Union draws ire for its decision to hold fire

September 23, 2010

The leadership of the University and College Union is under fire from the Left of the organisation amid accusations that its retreat from a national strike ballot is a "debacle" that demolishes any defence against job cuts.

Earlier this month, the union's higher education committee split 50-50 on the issue of whether to ballot for national industrial action over pay and job security - with the chair's casting vote tipping the decision against a ballot.

The motion carried says it would be wrong for the UCU "to lead members into premature action this autumn, at the risk of undermining our credibility, bargaining power, and industrial muscle prior to the major battles to defend pensions, jobs and public services which are certain to take place in the early part of 2011".

However, at the UCU higher education conference in May, members voted to hold a ballot on pay and jobs "so national strike action could commence at the beginning of the autumn term".

Members of the higher education committee who voted against a ballot argue that the government's Comprehensive Spending Review may bring the chance for more powerful action across a united front of public-sector unions. Some also suggest that the issue of cuts to pensions may be a better bet for winning strike support from members.

Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, says in a union-wide email that a summer survey of members did not show sufficiently strong backing to support a ballot for a strike on pay.

She says: "My view is that we are very likely to have to ask every single one of you to take industrial action in defence of jobs and pensions during this academic year."

Since the decision not to ballot, Ms Hunt has been criticised by the UCU Left group, which has a strong presence on the higher education committee. A statement on the group's website calls the situation a "debacle" and says that "the UCU is left without a strategy for the defence of jobs and education".

It is now calling for branches to force a special sector conference in October to determine union policy.


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