Why we need your help in the UCU NEC 2020 Election

Email sent by Dr Claire Marris (City, University of London), Monday 3 February

Dear Colleague,

I am writing on behalf of the Grady4GS campaign team to urge you to become involved in campaigning for the forthcoming elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee (NEC), that opened on 31 January and will close on 4 March. The NEC is one of the most important decision-making bodies in the union and its members are elected by UCU members, yet turnout in the NEC election is notoriously low. We need your help to publicise the election, explain why it is vital to vote, and support candidates who have a vision that goes beyond the polarised factions that currently dominate the NEC (see list below).

Grady4GS: The story so far

The election of Jo Grady as General Secretary energised many UCU members and shifted their expectations of how the union could be run in ways that represented them better. In the wake of that election, it is heartening to see that an unprecedented number of candidates are standing for election to the NEC in 2020. We hope you will help campaign for 15 of these candidates, who are broadly supportive of Jo Grady’s GS election manifesto.

Publicising the election

We also want your help to publicise this NEC election widely and encourage people to vote, because low election turnouts benefit the established factions. In the 2019 NEC election, turnout was 14% for national seats, 16% for HE seats, and 8% for FE seats. For the GS election, your campaigning increased the turnout from 13.7% in 2017 to 20.5% in 2019. We now need to do the same for this NEC election. Social media will again play an important role, but what made the difference in the GS election was the actions of hundreds of members like you all around the nation speaking to colleagues about the importance of voting and what is at stake for our union. If each member of this list can get 15 members to vote who have not voted before in NEC elections, this will make a huge difference.

What is the NEC, and why is it important?

The NEC includes representatives from Higher Education and Further Education, some of whom are elected regionally, some on a UK-wide basis, plus equality seats, the presidential team, and other officers of the union. The NEC is composed of about 60 members. Members serve a term of two years, and elections take place every year for half the seats. The current list of members is here.

The NEC is responsible for conducting the union’s business between Congress meetings. There are sub-committees for HE (HEC) and FE (FEC). At this point in time, the HEC is particularly important because it is the body making decisions about the conduct of the current USS and Four Fights industrial disputes.

There is further information about the NEC and other UCU structures in these two USSbriefs:

UCU’s national democratic structures: a case for reform #USSbriefs23 by Rachel Cohen

What are UCU’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and Higher Education Committee (HEC)? #USSbriefs74 by Kirsten Forkert and Nick Hardy

As explained in these USSbriefs, there are two organised groups in UCU, UCU Left and the Independent Broad Left (IBL, a.k.a. “Independent Progressive Left”), and “what tends to happen is that most NEC/HEC seats are filled by self-identifying members of the two organised factions inside UCU” (#USSbriefs74). UCU Left currently hold a majority of the seats on the HEC.

The 2020 NEC election

The ballot period is 31 January-4 March. It is a postal vote. UCU has posted information about the election, including the list of all the candidates and their election addresses here.

This election uses a single transferable voting system. You should rank candidates in order of preference and you can vote for as many candidates as you wish. If there are candidates who you do not want elected, you should not list them at all. None of your votes are wasted. If your first-ranked candidate already has enough votes to win, or has no chance of winning, your vote is transferred to your second-ranked choice.

In some instances, the same candidate is standing for more than one seat. You can vote for these candidates several times (once for each seat they are standing for) and, again, no vote is wasted: if they are elected to one seat, your vote for them in the other seat will automatically be reallocated to your next-ranked candidate.

For the Regional Seats, your ballot papers will only list the candidates for your own region.

Candidates with a new vision for the HEC

We are circulating a list of 15 candidates (below) who we recommend you vote and campaign for if you supported the Grady4GS manifesto. Each of these candidates is standing on their own merits, with their own political convictions, and they will not be expected to toe any particular ‘party line’ if they are elected. They come from the grassroots and have experienced the sharp end of HE marketisation. Several are in precarious contracts. These are people who can bring forth a new vision for a revitalised union.

Please circulate this information to colleagues that you believe want to see Jo Grady’s General Secretary election manifesto realised. Feel free to forward this email or adapt it for your own use. It has also been posted on the Grady4GS website here.

Let’s do this (again)!


* * *

North East Region HE (3 seats to be filled)

Ms Matilda Fitzmaurice (Durham)
Professor Ruth Holliday (Leeds)
Dr Edward Yates (Sheffield)

London and the East HE (4 seats to be filled)

Dr Annie Goh (UAL Central St Martin’s)
Dr Claire Marris (City)
Dr Stan Papoulias (KCL)

Midlands HE (casual vacancy, 1 seat to be filled)

Dr David Harvie (Leicester)

UK-Elected Members HE (5 seats to be filled; to include at least one post-92, and one academic related)

Ms Sarah King (IDS/Sussex, academic related)
Dr Chris O’Donnell (UWS), post-92)
Dr Mark Pendleton (Sheffield)
Dr Leon Rocha (Lincoln, post-92)
Dr Chloé Vitry (Lancaster)

UK-Elected Members HE (casual vacancy, 1 seat to be filled)

Dr Mark Pendleton (Sheffield)
Dr Chloé Vitry (Lancaster)

Representatives of Women Members (3 seats to be filled)

Dr Joanne Edge (Manchester)
Professor Madhu Krishnan (Bristol)

Transgender rights and UCU

I am an unequivocal supporter of trans rights and the right to gender self-definition under the law. This will not come as a surprise to anybody who knows me or has followed my public pronouncements in the past. The rights of trans people are under constant attack in this country, in the mainstream press, in workplaces, and, unfortunately, in our colleges and universities. They suffer disproportionately from numerous forms of discrimination and violence. They are among the most vulnerable targets of the far-right ideologies that are becoming increasingly visible and influential in society. No candidate for General Secretary should be able to claim that they care about equality unless they have vocally and publicly defended transgender rights.

Our Union has policies upholding trans rights, updated most recently at its 2018 Congress, as well as academic freedom. To the best of my knowledge, nothing I have said or done is inconsistent with these policies. I will continue to uphold them if I am elected General Secretary. I hope that the other candidates in this election will also commit to doing so.

People sometimes ask me why I began using a service known as ‘TERF Blocker’ on Twitter last year, which provides an easy mechanism for blocking large numbers of accounts that have been identified as articulating transphobic views. The reason is that I was receiving an enormous volume of personal abuse for expressing my opinions about transphobia and trans rights. The right to freedom of speech or academic freedom is not a right to level unlimited personal abuse, in public, at individuals with whom you disagree.

I stopped using TERF Blocker after I stood for election to UCU’s National Executive Committee earlier this year, by which point the abuse directed at me had subsided. At no point did my use of TERF Blocker prevent anybody who was blocked from viewing my tweets, either by using a different account or by browsing Twitter while remaining logged out. Throughout this period, I have continued to receive and, when appropriate, respond to emails from individual members of UCU who disagree with me about this issue.

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!

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.