming majority and endorsement.
I research and publish on the main issues that face our union: precarity and exploitation in the workplace and how to resist them; pension regulation and associated pension crises; industrial action surrounding pension and pay disputes; the challenge of fostering solidarities in the context of financialization and marketization; and the systemic inequalities and disadvantage that vulnerable groups face in the labour market. My strength is that I can mobilise my academic expertise and experience to support all my activism and trade union work, and I’m an effective communicator who can convert complicated developments into easily accessible messages for all UCU members, as shown in my articles for USSbriefs, which I co-founded.
- NEC, Higher Education UK representative elect, office commences May 2019
- USS National Dispute Committee, 2018-
- Re-call Congress Regional Observer, 2018
- Special Higher Education Conference USS Delegate, 2018
- Special Higher Education Conference Pay and Pensions Delegate, 2018
- Congress Delegate, 2016
University of Sheffield UCU:
- Pensions Officer, 2018-
- Committee, 2018-
- Branch Representative on institutional USS Valuation Working Group, 2018-
- Departmental Rep, 2018-
University of Leicester UCU:
- Co-branch Secretary, 2016-2017
- Committee, 2016-2017
- Departmental Rep, 2009-2017
- Rotating Representative on institutional Gender Pay Gap committee, 2016-2017