Sally, united we stand: you know the rest (1 of 2)

June 9, 2011

The University and College Union congress in Harrogate articulated members' anger and determination to fight education cuts and privatisation, not as a special case but as part of the defence of public services and the welfare state ("One front not enough: let's fight a total war", 2 June).

Members are outraged by attacks on our pensions, and congress confirmed that 80,000 members in further education colleges and post-1992 higher education branches will join other public sector unions in industrial action to defend the Teachers' Pension Scheme on 30 June. Pre-92 universities will be encouraged to show their support as part of the campaign against the employers' imposition of a two-tier Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Throughout congress there was clear support for united action with other unions, students and all those resisting the cuts. The UCU has now joined the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Communication Workers Union and the National Union of Journalists in unanimously calling on the Trades Union Congress to organise general strike action to defend public services.

In her congress speech, Sally Hunt rightly said that we faced "the fight of our lives", and referred to the unprecedented scale of the attack on post-16 education that has been launched by the coalition government. It is unfortunate then that the general secretary chose in launching her re-election campaign to seek to open another front - one inside the union itself. Her attack on some of those who have been most active in the defence of members and in building the UCU was poorly judged.

It would have been preferable had she celebrated the UCU's position at the vanguard of resistance to the assault on colleges and universities. She should have celebrated our unity with the student protests over tuition fees and the education maintenance allowance. She should have focused on uniting us in a common cause against our real enemies - the Cameron government and the employers.

Talk of division in the union has already been used by London Metropolitan University leader Malcolm Gillies, who recently sent an email to staff talking of a UCU "power struggle" in an attempt to undermine a ballot for action. The last thing the UCU needs is a spate of red-baiting. This should stop immediately. It is to be hoped that the drive for unity at our congress and in our branches will encourage Hunt to play the unifying leadership role required by the dire and unprecedented situation we face.

Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow; Maeve Landman, University of the West of England; Geoff Abbott, Newcastle University; Jacqui Mitchell, University of East London; Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan University (all writing in a personal capacity).

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