On the UCU union picket line at London College of Communication last week (Picture: Guy Smallman)

University workers have successfully stopped attempts by their union leaders to call off strikes. In an undemocratic move, the general secretary of the UCU union, Jo Grady, announced on Thursday of last week that she would ask workers to vote in an e-ballot.

The question on this e-ballot was deliberately misleading, posing two issues in one.

It read, “Do you support UCU members voting on the proposals that have been negotiated in both disputes and pausing strike action (action short of a strike would continue) whilst this consultation takes place?”  Many workers rightly said the deal was so poor that it should not go out to a ballot. This was the position that was taken by the Unison union.

Others were angry that if they voted for consultation they would automatically shut down the action.

Sean Wallis is a member of the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC). He explained to Socialist Worker that Grady hadn’t got what she wanted because of pressure from below, and the HEC has backed the members’ decision to keep striking.

“When members were asked whether they wanted to call off the strikes at the Branch Delegate Meeting, 16 percent voted in favour, and 70 percent voted against,” he said.

“HEC has to stand with the democratic structures of the union. It cannot stand with a leadership that ignores the policies and rules. Grady had secret meetings, and then the next day, without reference to the HEC or talking to the higher education officers —the people responsible for the dispute—she sent an e-survey over everyone’s head.

“What the leadership basically said was, we don’t care. What we’re going to do is treat members like a stage army, march them up the hill and then sell them a deal and say that’s the best you can get.

“But the more members learn about the offer, the more they’ll learn they’ve been cheated. That deal means a 15 percent pay cut and uncertainty about your pensions. Members understand what’s at stake. That’s why they voted to keep striking” Sean added.

On Friday around 100 activists attended a lobby organised by UCU Left outside the HEC meeting on Carlow Street in London. Workers held signs that read “no capitulation” and “strike to win.” One banner read “Grady out”.

Sean added that lobbying and taking more action to seize back control of this dispute are essential.

“I think there are three things that members need to do,” he said. “Everybody needs to be on picket lines on Monday morning. Then, after the pickets, people need to be in strike meetings immediately.

“It’s absolutely essential people have open hybrid meetings and include as many people as possible. We need to be able to discuss where we go from here. Thirdly, in London, we have a demonstration starting from the Ucea bosses’ organisation. It’s a chance for branches from everywhere to come together and realise we’re stronger united.”

“We need to recapture the union,” Sean explained. “The union has been split by the behaviour of the general secretary, she has behaved incredibly divisively by playing people off, and it’s backfired.

“People in pre-92 universities went through this in 2018 with the fight for their pensions. Those in post-92 universities did not.

“But now I think what Grady has done has exposed herself not just in the eyes of the NEC or HEC members whose authority was being undermined, but in the eyes of the whole union as well.”

The vote to overturn attempts by Grady to call off strikes and push for a dodgy deal is a triumph for rank and file UCU members.

But only organising from below has made this possible. Every union member should take note. Workers can revolt against their union leaders’ attempts to sell them out.

UCU London demonstration, Tue 21 March, assemble 12 noon, Ucea HQ, Tavistock Square, March to Parliament at 1pm

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