Once again UCU leadership has screwed over its members and left them in a weakened position

Jo Grady UCU boss
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The University and College Union (UCU) has angered some of its members after its higher-ups called off a marking boycott. However, the news also comes as the trade union announced five days of strikes. So, people have been rightly left bemused at best – and furious at worst.

The UCU’s protracted dispute

The Canary has been documenting the protracted dispute between the UCU, workers, and higher education bosses. At first, it was over pay, conditions, and pensions – resulting in nationwide strikes. The union and the organisation responsible for pensions came to an agreement in April. However, members also voted to reject the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) pay offer of derisory increases of 5-8%.

So, UCU members began a marking boycott in April, known as ‘action short of a strike’. It had the desired effect of disrupting universities. However, now the union has decreed the boycott will end:

The UCU announced this at the same time it said there would be five days of strikes:

Staff at 140 universities across the UK will strike for five days later this month in a long-running dispute over pay and working conditions.

At 136 of the 140 universities, UCU members will strike for five consecutive days from Monday 25 to Friday 29 September. Strikes will hit four Scottish universities on slightly different dates to coincide with local action by other unions.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

We are left with no option but to strike during the start of term because our members refuse to stand by while pay is eroded and staff are shunted onto gig-economy contracts.

An ‘utter shambles’

However, some UCU members were unimpressed by its decisions. This is because:

  • The UCU has left its members with no indefinite industrial action.
  • Communications around this were poor.
  • Workers will now have to mark while starting the new academic year.
  • Members will now have to wait for another ballot before any more industrial action can happen – when the UCU could have balloted them over the summer.
  • The marking boycott didn’t actually achieve anything.

Moreover, hardly any members actually voted to end the marking boycott. As the website UCU Left wrote:

The results of the e-ballot over the continuation of the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) will be a surprise to many. Although overall 60% of members voted to end the MAB early (on a 27% turnout), HEC members were told that 62.7% of members who said they were participating in the MAB voted to keep it on!

So, not only did hardly any members actually vote, but the ones who were actually participating in the boycott wanted it to continue.

On X (formerly Twitter), people called out the union over its actions:

There were also quite a few people calling on Grady to resign:

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the UCU has displayed its shambolic decision-making.

What a shitshow

As the Canary previously reported in February:

UCU members were set to walk out again on 21, 22, 23, 27 and 28 February, and 1 and 2 March. However, late on Friday 17 February, the union announced it had “paused” those strikes. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said in a video message that this was due to “significant progress” in talks over pay and pensions with university bosses. She further said the pause in strikes was to:

“enable us to hold intensive negotiations with the aim of delivering a final agreement”

At the time, some members were furious. Their anger ended up being rightly placed. The UCU only really delivered on the pensions side of the dispute, as opposed to the issues with pay and conditions. For example, the union claimed that it had secured a “commitment” from bosses to “end all involuntary zero hours contracts”. What this actually meant was that the UCEA was consulting with its boss-members on this.

Fast forward to June, and universities were still employing workers on zero-hours contracts:

So, at a time when the UCEA isn’t budging on anything, UCU bosses decide to scale back their members’ actions. It would seem preposterous – if the union hadn’t done this kind of thing before. Now, members are once again left waiting for the UCU to cobble something together that makes it look like a functioning trade union.

Featured image via the National Education Union – YouTube

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