The Unite union branch for UCU staff held a fringe meeting at the congress this week (Picture: Unite at UCU)

Around 170 full-time staff of the UCU struck during the union’s congress in Bournemouth on Thursday. 

The Unite union members took action over the UCU’s “undermining of existing industrial recognition agreements, failure to agree key working principles and heavy-handed use of disciplinary procedures”.

It meant that the UCU higher education and further education conferences, which would have set out a plan for industrial action for the next year, couldn’t take place.

Jenny, joint chair of the Unite branch, told Socialist Worker that anger and frustration at UCU has been building up for three to four years.  “We feel like they’ve done nothing to try and meet our demands,” she said.

“They’ve made promises they don’t resolve. We’ve had random restructurings that we were never asked about that seemed to have been decided on a whim. It’s just a hard place to work.

“I am striking with a heavy heart—I’ve stood on hundreds of picket lines, but this is the first time I’ve actually been on strike.”

Jenny stressed that the UCU’s treatment of its Black Members Standing Committee (BMSC) had fuelled anger. A statement from the elected body said “pervasive structural racism plagues our sector and our union”.

Juliana Ojinnaka, a UCU member and lecturer at Sheffield College, sits on the BMSC. “The way black staff in the UCU have been treated is the same as how we’re treated in our workplaces,” she said.

“There have been black UCU members who have faced redundancies, but the union hasn’t offered them legal support. We expected better from our union.” 

Juliana explained that union leaders censoring a BMSC statement on Palestine was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. “How can we encourage black workers to join the union when we are in this situation?” she said.

“If the union is not treating workers well, they are setting an example for our employers of how to treat us.” 

The top of the union was shaken by the strike and allegations of racism. The chair repeatedly told delegates during Wednesday’s sessions that they could not speak about the Unite dispute on the congress floor.

But many UCU members defied them while others wore T-shirts that said, “Black staff matter.” Delegates also forced a motion back onto the agenda which called for special higher education and further education conferences to replace the ones that didn’t go ahead on Thursday. 

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