Statement on Post-Brexit Tuition Fees for EU students

Yesterday it was revealed that the UK Government is planning to deprive EU students of access to home tuition fee rates from 2020 onwards. Below is the text of a statement I provided to The Guardian, part of which is quoted in their coverage of the story:

This news is disappointing but not surprisingit is an extension of the Hostile Environment policy masterminded by the Home Office and the current Prime Minister. It will increase competition among universities for a diminishing pool of EU students’ fees, and worsen the cut-throat, ethically dubious practices that already exist in international student recruitment. The government already expects educators to work as border guards, and it increasingly expects them to become extortionists as well.

As with many other aspects of the EU, this government has never welcomed EU students and never appreciated the many reciprocal benefits we get from the agreement to charge them home fees, including the benefit of enabling our own students to study in the EU more cheaply or for free. The government should be working to extend the limited benefits currently enjoyed by EU students and staff to all international students and staff, rather than doubling down on its most xenophobic tendencies. Nor should we forget that this will impact directly on a significant body of students from outside the EU: namely, refugee students who have been granted EU status. What will happen to them under these proposed changes?

I fail to see how this squares with our Hard Brexit-supporting universities minister Chris Skidmore’s insistence that our universities should become more ‘global’ in their outlook.

Election FAQs

1. When does the GS election start and finish?

The ballot opens on Monday 29 April and closes on Thursday 23 May. However, this is a postal ballot, and the pre-paid envelopes in which you are invited to post your vote are SECOND CLASS, NOT FIRST CLASS. You should post your papers no later than Monday 20 May in order to ensure that they arrive in time.

2. How do I vote?

You should receive ballot papers by post at whichever postal address you have given UCU. The papers should contain some information about the election and a 1250-word Election Address by each of the three candidates, as well as a piece of paper to record your vote(s) on. They should also include a pre-paid envelope so that you can return your vote(s) by post for free. You cannot vote online, unfortunately.

You must vote using numbers, not an ‘X’. See more just below:

3. How does ‘Single Transferable Vote’ work?

The ballot will operate on a ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) basis. This means that instead of voting for a single candidate, you are invited to rank each candidate in order of preference, putting a ‘1’ next to your preferred candidate, a ‘2’ next to your second-favourite candidate, and so on. Once the ballot has closed, the counting and allocation of votes will proceed in rounds. First, the first-preference votes for each candidate will be counted, and the candidate with the lowest number will be eliminated. The second-preference votes of people who put the eliminated candidate first will then be allocated to the other two candidates. The winner is the candidate with the highest total number of first- and second-preference votes at the end of this process.

4. When will I receive my ballot papers and how can I order a replacement?

Papers are mailed on Monday 29 April and should arrive by Wednesday 1 May. If you haven’t received your paper, or if you’ve lost it, click here for the ballot replacement form.

5. What’s the latest I can order a replacement ballot in time to receive it and post it back?

UCU has told us that the latest date is Sunday 19 May – but given how long ballot papers took to arrive, this may not be sufficient. Try not to leave ordering a replacement to the last minute! Click here for more details.

6. Who is eligible to vote?

There is one category of UCU member that is not eligible to vote in this election: those who are ‘student members’. However, this category does not include all students: for example, if you are a student who is paid to teach, you should be eligible. As a rule of thumb, if you do anything that constitutes paid work in your institution rather than, or as well as training, you are eligible to vote! Many members who took advantage of the free membership offer as PhD students will be eligible, even if they weren’t when they originally joined. Click here for details.

If you have only just realised that you are eligible, you may need to change your membership status in UCU’s official database in order to receive your ballot papers. To do so, click here.

For more information about these categories, see this web page, and Section 3.1 of the UCU Rulebook. Please check your eligibility, change your details if necessary, and do so as soon as possible in order to make sure you can use your vote!

7. How can I talk to/ask questions of the candidates and/or hear them debate each other?

All of the candidates have a presence on social media as well as campaign email addresses. But there will also be a series of live hustings organised by UCU branches, regional committees, and one or two other institutions. Click here for a list.

8. Why haven’t I received any emails about the election from UCU?

UCU does not do much to publicise elections to members. You may have missed the brief and infrequent communications it has issued about the election (for example, in ‘The Friday Email’). The main source of publicity comes in the form of four emails which each candidate is entitled to send to all members of UCU during the election period.

However, there are other reasons why you may not be receiving some or all of UCU’s emails:

  • You may in the past have chosen not to receive any emails from UCU whatsoever. If you would like to change your decision, click here or email the UCU membership department.
  • You may, after receiving one email from a GS election candidate, have chosen (deliberately or by accident) not to receive any more candidate emails. If you would like to change your decision, click here or email the UCU membership department.
  • You may be registered as a ‘student member’ who is ineligible to vote in this election and therefore does not receive any candidate emails. If you are unsure of the category of membership you belong to and/or wish to change it, see the answer to question 5, above.
  • Your spam filter may be filtering out communications from UCU – this is a very common occurrence, so please check your junk folder for missing emails!

Time’s Up Academia

Creating structures to prevent sexual harassment and violence in the workplace

It is estimated that 18% of men and 40% of women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. Sexual violence disproportionately (but not exclusively) impacts women, BME women, and LGBTQ* people.

Sexual harassment and violence are chronically under-researched, but also under-reported in our sector. This certainly reflects my experience, and when I think of conversations with the women I work with and students I teach, I struggle to believe that 40% accurately captures what happens. Or worse still, we’re so accustomed to daily acts of harassment that we see them as something to be endured and don’t report them. Like many other women in our sector, I have experienced sexual harassment at work but never reported it.

Why have I never reported? Partly, I learnt to cope with regular infractions and avoid contact with harassers, but mainly because I have seen what happens when women who experience harassment report it or speak out about it. They rarely get justice, and often get further abuse. Reports never make it out of the departments where the harassment takes place. Abusers can be in positions of power and privilege, acting as gatekeepers to opportunities. They are able to use the structures to defend themselves. Procedures to tackle harassment are often insufficient because they don’t acknowledge this. The person who has experienced sexual harassment and violence must relive their trauma as part of the reporting process. In worst case scenarios, the identity of the predator will be an open secret in their discipline or department, but the abuser will still torment many over the course of their career.

The 1752 Group’s excellent campaigns and strategic priorities have gone unsupported by our national union. Members have had to rely upon whisper networks to warn each other about predators in our classrooms, offices, and libraries, and branches have been overburdened by treating sexual harassment through casework. We can do more. As well as urgent issues relating to pay gaps, retention and promotion, our sector cannot pretend to be progressive or inclusive if we fail to address the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment in it. We must provide the basics of respect, dignity and safety for all of our members.

As a first step, we need to quantify the problem better. The government does not collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment at work, and nor does UCU. We must quantify and make public not just the number of harassment cases reported in our workplaces, but also the number of hours and the expenditure allocated to dealing with them. As General Secretary I will create positions for specialist, full-time equality casework officials. These officials will be key to this process. They will collate information, identify emerging trends and patterns of discrimination, target potentially high-profile cases for special assistance, and work towards precedent-setting legal challenges and broad-based agreements with employers.

As a union we must start recording data on the misuse of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to silence survivors of bullying, sexual harassment, or racial discrimination. Armed with data and successful legal challenges, we will then run a national UCU campaign to reform disciplinary procedures and also implement professional boundaries for the protection of staff and our students. As UCU General Secretary I will work with student groups to lobby our employers to adopt new disciplinary procedures and to ban the use of NDAs in such cases.

Once we have formulated a set of concrete demands, we should consider putting them to employers as part of our annual pay, equality and anti-casualisation claim. We need to signal to our bosses, our members, and our students that we regard harassment as a core issue rather than a peripheral one, and recognise that the gender and ethnicity pay gaps are far from the only ways in which women and BME staff can be socially and materially disadvantaged.

However, we cannot claim the moral high ground as a union if we do not set the very best example to our employers. We must conduct an urgent review of UCU’s own internal procedures, to ensure that complaints of sexual harassment are dealt with in a sensitive yet decisive way. Using the expertise of our members (something our institutions rarely do), we could produce a confidential harassment reporting app. Such technologies do not further traumatise the survivors, but work proactively to subvert cultures of abuse through prevention and support. If we are to demand best practice from our employer, we must ensure we implement and follow it in our union.

Photo credit: Professor Anita Hill, by Gage Skidmore

New blog on UCU and FE in Times Education Supplement

On Wednesday 24 April, I published a new blog in Times Education Supplement.

‘The union has been letting FE branches down’

UCU needs to grow its FE membership, general secretary candidate Jo Grady believes

Low pay in further education is probably the single most urgent issue currently facing UCU. Nobody can ignore what years of Tory austerity, combined with rapacious managers, have done to the sector. Without a meaningful national bargaining framework, branches have been forced to act locally.

The low turnout among FE members in recent elections to UCU’s National Executive Committee (NEC) indicates a collapse of confidence in the union’s ability to fight for FE on a national level. This makes the local action which many FE branches are taking against their employers all the more impressive.

Read the rest of this blog over at Times Education Supplement!

Making UCU strike ready

The cost of striking and the salary of the General Secretary

Striking is expensive. We forgo our pay in the hope the settlement will justify the sacrifice. To be strike ready, we must ensure we can financially support those who stand to suffer the most from any pay deductions our employers try to impose on us. For future industrial action, we need to liberalise UCU’s Fighting Fund, which appears to have been underused in recent times, despite record levels of action and donations.

Just look at the latest budget details: in the 12 months between September 2017 and August 2018, UCU received £429,000 in donations, most of which would have been made by its own members to the Fighting Fund. These donations contributed to a very healthy £2.2mn operating surplus. In total, the Fighting Fund made payments of £1.13mn, and still had £1.4mn in reserve at the end.

This is not good enough, especially when UCU’s overall reserves are a very long way from being in any trouble. When you take member donations out of the equation, UCU did not do nearly enough to support its members who went on strike. 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.

When people talk about my candidacy, they tend to describe me as the ‘grassroots’ candidate. What does this mean in practice? It doesn’t just mean that I have a large base of support among ordinary UCU members and reps. It doesn’t just mean that I want UCU to be much more supportive in its use of the Fighting Fund. As far as I’m concerned, it also means that I need to walk the walk, by being aware of my own working terms and conditions in relation to yours. If elected, I will ensure that any increase in my salary is no higher than the most recent national pay offer in Further Educationthe sector where our union has made least progress in protecting or improving our members’ wages. Furthermore, I will also donate a portion of my salary to the UCU Fighting Fund, and publish the amount donated.

The scale of members’ donations to the Fighting Fund last year is inspiring. It’s a reminder that we all had each other’s backs. If you elect me, you can finally be confident that the same is true of your union, and your General Secretary.

Universities challenged: Reversing market tyranny in Higher Education

In May 2018, I participated in the “Reasons to be Cheerful” podcast, hosted by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd. The episode was entitled “Universities challenged: Reversing market tyranny in Higher Education”, and you can listen to it here. Here is the blurb:

Hello. We’re on the road again—this time in Sheffield at the Festival of Debate. We’re asking what’s to be done about our universities? Our guests Jo Grady, Joshua Forstenzer and Mark Leach want to rescue the public purpose of Universities from the tyranny of the market’s high fees, casualised staff, distorted assessments of research and teaching, and frustrated students.

In Higher Education we must do more to oppose the Hostile Environment

This blog was originally published in Times Higher Education on 4 April 2019.

On March 27th the Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore delivered a speech outlining his ‘Vision for Global Higher Education’. Skidmore asserted that in the wake of Brexit—which he has voted for repeatedly since his appointment—university staff now have a responsibility to start ‘thinking and acting more globally than ever before’. Skidmore’s vision is disturbing in more than one way. It echoes the demands made by senior managers who impose impossible working conditions but demand success, and it reveals a disregard for our international colleagues and students.

Skidmore’s insistence that we now have the responsibility to make the best of Brexit, with the threat that the blame will fall on us if we fail, is grotesque. But it gets worse. Skidmore seems oblivious to the damage which his party’s Hostile Environment has already done to the sector. His ‘vision’ fails to acknowledge the precious gift which he has inherited as Universities Minister, the transformational capacity of education, and the diverse and international community that provides education in this country. Twenty-nine per cent of academic staff in UK HE are migrants (16.9% come from EU countries and 12.1% from non-EU countries). How can we keep international collaboration alive, let alone increase it, when some of our international collaborators can’t get visas to visit the UK for our research events? How can we morally continue to invite the best international students to come and study in the UK when the Hostile Environment imprisons them in detention centers and threatens to deport them?

Our government does not value our international students or our migrant colleagues, but as a union we must. As a union we must step up our national campaigns to oppose the use of university staff as de facto immigration police. We must campaign for the abolition of excessive immigration fees, including the international health surcharge. Furthermore, we must insist in our national claims that employers reimburse international staff for these unfair fees until such time as they are abolished. Powerful campaigns like International and Broke and Unis Resist Border Controls have laboured too long without official support. As General Secretary of UCU, I will create dedicated ‘task groups’ of lay members who will be given the time and the platform necessary to influence our national bargaining strategy.

Some major unions are split on Brexit, but UCU is not. We know from a 2018 consultation that 89% of UCU members support a referendum on the final ‘deal’. But what has this meant in practice? Beyond a flurry of activity when the consultation results were published, we have seen little action from UCU leadership. Other unions have been far more vocal in their requests for a final vote. Where is our voice in the national debate? Where is the voice of our international colleagues? Somebody must speak for university workers and UCU members, when the Universities Minister fails to do so. UCU’s underwhelming approach to opposing Brexit epitomises much of what frustrates us as UCU members; surveys to illuminate worst practice in our sector, but little meaningful national action. Build unions, not borders is a great statement, but we must be more than a press-release union on issues like these. The Hostile Environment is not happening somewhere else. It is happening in our classrooms, offices, and research events. It is time we stepped up.

Dr Jo Grady
University of Sheffield UCU and UCU General Secretary Candidate 2019

No Detriment, Reflections on the JEP and where next for the USS Dispute…

Earlier this week Jack Grove contacted me with a series of questions to help with a piece he is writing for Times Higher Education (THE). I think it’s important when we provide content for publications that are paywalled that we also share those words on a freely accessible platform. With that in mind, I publish below my answers to Jack.

Broad issues enquired about: April 2018 ballot and No Detriment – JEP and possibility of further strikes –  My election to NEC – My affiliations – GS election – My current research.

April 2018 ballot and the feasibility of ‘No Detriment’

Reasonable arguments were made on both sides of the debate over the April ballot to end USSstrike action and set up the Joint Expert Panel (JEP). I thought that the JEP itself was an excellent idea, but I voted ‘no’ because at that time we had the upper hand over our employers, and continuing to threaten further strike action would have won even more concessions on top of the JEP. But in order to explain what I would do differently as GS in a dispute like this, it’s worth stepping back and considering what happened before the ballot period, and where we have ended up since the JEP reported.

When you’re negotiating with employers in an industrial dispute, you owe it to your members to be honest and transparent about what you consider possible. When you reach the sharp end of negotiations, you may have to reach a compromise of some sort with employers. But before then, you need to build a sense of confidence and optimism about what can be achieved if members go on strike. Here’s an example: we know that if the JEP’s recommendations are applied to a 2018 valuation, USS is not in deficit and no detrimental changes (#NoDetriment) are needed. But this is not really new information. UCU’s actuarial advisers, First Actuarial, were saying this in September 2017, before the strike ballot had even started. We had an expert opinion in favour of No Detriment in our pocket from the start, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned in an all-member email. Clearly now the JEP have endorsed this, the official ‘No Detriment’ position of UCU is even stronger.

Equally, we didn’t do enough to communicate to members the fact that USS had deemed all employers to be able to increase their contributions from 18% to 25% for the duration of the valuation cycle. This is why I called for us to demand increases of up to 6.9% in order to protect benefits in my brief about the April ballot decision. If we had started with this as our negotiating position and said so to members, I think we could have won much more. We still would have needed the JEP, in order to fix the valuation and place USS on a firmer long-term footing. But we could have forced employers to cover most, if not all, of the interim contribution increases which we are now facing thanks to USS’s stubbornness. Alternatively, we could have forced employers to repay the strike deductions. As soon as they offered us the 12 March Acas deal, employers were admitting that their proposal to end Defined Benefit was unnecessary. By offering us the JEP, they were admitting that they might have been completely wrong about the unaffordability of USS. By agreeing with the JEP’s recommendations now, they are admitting that there was no need to cut our benefits. We should hold them to account for that, and the damage they did by forcing us to go on strike. We had plenty of time to press employers for an even better offer during the Easter vacation, before the next wave of strikes was due to start. So when I voted to stay on strike in April, I wasn’t voting against the JEP; I was voting to make our employers back up their words with meaningful actions, and start to repair the damage they had done.

JEP and the possibility of further strikes

The JEP vindicated the UCU strike action. We managed to move the narrative about USS significantly during our 14-day strike. The strike demonstrated that all was not well with UUK, and perhaps even less well at USS. Our employers either lacked the political nous to see what was evident to UCU members, or they were happy to see our pension scheme downgraded on false premises. Either way, they must now demonstrate a commitment to helping us maintain it. And that may mean helping us take on the USS executive. Thus, our disputedespite the publication of the JEPis still very much about the extent to which our employers are willing to stand with us and protect our Scheme from its own managers. The JEP has been very important, but it will once again be members and the union leadership who apply the pressure needed for change with our employers. This time around we have a joint union and employer backed document (the JEP) that demonstrates there is no need for detrimental changes to our scheme, but unlike 2017/18, when UUK voted to downgrade USS from DB to DC, in any future discussion UUK must not just vote with us on the JNC, but this must also be backed by tangible employer support and action if required.

We must remember that the Joint Expert Panel was established as a result of a ballot to cease industrial action whilst we seek solutions. The Joint Expert Panel’s first report sought to avoid further industrial action. It is very frustrating that the actions of USS may provoke further action. If we do end up in a ballot situation, and Bill Galvin is still Chief Executive of USS, I would hope UUK and our employers ask questions about decision-making by those within USS, and also consider calling for resignations. Furthermore, if we do ballot and see any future strike over USS we must ensure the long-term and short-term interests of members are secured during that action, and fight to implement phase 2 of the JEP as well as limiting any short-term contribution increases/benefit cuts. As such UCU policy should not just be ‘no detriment’ (which it currently is) because there is no deficit, but also reform of USS. This would involve making structures of accountability and transparency to ensure we do not end up in this situation again.

My election to the NEC

I remain really pleased and honoured that I was elected to the UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) and with such an overwhelming majority and endorsement from those who voted. Additionally, the 14% turnout was significantly higher than in 2018, when it was 9.7%. I think this shows that when you engage with people directly, and on issues that matter, then people are willing to vote. I won far more first preferences than the second-placed candidate (3843 to 2134). My second preference votes were quite evenly distributed amongst the remaining candidates, which suggests I have broad appeal across the UCU membership. I think the reason for this is because I ran on a strong platform, that highlighted my expertise, and how this would be practically applied if I was elected. I want to see more people like me, who are committed branch activists and all the experience that brings, coming forward and standing for national roles. I think to many members it is a mystery what happens at the NECthis was certainly the case last year for many in HE and involved in the USSstrike. It would be good to avoid a situation like the mass demonstration outside Carlow Street again, and I think making the business of the NEC (and its subsidiary committees) transparent and therefore our committees more accountable to the membership, would be helpful in this regard.

My affiliations

I confess when it comes to affiliations and membership the track record from my early years is a little embarrassing. When I was younger I was a card carrying member of the Beano fan club, though I let this membership lapse circa age 9, and I have dabbled in the Sheffield Wednesday supporter club (though to my shame this has always been transactional, and purely to build up points for away games). At other times I have been a season-ticket holder, but sadly in recent years this has been a labour of love, and not to watch the quality of football on display at Hillsborough. I have a string of academic and professional memberships including: British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA), British Sociological Association (BSA), and Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD). Politically speaking, I am also a member of the Labour Party, though sadly the demands of my job and my considerable union work prevent me from being as actively involved as I would like. I am not a member of any other political group, nor any community or political groups that support or affiliate to Labour, such as Momentum, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), Socialist Workers Party (SWP), etc. Nor am I a member of any faction within UCU.

GS election

The GS election is taking place in a crucial moment for UCU members. Post-16 education is in turmoil, but not every candidate in this election knows what it feels like to work in this highly volatile sector. I think it is important we have somebody heading our union who genuinely understands the sector because they have lived and worked it. Obviously I’m running because I think I am the best person for that job. But even if I don’t win, I would like to see a winner who represents the sector. We are about to enter tough times, and we need a champion from the membership to lead our union.

My current research

My current research project with Professor Phil Taylor was inspired by the first seminar I taught after the USSstrike finished in 2018. In the seminar I used one of Phil’s (Taylor and Bain 2003) old papers on call centre case studies, which analyses the contribution of subversive, satirical and countercultural humour to a union organising campaign, specifically centred on the role of humour in industrial conflict. Having just spent an extended period of time on strike, on mostly jubilant picket lines, I realised that only a handful of seminal studies (e.g. Lane and Roberts 1971; Fantasia 1988) theorise the role of humour, the carnival atmosphere on picket lines, and the feelings of liberation and elation which striking workers experience. But yet humour is a key part of all picket lines. The Fire Brigades Union strike of 2002-3 and the British Airways-BASSA dispute provide compelling examples of firefighters and cabin crew in turn engaging in satirical, clowning and subversive humour directed at the specific targets of government and employer, with particularly sharp barbs fired at the political and corporate leaders (Chancellor George Brown and Willy Walsh, British Airways, respectively) as personally responsible for the workers’ plight. Phil and I have spent time collecting data on the humour deployed during the USSstrike period of February-April 2018. The visual and verbal humour publicly displayed by workers on picket lines, at mass rallies and demonstrations in the form of slogans on placards and banners, costume and dress, artistic expressions, music, song and dance. Some of this was on Twitter, but a large part of our data is about humour directly experienced and performed on picket lines. We present a chronology of the strike and how humour was used differently during different parts of the strike, to inform, educate, mobilise, create a sense of community, and foster what we are calling ‘attribution’: an understanding of what causes detrimental changes to working conditions, pensions, pay (and so on), and the people identified as being responsible for them.

Dr Jo Grady
University of Sheffield UCU and UCU General Secretary Candidate 2019

In solidarity with Danny Millum

As a trade unionist, activist, and organiser, I would like to express my extreme concern at claims that Danny Millum, Secretary of University of London IWGB, has faced intimidation from senior management for his work as a trade unionist. As part of the ongoing boycott of the University of London central administration, he met recently with seminar conveners from the Institute of Historical Research to discuss the boycott campaign. The campaign is important and calls for all outsourced workers to be brought in house. It relies upon all of us taking part in the boycott, and bringing pressure to bear on the University of London to negotiate with staff to end a two tier form of employment.

In response to the meeting, Danny Millum was reprimanded for discussing the campaign with the seminar conveners on the grounds that it had happened during working hours. The letter he received threatened disciplinary action were this to happen again. A number of things are concerning here. Not only is this a clear attempt to disrupt the boycott, it is an effort to do so by intimidation of trade unionists by using accusations of diminished job performance as a disciplinary mechanisms.

However, there is no evidence that Danny’s workload was neglected by this 30-minute meeting, indeed he worked more than his contracted 35 hours that week. Moreover, the letter came from the Dean of the School of Advanced Studies, not Danny’s line manager who is the person best placed to comment on employees’ performance. Such an intervention by the Dean is unusual and should be concerning for all trade unionists as it suggests management are using their authority to interfere in the day-to-day activities of staff and trade union organisers to undermine attempts to support the most vulnerable and precarious of staff. We cannot tolerate intimidation of union representatives in workplaces, and we cannot tolerate them being prevented from organising and campaigning. To do so makes us all weaker and our efforts to improve conditions for all of us, including the most precarious, weaker.

The boycott has only arisen because of the continual failure of the University of London to address the concerns of outsourced workers, who have been campaigning since September 2017 for equal treatment with directly employed staff and to be brought in-house.

For university management to ignore all requests for negotiation from these predominantly BAME workerswho endure worse pension, sick pay and holiday conditions than their in-house colleaguesis already of grave concern. For managers to also attempt to intimidate one of their elected officers is scandalous.

I send solidarity to Danny, and hope that the University of London revoke the letter sent to him, and choose to negotiate over the University of London boycott, as opposed to seeking to discipline trade union members who are organising to support outsourced workers.

Dr Jo Grady
University of Sheffield UCU and UCU General Secretary Candidate 2019

 

FE fights back!

This week I dusted off my whisking bowl and whipped up some macaroons to take to Bradford College UCU branch picket line. Because, after babies and pooches, baked goods are a staple of any picket. Taking food to a picket line is important, because solidarity is nourishment, and nourishment is needed if we are to sustain each other. Colleagues on strike deserve our support and sustenance, especially comrades at Bradford College, who were on strike for the third time since November!

Today was Day 3 of their industrial action, and the picket was full of staff galvanized in their fight for fair pay. The College had been successfully closed down by the strike, and given HR’s office overlooked our picket, we did our best to be as noisy as possible. Bradford College UCU is a strong, solid, mobilised branch, and that was evident at their picket line today.

Many I spoke to highlighted that their workloads had increased significantly—classrooms that used to have 8 students, are now classrooms of 23. Worse still, intensification of workloads sat alongside a reduction in their real-term pay—which on average is 25% less than it was in 2009, and is approximately £10,000 less than school teachers. Low pay in Further Education is compounded by high rates of casualisation (it is estimated that 30% of teaching staff in FE are on casualised contracts). Casualisation has consequences. I know from my own research that precarity has a detrimental impact on workers; precarity reduces job security, denies staff pay during the holidays, increasing stress and anxiety. This ultimately makes staff even more amenable to low pay.

It is against this backdrop that Bradford College UCU, along with other striking FE branches, have taken action this week. While their pay has been slashed, the pay of senior management has sky-rocketed, and expenditure on vanity building projects has increased. The picket today was in front of a “shiny new building” that, along with other campus refurbishments has cost millions of pounds. All the while wages and conditions of Bradford College staff have suffered. An ex-student on the picket line described the chaos that the new building created to timetabling, which resulted in students being shifted week-to-week to different classrooms. Leading me to ask, who are these building actually for?

Bradford College UCU have tried to talk to their senior management. As though delivering an early joke, Bradford College said they would be unable to meet before 1 April. The joke, however, is on them. The ballot result and activism at Bradford College means this issue is not going away. The wave of recent strikes in FE demonstrate that resistance in the sector is strong, and is growing.

While we were picketing today news reached us that Bridgwater and Taunton College had reached a deal with their management. This follows a positive resolution at New Swindon College, and suspended action at City of Wolverhampton College, Petroc, and Bath College. But Bradford College management have favoured intransigence and obfuscation over dialogue, a decision I believe they will ultimately regret.

The strong local activism demonstrated this week is impressive, but activists are in an even stronger position when they are supported by national bargaining machinery. Something which ideally would be meaningfully re-established in FE, and prevent the further decline of the value of pay for all staff across the sector.

Today’s picket was the final strike day of the week. We attracted attention and support from passers-by, and our speeches reflected on the legacy of funding cuts, the anti-working class agenda of this government’s FE and adult education policies, and the need to stand together for decent pay, secure jobs, and the future of education.

I want to close by sending solidarity to all the FE colleges on strike (Bradford, Croydon, Harlow, South Bank, and West Thames).

You can extend Bradford College UCU your support by donating to their hardship fund.

Dr Jo Grady
University of Sheffield UCU and UCU General Secretary Candidate 2019