Up close, too personal

June 14, 2012

An open letter to Sally Hunt

We note the results of the ballot to effect constitutional change in the University and College Union as communicated by you in March. We believe this ballot was conducted in undue haste following your re-election as general secretary in pursuit of a narrow political agenda to stifle legitimate opposition within the union, including by elected national executive committee members. There was insufficient time to debate what are critical issues for members.

Subsequent to the ballot, we note that there has been a marked increase in "personal" communication between you and the membership on major issues - most recently the Universities Superannuation Scheme. As a union we would not tolerate management engaging individually and directly with our members and bypassing established collective and democratic machinery, and we are thus concerned about such an approach from our union. We are opposed to the individualistic turn that the UCU appears to be taking, since it undermines collective processes and is being falsely counterpoised to building inclusive and participatory activism in the workplace.

This year's UCU congress voted to adopt motions 63, 64 and L5, which raise concerns about the misuse of membership surveys to bypass democratic structures and encourage "timidity and inertia" (in the wording of Motion 63), particularly in the absence of proper time for discussion within branches and committees. Motion L5 calls for union officials and structures to abide by congress decisions, and to use online surveys subsequent only to their debate by congress, sector conference or the NEC (and as sanctioned by the NEC).

Motions 65 and 67, in support of your proposal to reduce the NEC's size, were defeated. However, as part of your congress speech, you promised to continue to campaign for the reforms regardless of the congress' decision. This has worrying implications for union democracy.

At a time when UCU members are facing unprecedented attacks on their jobs, terms, conditions and values, it is crucial that the union remain democratic and open. We fear that a turn to sectarianism will damage our ability to fight for accessible and public higher education and will undermine open debate inside and outside the union. We seek to move forward in a manner that reflects and promotes the spirit of the congress and acts on its decisions to oppose the research excellence framework and fight for our jobs, terms and conditions as part of wider coalitions defending the public university.

Sian Moore, University of Leeds

Miguel Martinez Lucio, University of Manchester

Phil Taylor, University of Strathclyde

Hazel Conley, Queen Mary, University of London

Kirsten Forkert, University of East Anglia

Murad Banaji, University of Portsmouth

Liam Campling, Queen Mary, University of London

Andy Danford, University of West of England

Ralph Darlington, University of Salford

Jonathan S. Davies, De Montfort University

Des Freedman, Secretary, Goldsmiths UCU

Ian Greenwood, University of Leeds

Kate Hardy, University of Leeds

Colin Hendrie, University of Leeds

Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds

Caroline Holmes, Ruskin College, Oxford

Jane Holgate, University of Leeds

Mehdi Husaini, Teesside University

Kevin Jones, Goldsmiths, University of London

Leena Kumarappan, London Metropolitan University

Mike Lammiman, University of Hull

Kathryn Mackay, University of Stirling

Stuart Marshall-Clarke, University of Liverpool

Sonia McKay, London Metropolitan University

Jo McNeill, University of Liverpool

Eleni Michalopoulou, University of Liverpool

Sarah Mosedale, University of Liverpool

Phoebe Moore, University of Salford

Mark O¹Brien,President, University of Liverpool UCU

Julie Ryan, Manchester Metropolitan University

Paul Stewart, University of Strathclyde

Stephanie Tailby, University of West of England

Martin Upchurch, Middlesex

Mark Walkley, University of Leeds

Tracy Walsh, Ruskin College, Oxford

Andrew Watterson, University of Stirling

Julian Williams, The University of Manchester

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