University workers on the picket line at the London College of Communication on Wednesday (Picture: Guy Smallman)

University workers are in rebellion against UCU union leader Jo Grady’s latest attempt to choke off their disputes. A growing number of branches had passed motions of no confidence or censure in Grady—and to keep up the strikes—on Thursday.

As tens of thousands of UCU members struck alongside half a million on Wednesday, the UCU leadership was working to undermine their action. Grady proclaimed that workers had “won their pensions back” and “won commitments on zero hour contracts” from the UCEA bosses’ body in negotiations.

She announced an “informal” e-ballot to determine whether workers should be formally consulted on the offer and whether to call off strikes. And she did this—yet again—without any consultation with the democratic structures of the union in a social media video.

But big meetings supported voting no in the e-ballot and a branch delegate meeting (BDM) taking place on Thursday.  

Nicola, a UCU member at Kingston university, told Socialist Worker, “Members were shocked when they heard about the announcement. They felt like their dispute was being taken away from them. 

“We quickly called an emergency branch meeting that around 100 people attended, both online and on picket lines. Members agreed that the e-ballot is a fraud, and we passed a motion to say that.

“We also passed a motion of no confidence in Grady. Of the people that were at the meeting, a tiny number disagreed. Only around five people voted against the motions.”

Almost 300 UCU members joined the emergency general meeting (EGM) in Leeds on Thursday and voted against pausing the strikes by 63 to 30 percent. Around 50 UCU members joined Sunderland’s EGM—and unanimously backed no confidence in Grady and voting no in the e-ballot.

Edinburgh had its largest branch meeting since 2018 with 215 people. The mood was overwhelmingly to reject Grady’s package, and the meeting voted by 92 percent to reject a pause in the action.

UCU members at Oxford University’s meeting voted 68 percent in favour of a motion of no confidence in Grady. At York university, around 130 workers joined the meeting and overwhelmingly voted against calling off strikes and slammed the e-ballot as undemocratic.

Phillip from Cardiff University told Socialist Worker the mood was “angry” at their meeting. It passed on a motion of censure of the general secretary, which will go to the union’s conference in May.

In Brighton, workers overwhelmingly voted for a “no” vote in the e-ballot. They supported a motion of censure of the general secretary to be taken to the upcoming special higher education sector conference (Shesc).

UCU members at Liverpool John Moores University voted 92 percent for no more “pauses” in strikes without a significantly-improved offer—and for escalating the action. And workers at Imperial College London also passed a motion of censure against Grady. 

An email from UCU HQ to members revealed that all of Grady’s promises were empty, and the new deal wasn’t even a deal at all. The bosses have not made any firm commitments to restore the USS pension scheme workers were robbed of.

Grady could only promise that there would be talks sometime in the future with UCEA about workload, pay equality and workloads. She couldn’t even say that there would be an improvement in pay.

UCU member Shirin Hirsch wrote on Twitter, “This isn’t an offer, it’s an insult — especially for post-92 universities. How about you stop with these ‘informal’ e-ballots and un-democratic ‘pauses’ and start supporting members and the union on the ground who are trying to win this dispute.”

Grady has once again bypassed democracy in the UCU to try and push through shoddy deals. Her e-ballot is in direct conflict with the rules of the union. They state that only the higher education committee (HEC), made up of elected rank and file members, should decide whether offers be put to members. 

There were small but defiant picket lines at Queen Mary university in east London on Thursday. 

One of the strikers said that he was “annoyed” by the decisions of the general secretary and other union leaders. “Now was the time we were meant to be digging our heels in,” he said. “We shouldn’t be wasting what’s left of the mandate, and we shouldn’t be making deals with the employers. 

“I think we were actually in a stronger position before the pause, so it doesn’t make sense for us to step down now.” 

The UCU bureaucracy has, time and again, thrown everything at activists to undermine the dispute and settle for shoddy deals. Grady’s latest moves underline the need for rank-and-file activists to seize democratic control of their disputes by building strike committees at the base.

The rebellion should boost activists in other unions who are faced with union leaders trying to settle for inadequate deals—whether that’s the RMT and Network Rail or the NHS unions.

UCU Left has called a lobby of the Higher Education Committee meeting on Friday at Carlow Street at 1 pm 

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