UCU Left wants growth but NEC backs austerity

Arguments intensify over union’s austerity plans in run-up to congress. Jack Grove reports

May 16, 2013

Alternative plans to solve the University and College Union’s financial woes have been branded a dangerous gamble that risks “destroying the union”.

With membership numbers slumping by 5,500 last year, the UCU is seeking to reduce its annual spending by £2 million under a business plan that it will put to delegates at its 2013 congress, to be held in Brighton later this month.

Branch representatives will be asked to adopt the cost-cutting measures, which would chop the union’s workforce spending by per cent, reduce the number of UCU committees and trim the size of its national executive committee.

Monthly subscriptions are also set to rise in line with inflation, while the union is looking to share its Camden offices to generate extra income.

However, the UCU Left has vowed to oppose the austerity package agreed by the union’s executive committee in January and will propose an alternative financial plan.

Written by executive committee members Jane Hardy and Tom Hickey, the UCU Left proposal condemns the “unnecessarily pessimistic and managerialist response” to the union’s financial crisis.

It proposes that the UCU “grow its way out of financial difficulties through recruitment”, reasoning that to meet the budget shortfall each branch would need to find only an extra two members on top of replacements for those retiring or leaving.

In addition, subscriptions should increase above the rate of inflation, with the authors suggesting that an extra £2.50 a month - the “equivalent to a cup of coffee” - would raise £3.3 million a year.

The alternative policy statement was unveiled at an executive committee meeting on 3 May, where it was opposed by the UCU Independent Broad Left, a group of activists that has a majority of seats on the national executive.

In its newsletter, Broadcast, the group denounces the plan, saying that the “UCU Left’s position is a gamble and risks destroying the union” by forcing it into bankruptcy.

“The antics of UCU Left at the NEC show that they are either ignoring UCU’s serious financial problems or they are prepared to sacrifice the future of the union to their own narrow political agenda,” Broadcast says.

It adds that “it was pure speculation and fantasy to assume that we can easily win another 11,000 members a year, which is what the authors propose by their ‘2 members on average per institution per month’.”

The coffee analogy was “simply patronising” to members concerned about the union spending beyond its means, the newsletter argues.

However, Mr Hickey defended the plan, adding that it was “shambolic and shameful” that the executive had in effect approved the use of compulsory redundancies at the meeting.

He pointed to the approval by 34 votes to 23 of a motion stating that “the NEC resolves to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve a balanced budget”, which Mr Hickey claimed was tantamount to reversing the union’s opposition to compulsory redundancies.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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