Battle lines drawn as UCU candidates show colours

Sally Hunt welcomes challenge from increasingly influential Left wing of union. John Morgan reports

October 6, 2011

The leader of the University and College Union has attacked her election opponent as a "Socialist Workers Party candidate", as the political battle over the union intensifies.

Mark Campbell, a senior lecturer in computing at London Metropolitan University, will stand against Sally Hunt as the UCU Left candidate for general secretary, it was announced last week.

The leadership ballot will open on 6 February 2012, with a result expected on 2 March.

The UCU, which has more than 120,000 members across further and higher education, is set to mount further industrial action against universities and the government over pensions in the coming academic year.

The UCU Left holds a number of seats on the union's national executive committee (NEC) and is increasingly influential.

Mr Campbell said that UCU members face "a huge battle to defend their pensions" as well as job cuts at individual institutions. "We need to unite with students, champion the values of post-16 education and back this up with effective action."

Like a number of colleagues in the UCU Left, Mr Campbell is a member of the SWP.

Ms Hunt, a Labour Party member, said: "The election is not until next year and my priority is to get on with defending members' jobs, pensions and conditions.

"It is no secret that I believe the future of the union depends on putting members first and the interests of political factions second.

"The decision of the Socialist Workers Party to put up a candidate against me means members will now get a clear choice on our future direction and I welcome that."

In an email to branch officials earlier this year, the union's treasurer and two members of the NEC said the actions of "SWP/UCU Left" have "undermined our credibility with our members and strengthened the hand of the employers". They claimed that the groups "are seeking to take over our union" and commandeer its resources.

The SWP has denied that it has any intention to gain control, while the UCU Left has denounced the "red scare" tactics of opponents and claims its members come from a range of political backgrounds.

Mr Campbell said he was chosen in an "open, democratic process organised by UCU Left", adding that while "some may find amusement in obsessing over the political affiliations of UCU candidates" he would not "make an issue" of Ms Hunt's Labour Party membership.

The UCU Left fielded a candidate, Roger Kline, in the last general secretary election in 2007.

Mr Campbell has pledged that if elected, he would draw what his lecturer's salary would have been, including any increases won for members, with the rest of the salary donated to the union's strike fund.

Ms Hunt was paid a gross salary of £98,238 in 2009-10.

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