Report: UCU Rank & File Meeting


By Dan Davison, NCAFC Postgrads & Education Workers Co-Rep

On 29 April 2018, approximately 50 activists from across the UK met at City, University of London. They were there as part of a newly formed Rank and File network within the University and College Union (UCU). This network emerged from the strikes this year over proposed cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which saw a surge in activity within the union at the grassroots level. 64% of members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted ‘Yes’ on 14 April 2018 to an offer made by the employers’ consortium, Universities UK (UUK), to set up a Joint Expert Panel that would, among other things, look into the valuation of the USS Fund. Despite this, many UCU members – myself included – saw the handling of this ballot as a capitulation by Sally Hunt, the UCU General Secretary.

The Rank and File meeting therefore had a central objective of ensuring we do not lose the energisation of UCU’s activist base, especially seeing how 24,000 new members have joined the union since the USS strike ballot. Although the network and meeting both arose from the USS dispute, the common understanding remained that our battle is against larger ills within the education sector, including marketisation and precarity. Likewise, the question of how to intervene in UCU’s structures and democratise the union was central, with the members present generally accepting that UCU’s weaknesses cannot be solved with a change in leadership alone.

We also acknowledged the need to share skills and resources, especially between stronger and weaker UCU branches, and to link with broader workers’ and students’ struggles. Encouragingly, it was suggested that the new network should push UCU to work in closer solidarity with students in the fight for free education. Much inspiration was taken from examples across the world, including the recent West Virginia wildcat strikes and the establishment of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union in California. Although involvement in the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) was suggested to keep the dynamism of the strike alive, no serious case was made for UCU activists to ‘dual card’ as IWGB members or to found another union altogether.

The Rank and File network has no steering committee as such, but now has several working groups that we broke into following general discussion of the network’s aims. These working groups are on democracy, anti-racism (including migrant workers’ rights), the Higher Education pensions dispute, and precarious labour. Given my history of union activism around casualisation, I joined the precarious labour group, which saw a healthy discussion of everything from practical demands, such as moving precarious staff onto fractional contracts, to common interests to which we can appeal in our campaigns, such as high workloads and the gender pay gap.

Overall, the Rank and File meeting was promising, but the onus falls upon the newly connected members to turn its initiatives into concrete gains. We have a vision of a better union in mind: now we need to bring it into reality.

24 March: National Student Strike – Shut Down Education

  • Shut down the education system
  • Blockade universities and colleges on 24 March.

The University and Colleges Union, UCU, have called a series of strikes in the run up to March 26.

There are moves to coordinate these strikes together for Thursday 24 March, which should see many colleges and universities shut down.

Students should join the teachers on the picketlines in their hundreds to strengthen the strike.

[Read more…]

University of Arts London UCU to strike

Staff at University of Arts London will be striking on Thursday 27 May, after two-thirds of UCU members voted in favour of strike action. UAL management has refused to back down from the threat of redundancies and course closures, leaving the union with no choice but to strike.

A rally is planned at 3pm outside Central Saint Martins and the Cochrane Theatre on the corner of Southampton Row and Theobald’s Road.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts fully supports direct action taken by students and workers against job and course cuts, be it strikes, action short of a strike, or occupations.

UCU day of action: reports from the picket lines

Reports from a variety of colleges and universities updated as we receive more. Whether you’re an education worker, a student or neither, if you have a report from a picket line or demo post it here as a comment or email it to [email protected] (pictures also welcome!) [Read more…]

Thousands of lecturers strike tomorrow

Lecturers at four universities and eleven FE colleges will be on strike tomorrow (for the list see the UCU website) against cuts.

Demonstration in London – May 5
Assemble 1pm, King’s College London (The Strand)

Magnificent solidarity at Kings

From Kings College London UCU:

Last Tuesday’s (30 March) strike in defence of education at King’s exceeded all expectations. More than 250 people joined loud and vibrant picket lines on all four King’s campuses. Security guards at one campus indicated that numbers entering their building were as much as 75% down. At the main building on the Strand only a small trickle of students and staff went in.
[Read more…]

Great Leap Forward at Sussex

As staff at Sussex go on strike against cuts today, we are happy to announce several important victories that the anti-cuts campaign have won already!

In a packed Student Union Emergency General Meeting with over 750 students present, a vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor and the senior management was overwhelmingly passed. That is a great blow against the legitimacy of management.

While that was taking place, the University Senate voted to re-instate the Sussex 6, and to organise an independent investigation into the events surrounding the calling of the police on the 3rd of March. The only members of the Senate who voted against were the unelected senior management.

The Sussex anti-cuts campaign have won a victory for all students. They have sent a clear signal to university managers that heavy-handed, brutal authoritarian tactics on our campuses will not go unpunished.

Now students and staff around the world should send messages of congratulations and support the Sussex strike!

More like this, please

Quick Round-Up: Police on campus; strike and occupation at Sussex; successful showdown at UEA

This is a quick round-up of the day’s events – more information coming soon.

Students at Sussex occupied part of their university following a campus carnival – but were attacked by riot police armed with dogs and pepper spray. Footage of this outrage will be uploaded shortly. More details here:

As the occupation was going on, the lecturer’s union UCU at Sussex announced an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote, in favour of strike action:

Meanwhile, at the University of East Anglia, scaredy-cat management had also organised a heavy police presence, to intimidate the hundreds of students who came to the day of action against fees and cuts. The demonstration was a warning shot across management’s bows – to show that, whatever cuts are being planned at UEA (no cuts have been definitively announced yet), students will not tolerate them. Students at UEA surrounded their VC’s office and demanded public negotiations between management and staff and students: not the kind of behind-closed-doors ticking-off, or sham “consultation” that we have seen at other universities. Management agreed to discuss the university’s finances and future in a public meeting organised through the students’ union. More details coming soon. Check out:

Keep reports of anti-cuts actions on your campus flooding in to [email protected] – and, rest assured, the National Campaign’s wave of action is far from over…