Rank and file accuse union negotiators of selling out

June 16, 2006

A 'vote no' campaign is growing, as is a call for resignations, says Phil Baty

A campaign to persuade lecturers to reject the 13.1 per cent pay deal is gaining momentum amid claims that union leaders had "surrendered" and "betrayed" members.

Serious anger over the deal at the highest levels within the University and College Union has also emerged.

The 13.1 per cent three-year deal is still expected to be accepted by rank-and-file members of the UCU when they are balloted over the next few weeks.

But the "no" campaigners were gaining confidence this week as it emerged that at least 18 local UCU branches had already passed motions rejecting the offer. Some of the motions call for the resignations of the UCU's national leaders for abandoning the marking boycott just as it was threatening to have a major impact as the summer exam results were due in.

It also emerged this week that the UCU's top decision-making body, the transitional arrangements committee, had delivered a clear snub to the union's leadership and negotiating team by refusing to recommend the deal to members in official ballot papers. The committee, made up of elected lay members and union officials, removed the proposed words: "Your union recommends you accept this offer."

Liz Lawrence, a member of the UCU national executive and a national negotiator, said: "I think that the part of the union leadership that was in favour of calling off the action has seriously misjudged the mood of members. Members I've spoken to are either astounded or furious. I call on members to vote 'no' to the offer, not just over the size of the offer, but in a vote for a democratic union."

Asked if she seriously believed the "no" campaign could be a success, she said: "Put it this way, people are already talking about tactics for fresh action in the autumn." This could include an admissions and clearing boycott for (2006-07) entrants.

A leaflet, produced by leftwingers in the UCU, says that the offer of more than 10 per cent in the first two years, followed by a 2.5 per cent rise in 2008-09, does not meet the UCU's clearly agreed conference policies to accept only a deal that addresses the historic pay decline and that guarantees the return of any docked pay.

The leaflet says: "The surrender of the UCU leadership indicates a lack of courage and a profound strategic ineptness. We can have no confidence in these people. They must go."

The leaflet reports that the majority of former Natfhe- elected lay national negotiators opposed the deal and that the union's former national executive committee was split 7:6 in favour of "reluctantly accepting the offer". The leaflet also claims that the former Association of University Teachers leadership "had made it clear" that they would use their majority vote at the national negotiating table to outvote the ex-Natfhe representatives if they rejected the deal.

A UCU spokesman said that this was "mischief-making".

One senior ex-Natfhe source close to the talks said: "The AUT waved the white flag, but the realpolitik was that the AUT has 50,000 members and Nafthe has 20,000, so even if the Natfhe team made a stand and rejected the deal it would still have been accepted. The worst thing we could have done was to emphasise disunity in the new union."

Among the 18 UCU branches that have so far voted to oppose the deal are Sheffield, which snubbed joint UCU president Steve Wharton and carried a motion calling for a "no" vote and expressing "deep concern at the apparent collapse of our negotiating team only days after the birth of UCU gave such hope of a strong, united union". Manchester Metropolitan and Cardiff universities have passed "no confidence" votes in the leadership.

A UCU spokesman said: "There is much debate around the pay deal that is being put to members... Ultimately, it is up to the individual members to decide whether or not to accept the offer, and they have that opportunity through the ballot."

BRANCHES THAT HAVE SAID 'NO'

UCU branches that have already indicated that they will push to reject the deal include: Greenwich, Hull, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff , Southampton Solent, Birmingham, Manchester Met, Cardiff, Bath, Nottingham Trent, London Met, Bournemouth, Leeds, Newport, John Moores, Sheffield, Lincoln, Keele and Sheffield Hallam

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