What are you going to do about climate change?

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.

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.

Open letter in support of Jo Grady’s campaign for UCU General Secretary

To fellow UCU members

We write as former colleagues of Jo Grady, who knew her as fellow employees of the University of Leicester. Some of us remain employed by that institution; others, like Jo, have moved on. The past four-and-a-half years have been particularly challenging ones for the University of Leicester and its staff. Under the vice-chancellorship of Paul Boyle, who arrived in September 2014, we have faced several attempts to sack staff wholesale as well as multiple ‘transformation’ projects, all of which has created a good deal of stress and anxiety for rank-and-file academic and academic-related staff as well as our colleagues in professional services. Those of us, like Jo, who work or worked in the School of Business also suffered due to the forced merger of the School of Management and the Department of Economics, the resultant and wholesale restructuring this brought about and a move to a satellite campus, none of which was welcomed by any of the signatories to this letter. These developments did much to destroy both departments’ spirit and vibrant bottom-up cultures.

We fought these attacks at every step of the wayfrequently with great successand we remember Jo being at the forefront of these battles. Jo played a number of roles in Leicester UCU. For several years she was both a departmental rep and a member of the branch committee. For one spell she was co-secretary of the branch. All of our campaigns were grassroots, rank-and-filelike most branches, we have never had much support from Carlow Streetand Jo provided organic and strategic leadership in these campaigns. When the situation required it, she was prepared to step forward, representing our case both to senior managers and to the public. On one memorable occasion, she calmly and confidently took apart the institution’s finance director live on BBC Radio Leicester. We remember Jo for her honesty, quick wit, compassion and authenticity.

Given Jo’s qualities and her experience, we are delighted that she is running to be general secretary of our union. All is not well with UCU. We are convinced that Jo Gradysupported by the vigorous grassroots movements that have emerged (at least in pre-92 universities) in the past yearis the sort of person we would like to see assume this position. We wholeheartedly endorse her candidacy and urge other UCU members to do the same.

Signatories (52)

David Harvie, University of Leicester, Associate Professor of Finance and Political Economy; Leicester UCU Communications Officer
Jo Brewis, Open University, Professor of People and Organisations
Chris Grocott, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Management and Economic History
Thomas Swann, Loughborough University, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
Keir Milburn, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Political Economy and Organisation
Nicholas Beuret, University of Essex, Lecturer
Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, Professor of Political Geography
Marco Checchi, De Montfort University, Lecturer in Business and Management
Mirjam Twigt, Research Officer
Steve Brown, Open University, Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology
Ulrike Marx, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Accounting
Claire English, Queen Mary, University of London, Associate Lecturer
Laura Freeman, University of Leicester
Bloeme Bergmann, Former Senior International Officer at University of Leicester
Edward Yates, University of Sheffield, Lecturer in Employment Relations
Angela Last, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Human Geography
Kenneth Weir, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Accountancy
George Kokkinidis, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Work and Organisation
Simon Lilley, University of Leicester, Professor and Head of Head of Management and Organisation Division
Steve Conway, University of Leicester, Associate Professor in Innovation
Daniela Aidley, University of Applied Sciences Westkueste, Professor in Business Psychology
Charlie Smith, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Management
Chris Land, Anglia Ruskin University, Professor of Work and Organisation
Matteo Ciccognani, University of Leicester, Teaching Fellow
Rose Holyoak, University of Winchester, Lecturer in Sociology
Martin Parker, University of Bristol, Professor of Organisation Studies
Chloe Vitry, Lancaster University, Senior Reaching Associate
Maria Puig de La Bellacasa, University of Warwick, Associate Professor
Christiana Tsaousi, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Marketing and Consumption
Simon Parker, University of Nottingham, Assistant Professor
Mandi Jamalian, University of Leicester, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Maddalena Tacchetti, University of Nottingham
Eda Ulus, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Work and Organisation
Marton Racz, City, University of London, Research Fellow
Georgios Patsiaouras, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Marketing and Consumption
Nicolas Vass, University of Leicester
Matthew Allen, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Economic Anthropology
Alan Bradshaw, Royal Holloway, University of London, Professor of Marketing
Irina Cheresheva, University of Leicester, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Sara Thornton, University of Leicester, Postdoctoral Fellow
Athina Karatzogianni, University of Leicester, Associate Professor
Jodie Hannis, University of Leicester, PhD researcher
Selina Lock, University of Leicester, Library Research Services Consultant
Helen Eborall, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Social Science Applied to Health
Martin Quinn, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Regional Development
Juliana Mainard-Sardon, University of Leicester, Graduate Teaching Assistant
Hela Hassen, University of Leicester, Teaching Fellow in Marketing
Fabian Frenzel, University of Leicester, Associate Professor in the Political Economy of Organisation
Mark Burridge, University of Leicester, Lecturer in Management
Doris Ruth Eikhof, University of Leicester, Associate Professor in Work and Employment
Gibson Burrell, University of Leicester and University of Manchester, Professor of Organisation Theory
Ian Parker, Central Manchester Foundation Trust, Honorary Professorial Research Fellow

Comments (12)

  • I struggled with Jo. She is great!
  • I entirely support Jo’s candidacy for UCU GS.
  • A grassroots trade unionist for General Secretary? Yes please!
  • I left the University of Leicester in 2017, in part because of the complete shambles the tenure of Paul Boyle was making of university leadership. I have since left UK Higher Education altogether, because of Brexit. I remember Jo as being tenacious, fighting for the rights of academics as well as support staff, calling out university leadership every step of the way, and tirelessly working to stop the mass layoffs the university falsely claimed would cure all ills (unsuccessfully attempting to close the break-even/small profit Maths department comes to mind). I am no longer a UCU member, as I no longer live and work in the UK, but I fully believe Jo has what it takes to lead UCU during these tough times of austerity, blatant money grabs, and Brexit.
  • Jo was an excellent and committed colleague at Leicester and I’ve no doubt that her enthusiasm and energy will invigorate UCU, like it did in our local branch.
  • Jo was an excellent colleague and comrade. I’m delighted she’s standing in this election and urge you all to give her your vote.
  • I support Jo every step of the way, just like she did for us when she was at Leicester. Things will change for the better with her election.
  • As a PhD student at the University of Leicester during the disastrous change in leadership from Bob Burgess to Paul Boyle, I have a huge degree of respect for Jo’s work in the union and her commitment to her colleagues. Jo is exactly the kind of GS that UCU needs if it is to mobilise rank-and-file members to tackle the myriad threats facing further and higher education in the UK.
  • I worked with Jo at Leicester, so have seen her energy and commitment at first hand.
  • I was thrilled to see that Jo is running for UCU general secretary! At so many levels, politically, professionally and personally Jo is the kind of person we need to face the current challenges. Go Jo!
  • At Leicester I have experienced Jo’s concern and incredible organising for staff working conditions, and against organisational injustices. I enthusiastically support Jo’s campaign!
  • She is incredibly committed and I greatly support Jo’s campaign!

Image: Fielding Johnson Building, University of Leicester, by NotFromUtrecht (2011), Wikimedia Commons.

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