National strike action on cards as ex-president critiques UCU

Review raises fresh concerns about Left influence in union, John Morgan writes

March 3, 2011

The University and College Union's ballots for national strikes over jobs, pay and pensions have concluded, amid fresh rows over the Socialist Workers Party's influence in the union.

Sixty-three of the UK’s most prestigious universities face stoppages over pension cuts, after 65 per cent of UCU members who voted backed strike action, and 82 per cent back action short of a strike. Turnout was 36.3 per cent.

Two-day strikes will go ahead from 21 March unless the employers grant last-minute concessions. Those universities facing strikes include all those in the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities.

The UCU also won backing for strike action over pay and job security. In that ballot, 53 per cent of members who voted backed strike action, and 74 per cent backed action short of a strike. Turnout was 34 per cent.

But the union has yet to decide on its next steps on action over pay and job security, where the majority in favour of a strike was narrow. Its higher education officers will discuss the issue at a meeting on 10 March.

The ballots closed after the UCU's immediate past president, Alastair Hunter, published online a personal review of the union's first four years.

"My key concern is the extent to which the UCU has come to be dominated by the political aims and objectives, and the practical tactics, of the Socialist Workers Party which, through its wholly owned subsidiary UCU Left, dominates the national executive and drives through policies which are primarily those of the SWP," he says.

In addition to the ballots which closed this week, the UCU is running a third strike ballot over government plans to raise member contributions in the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS), which includes academics in post-1992 universities. That ballot will close on 14 March.

Any strikes in higher education would be coordinated with potential action in further education.

Dr Hunter's comments will be seen by those on the Left of the union as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections for vice-president higher education, which close on 4 March. The winner will become UCU president in 2013.

The two candidates are Simon Renton, a national UCU negotiator and the Independent Broad Left candidate, and Jim Wolfreys, the King's College London branch president and UCU Left candidate.

Dr Wolfreys described Dr Hunter's comments as "nonsense", saying that the "only issue that matters in UCU at present is how we defend ourselves from our employers and the government".

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