UCU branches back reopening negotiations before November strikes

Jo Grady sets out six-month-long strategy of ‘phased escalation’ after securing historic mandate for further action

November 1, 2022
Source: Eleanor Bentall

University and College Union branches have backed calling strikes at UK universities in November, but any action is likely to be small in scale after the union supported a strategy of “phased escalation” over the next six months.

Last month, members of the country’s largest academic union voted in support of taking sector-wide industrial action as part of long-running disputes over pay, pensions and working conditions. General secretary Jo Grady has now outlined what the union intends to do with the fresh mandate.

Writing on Twitter, Dr Grady said the union’s branch delegates meeting had backed offering employers the chance to renegotiate but had also voted in favour of taking action including strikes and marking boycotts.

Voting results showed that 72 per cent of branches supported giving employers a “limited period of negotiation to reach a settlement prior to calling strike action”. A majority of 80 per cent voted in favour of calling strikes at the earliest possible date, 21 November.

But 70 per cent agreed that such action should be limited in scale, and 87 per cent voted in favour of a “programme of phases of escalating action covering the six-month lifetime of the ballot mandate”.

On the potential timing of another marking and assessment boycott, the union was split. Fifty-four per cent of branches said they would prefer this to be held in December, while 45 per cent favoured the spring, when many students will be taking their final assessments.

Dr Grady said the union’s higher education committee will meet on 3 November to make a final decision about how to proceed with strike action. She said the union was planning to take employers “to a place they have never been” using tactics such as political pressure, social media, student support and engaging with the public.

Over the weekend, the Labour Party MP Beth Winter coordinated a letter to the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) and Universities UK supporting the UCU’s “reasonable, realistic and affordable” demands, including a pay rise of more than the 3 per cent given to most staff in August and the cancellation of cuts to pensions benefits implemented in April.

MPs including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the one-time Green Party leader Caroline Lucas were among those to sign the open letter, but none of Labour’s current team of shadow Cabinet members was among the signatories.

In her Twitter update, Dr Grady said Ucea was now seeking a fresh mandate from its members to open negotiations on the pay award following the strike vote. A spokesman for Ucea said it was consulting on the possibility of bringing forward the 2023-24 pay negotiations in response to cost of living concerns.

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

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