UCU leader poses question to Left: I've listened to members; have you?

Sally Hunt moves to avoid showdown over reforms at annual conference. Jack Grove reports

June 7, 2012

Credit: Russell Sach
Mandate for change Hunt: it's not the 1970s any more

Any attempt to block reforms of the University and College Union at this week's annual congress would fly in the face of members' wishes, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, has warned her opponents.

As almost 500 UCU representatives gathered in Manchester for the three-day conference on 8-10 June, Ms Hunt said she expected strong resistance to her modernisation plans, principally her desire to reduce the size of the union's national executive committee from 72 seats to below 40.

The reform is opposed by UCU Left, which argues that the committee's current composition allows minority voices to be heard.

With a showdown expected on the conference floor, Ms Hunt has urged her critics to remember that she was re-elected by a landslide margin in March - taking 73 per cent of the vote - on a clear mandate to reform the union.

"There will be delaying tactics employed at the conference," Ms Hunt predicted.

"Amendments will be proposed to undermine the reforms. That is simply arguing to ignore the clear message from members."

She said that delegates to the congress had to "take seriously" the responsibility of representing their members.

"To find arguments that ignore the election vote would be frankly wrong," she said.

In addition to her own election win, Ms Hunt drew attention to the results of a recent consultation on reform in which 89 per cent of the 23,000 members who voted backed plans to downsize the executive committee.

More than 85 per cent said that members should be consulted on final pay offers once negotiators believed they could not be improved, while just over 82 per cent said that national negotiators should be elected under a one-member, one-vote system.

Freeing up resources

Ms Hunt said reducing the executive committee - currently the same size as that of Unison, a much larger union - would free up resources to help members with legal representation and other support.

"We need to concentrate on members' needs, rather than committees' needs. If we don't we are on a guaranteed path to a slow death. Unions cannot continue on the same model they had in the 1970s," she said.

If Ms Hunt's plans are approved, it would trigger a review of the executive's make-up, which would then be put to the vote at next year's congress.

Ms Hunt, who has been general secretary since the UCU was formed in 2007, also defended her record, arguing that the prevailing economic climate made it "very difficult to get any consensus or agreement (with employers) to protect terms and conditions".

Negotiations with the government on pensions had also yielded significant improvements, she said.

UCU Left has accused her of showing "lukewarm support" for industrial action on pensions, adding that her "defeatism and lack of leadership [had] sown confusion among some members and spread demoralisation".

"Escalating the action can defeat the government on this issue", a UCU Left briefing paper issued on 14 May argues.

But Ms Hunt stood by her record, adding that she had listened closely to members and was sticking to her election pledges.


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