Report: UCU Rank & File Meeting

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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.

Occupations Summit: Activists from 13 Campuses Come Together

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National Committee member Monty Shield reports

Around 40 activists from 13 campuses who had been in occupation have come together to share our experiences, learn from each other and plan how we can unite in support of UCU for the struggle ahead.

Taking stock
After a hugely inspiring four weeks we had a collective discussion of the national situation. Leading off, Swansea UCU activist Cath Fletcher gave an overview of the recent history of the UCU and the context of the strike, and Cambridge postgraduate teaching assistant and UCU member Dan Davison spoke of the effect of the 2010 student movement on his current involvement in the occupation at Cambridge University.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) activist and NUS Presidential candidate Sahaya James, who played a key role in the occupation at UCL, called for the National Union of Students to orientate itself towards the emerging leadership of the student movement: the grassroots activists who have made these last four weeks as significant as they have been.

Activists from as far away as Scotland and other campuses a long way outside of London contributed to the discussion. And it is clear that there is a deep resolve from all activists present and across the country to build on the great upsurge of student-worker solidarity action until we win this dispute. Detailed notes of this discussion were taken and will be released soon.

Learning from the past four weeks
The second part of the day entailed skill-sharing workshops. Activists split into groups, first listing the successes of their occupations and other campus actions, then listing obstacles they had faced and mistakes made. Groups fed back to the whole room, and invaluable lessons were learnt that activists can take back to their local groups for future direct action. Notes were taken and a best practice guide to occupations will be produced and circulated soon.

Going forward
In the next few months we want to organise together to take this wave of student solidarity to the next level of effectiveness and national coordination.

We voted to release a joint statement of demands immediately following the meeting and want to work together to develop this further together over the coming months. And already local occupation summits are being planned for London and Scottish campuses.

NUS

The meeting also voted to endorse two candidates for NUS full time office positions: Sahaya James for President and Ana Oppenheim for VP Higher Education. Both these activists are running on a platform for transforming NUS into a bottom up grassroots organisation that fights with lecturers and campus workers for a free, democratic, accessible and liberated education system. The were also endorsed to a large extent because of their key involved in recent occupations they have been a part of.

Sunday’s summit has laid the groundwork for linking up even more occupations.

To get involved contact the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on facebook or email us at [email protected] You can also reach us by tweeting or messaging @occupation_hub.

If you want help with setting up an occupation on your campus, you can read this short guide to occupations here and look out for the best practice document that will be coming soon.

“The roving picket” and Sheffield’s strike solidarity campaign

By Małgosia Haman, Free University of Sheffield

Everyone already knows that in Sheffield we have the best activists. Our banner game is particularly strong.

Just last year The Free University of Sheffield made this gigantic banner. The biggest banner in the history of the whole world*.

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Here’s a short summary of what we’ve been up to during the UCU strike.

We made some really good banners again.

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We take them with us every morning on our now-famous Roving Picket™. Tens of students meet outside the SU on strike days and visit the picket lines bringing music, joy, and solidarity like the Strike Santas that we are.

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(This Strike Santa btw is Charlea, the most important person in creating the huge Free Education banner)

Sometimes we also bring hot drinks.

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Here’s our Education Officer, Stu for a Grassroots SU himself, distributing hot coffee to strikers.

Picketers love us and we get requests to join specific ones every day!

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Here are lecturers striking outside the Jessop West building. We had a fun dance party at the picket, they are amazing dancers!

Our dearest Vice Chancellor Keith Burnett was conveniently away for the first 2 weeks of the strike. When he finally came back to Sheffield (and joined the picket line for literally 2 minutes before crossing the picket line and going to his office) we felt so happy, we organised a welcome back party for him!

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But there’s more!

Just in the first 2 weeks of the strike, we had two massive demonstrations. Hundreds of students joined staff in solidarity and marched through the streets of Sheffield. We’re currently preparing another one on the International Women’s Day and we’re sure it will be even bigger and even louder!

We’ve also organised fundraisers for the strike hardship fund. And when the university threatened to deduct pay from staff working to contract on non-strike days, our alumni organised on twitter within minutes threatening to stop donating to the alumni fund and instead pledging donations to the UCU fund.

We won’t stop until the strike ends, we’ll keep supporting staff, we’ll keep dancing, and we will win!

Xoxo

PS If you want to keep up to date with our shenanigans, follow us on:

https://www.facebook.com/savestaffpensions/

https://www.facebook.com/thefreeuniversityofsheffield

and most importantly: https://www.facebook.com/TheRovingPicket/


*Or student activism in Europe or something like that.