UCU National Congress 2012 Manchester
Congress was larger than ever, with 472 delegates attending. Over three full days, delegates debated a huge range of motions relating to UCU members’ issues, either in the workplace or in the wider struggle to defend pensions and education in the face of what delegate after delegate referred to as “a wholesale attack by this government”. Also robustly debated was the very nature of UCU and the type of union we all need in this hostile climate, not only to defend members and education but where necessary to take the lead.
FE Sector Conference
Barry Lovejoy (Head of FE) introduced the first day of the FE Sector conference by stating categorically that UCU stands for lecturers – whether they be women, black, disabled or LGBT, and whether they are hourly paid, fractional or on full time contracts – “against privatisation, however that is dressed up”. Barry referred to UCU’s successes: the Lingfield Report/ IFL, resisting job losses, gains made in the pension dispute and three key disputes at Gateshead, Sunderland and Chesterfield, where UCU members have been fighting vicious attacks through well attended branch meetings and strike action. Barry talked of further threats from the employers on pay and observations and the need to nurture and mobilise branches: “That is where the strength of the union is.”
Observations, which were universally condemned as increasingly punitive and bullying, are an issue which it was agreed the union needs to fight, both by seeking a national joint agreement with the AoC and by seeking to link up the many college disputes which are breaking out.
Conference received, with some derision, a report on the current pay negotiations, in which we have been offered 0.5% in exchange for ‘commitments to greater flexibility’. Congress agreed the need to build a campaign on pay in the face of this attack and attempts to cut pay at colleges such as Sunderland.
The FE Sector Conference heard motions on pay, anti-casualisation, workload, observations, and supporting branches and Equality reps in the face of attacks that often hit hardest those most vulnerable: women, black disabled and LGBT members. A motion from Yorkshire and Humberside Regional FE Committee (FE15) on worsening contracts in FE addressed the growing employers’ offensive on FE contracts and the drive towards unlimited flexibility. This motion highlighted problems which Bradford College UCU members are facing, and urged congress to treat “local disputes over contracts as ‘local disputes of national significance’ and to encourage resistance and offer union resources appropriately”. This was carried unanimously. This motion can be found on the Bradford College UCU website: https://ucubradfordcollege.wordpress.com/
TPS Pension Campaign
On Friday 13th June, Congress debated the vital issue of how UCU should move forward on the TPS dispute. Congress delegates spoke of the fantastic days of action, especially those in November and March. Delegates referred to the need to build the widest possible united action with other unions, especially with other teacher unions, for an autumn of action. A motion from Barnsley College was carried, along with supportive amendments to continue and build a defence of our pensions. Delegates voted for escalating industrial action alongside other unions in the autumn.
Equality and Anti-Casualisation at the UCU Congress
Equality was at the heart of every discussion at this year’s congress, not just in the motions directly addressing equality issues. Delegates spoke about the impact of cuts and attacks on our pay and conditions from an equality perspective.
There was healthy debate about democracy within the UCU and how equality is part and parcel of union democracy. Many delegates urged branches to use equality as part of their bargaining tools against management’s attacks on our pay and conditions.
Bradford delegates proposed and spoke on anti- casualisation motions. These motions urged delegates to encourage their members to become more active over this issue and to organise campaigns to tackle the casualisation of FE staff in their branches. It was agreed to organise a day of action.
The discussions on Sunday 15th June concentrated on how best to prepare UCU for the struggles ahead. A regional briefing on Thursday night, organised by 5 regions and very well attended by 150, had begun what was to prove a robust debate on this issue with speakers from all sides – in particular on the need to respect the democratic structures of UCU: the branches, regional conferences, the NEC and Congress itself. Congress opposed the motion to move to a smaller NEC and supported the motion from City and Islington College that Congress believes: branches are the democratic foundation of the union, annual congress and annual sector conferences are the sovereign decision making bodies and that Regional Committees play a crucial role. Congress did decide to establish a Commission on Union Democracy from the delegates to Congress. Rather than the limited, servicing union model supported by the General Secretary, delegates confirmed that they want a member-led, organising and campaigning union.
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