Source: Russell Sach
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt has revealed that she underwent life-saving surgery during a six-month leave of absence last year.
Speaking for the first time about the illness that forced her to step down from her day-to-day duties, Ms Hunt will tell delegates at the union’s annual congress in Manchester on 29 May that she received a “life-changing emergency operation” to treat an acute bowel condition.
That treatment for chronic ulcerative colitis meant that she was unable to attend last year’s congress in her home town of Brighton, where she was recovering from surgery.
She reveals that she initially refused to go under the knife despite dire warnings from doctors that she required treatment.
“Like a textbook control freak, I refused to accept this and refused the operation,” Ms Hunt will say.
“Only when a doctor told me that without the operation I would die did I finally see sense.”
She will also explain how it was her decision to give up smoking in January last year that accelerated her condition as it had – according to doctors – “removed the last bit of sticky tape holding my digestion system together”.
Her recovery, which included several weeks in hospital, led her to reflect upon the “amazing care and skill provided by NHS staff” who had been taught in universities and colleges.
“I was proud that the nurses and doctors and everyone in between who looked after me had been trained by our people [ie, union members],” she will tell delegates. “What a testament to the power of education and to its influence on our society.”
Talking to health workers who were often on insecure contracts or the minimum wage had redoubled her determination to fight against casualisation, Ms Hunt will add.
She will also pay tribute to two “fallen comrades” – Bob Crow, who led the RMT Union, and former UCU vice-president John McCormack – who both sent her get-well-soon cards, but have since died. “These untimely deaths remind us again that the work of trade unionists can be stressful, tough and thankless,” she will say.
This week’s congress is likely to be dominated by the UCU’s handling of a lengthy industrial dispute over last year’s 1 per cent pay offer, which has been criticised by left-wing unionists as weak and muddled.
The action involved six national walkouts, although a planned marking boycott was called off after 84 per cent of members taking part in a ballot voted to accept a 2 per cent pay deal for 2014-15.
In terms of policy, Ms Hunt will mention a new report by the UCU that compares public spending on higher and further education in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Spending on higher education in Scotland is almost three times higher than the sum spent on further education, but is just 25 per cent higher than the total given to FE in England, Ms Hunt will point out.
She will call for policies to consider post-compulsory education as a whole to ensure that the state “properly and fully fund[s] all modes and levels” of education.