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.