UCU Congress Report 2013
Around 400 UCU members attended this year’s UCU Congress in Brighton 29th-31st May.
Chris Webb, Geraint Evans attended from Bradford College.
FE Sector conference
160 members attended the FE sector conference on the first day.
FE sector conference first heard a report from Barry Lovejoy Head of FE; he reiterated and called for a, “fighting union.” Barry reminded conference that it has been 20 years since Incorporation and, while the AoC has planned a celebration, these 20 years have, for most members and the communities they serve, been a disaster. Incorporation was introduced by a previous Tory government and “disgracefully continued by labour.” Incorporation has meant a, “complete free for all… of waste, duplication and instability.” Barry spoke about the move to, “super incorporation” with the result that the there will be further direct competition, a minimum of transparency and accountability and further power handed to senior college management. Barry stressed that there is no place for private equity and for profit organisations in public service. This development will see a worsening of conditions at work, and long term adverse affects for members, students and communities unless resisted. Barry called for an active union, “activity attracts and retains members… UCU should not be a passive union.” UCU, Barry stressed, had in active branches, resisted many of the attacks on its members during these last 20 years of incorporation.
During the FE conference, delegates voted unanimously to support the rejection of the AoC’s derisory pay and strings (performance related pay) offer in favour of balloting for national action in the event of an unsatisfactory offer. Delegates heard that since 2009 prices have risen 15.5% and wages .9%, a real pay cut of 14.6%. Delegates voted to support this year’s joint union claim for 5%.
Delegates voted to build the campaign on Excessive Workloads, to campaign for colleges to implement the 2011 workload agreement signed by UCU and the AoC and to ballot for strike action where colleges have not implemented this.
Motions calling for the abolition of Ofsted and the prioritising of the development of a national agreement on observations were also unanimously passed.
FE conference heard and passed further motions on: ensuring equality for disabled workers, advancing sexual orientation and gender identity equality and the recruitment and organisation of casualised staff. Delegated spoke about the impact on FE, but especially staff, students and members in these areas of the government’s austerity programme.
Motions were also unanimously passed to: campaign against funding cuts, the introduction of loans and reintroduction of EMA. Conference heard how it is often women students who are hardest hit by this government’s cuts.
FE conference passed motions calling for UCU to: challenge Islamophobia, campaign against the Prevent agenda and organise a national demonstration in defence of ESOL provision.
Finally the conference heard from 6 FE Colleges presently in dispute including Bradford College’s contract dispute. In Yorkshire and Humberside, Grimsby and Kirklees college are balloting for action to resist attacks on their members as are members at Chesterfield College.
During Congress motions were heard and debated on the issues of building the union, organising and recruiting casualised staff and resisting austerity. Other motions were passed opposing the weakening or removal of Health and Safety legislation and detrimental changes to the laws of collective consultation. Motions were also carried to campaign to recruit and support casualised members.
Two key debates focused on UCU’s budget and structure. Comprehensive discussion took place on both these issues. Many delegates expressed concerns that the NEC’s proposed budget to address a £2 million shortfall likely in two years’ time should include sacking many of our staff and cutting member representation and union democracy. There was some frustration expressed by delegates that the union seemed to have focused on internal issues recently rather than taking on Tory austerity and cuts with their impact on our pay, jobs, conditions and education generally.
Following a lively debate Congress delegates voted to reject the national Treasurer’s proposed budget and supported an alternative budget contained in the motions from London regional committee, Southern and South East regional committees, as well as the motion from University of Brighton which called for a new budget to be drawn up incorporating Congress’s wish for a mixed strategy, ie rebuilding membership, campaigning, a modest rise in subscriptions, and reaffirming UCU’s opposition to compulsory redundancies as an employer.
On the structure of UCU Congress agreed to vote on the 7 models put forward from the two commissions which had been set up to consider NEC size. Some debate was heard on the most favoured models and a ballot of Congress delegates held, results not yet in.
Motions were also passed which committed the union to organise a major conference in defence of post-16 education and to support a demonstration outside the Tory Party conference in September.
Delegates agreed to donate £500 to the campaign to unseat Nick Griffin of the BNP and Andrew Brons, currently Euro MPs, in the election in 2014. Brons is a Yorkshire and Humberside Euro MP.
Other motions committed the union to affiliate to the Benefits Justice Campaign and to support the Peoples’ Assembly on 22nd June.
UCU’s new president Simon Renton, new Vice President, Liz Lawrence, former Yorkshire and Humberside Regional secretary.
The Anti-casualisation Committee were successful in getting motions passed on ensuring casualised members remain fully represented on the NEC. Motions 35&36 calling for NEC to retain seats for both FE and HE representatives of casualised members, and to resist cuts to UCU representation of casualised staff were passed successfully.
At the FE sector conference FE11 calling for the recruitment, organisation and representation of casualised staff was passed. It urges branches to identify and explor new ways of identifying and engaging casualised members to maximise their voice and agency. The motion encourages branches to promote training and organising for casualised members.