The UCU union held further and higher education sector conferences on Friday of last week before its main conference began on Saturday. Delegates voted resoundingly for action to defend their pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.
Lecturers in further education passed a motion calling on the union to “ballot UCU members for industrial action in pursuit of our pay claim and to seek to coordinate action with other unions”.
They also backed strikes to defend jobs and conditions. Importantly delegates unanimously voted that the union should spread and escalate action in order to support branches that were in dispute.
Lecturers called on the union to “investigate the possibility of taking industrial action to reduce workload”. Some spoke of regularly working 60-hour weeks and warned that workload was increasing every year.
There was a sense that workers were under increasing attack from the government and the bosses. David Armstrong from the union’s national executive committee (NEC) said an “observations plague” had hit colleges.
James Eaden from Chesterfield College said observations were being used to penalise workers. Delegates unanimously passed a motion calling on the union to look into coordinating action where there are disputes over observations.
Delegates also condemned increasing casualisation in colleges and the stress that temporary contracts caused. Amy Jowett from Hackney described hourly-paid lecturers as “invisible”.
Delegates to the union's higher education sector conference backed a number of motions calling for action to defend workers’ conditions, pay and pensions. They denounced privatisation and the spread of fixed term contracts in education.
Delegates called on the union to begin a “national campaign” over outsourcing.
They passed a motion calling on the union’s higher education committee to ballot members on the abolition of the Research Excellence Framework. Delegates said this promoted inequality and threatened jobs.
Delegates to the main conference unanimously passed a motion instructing the NEC to “initiate discussions with other public sector unions” on pay. They called for a pay strategy involving “coordinated industrial action and public campaigning” to win a pay rise.
They also passed motions opposing the government’s threat to bring in regional pay and to defend national pay agreements. Delegates called on the NEC to “consider nationally aggregated action in support of any members whose management uses the argument of regional pay to justify pay cut or freeze”.
Delegates warned that privatisation posed a real threat to the idea of education as a public good that everyone had a right to access.
They said privatisation led to attacks on academic freedom and trade union rights.
Philipa Hall from the University of Central Lancashire described how she had been sacked as sociology course leader after criticising a course that managers supported.
Mick Jardine from the Southern regional committee said that college managements often engaged in “constant surveillance” of workers. He said students were workers’ “natural allies” and that it was important to resist government attempts to turn students into spies rating their lecturers.
Delegates denounced the idea that education should simply be geared towards the needs of business. Richard McEwan from Tower Hamlets and the NEC told delegates, “Education is being twisted towards the market and jobs that don’t exist”.
Lecturers passed an amendment calling for a national demonstration to defend education in the autumn.
Delegates reiterated their opposition to fees and opposed the government’s cuts to equality legislation. They instructed the union to campaign to defend equal rights.
Delegates unanimously passed a motion resolving to “encourage members to support mobilisations against the English Defence League” and to defend multiculturalism.
They backed continuing affiliation to the Abortion Rights campaign and also to circulate materials from the Defend the Right to Protest campaign.
Delegates unanimously passed a motion in support of a protest called by the TUC for 20 October. The motion resolved to make “special funds available to every branch that organises transport for the march”.
Around 170 came to a UCU Left meeting on Friday evening to hear activists from Greece and Quebec along with Alfie Meadows from the Defend the Right to Protest campaign.
Some 150 came to a meeting on democracy in the UCU on Thursday evening before the conference even began see here
And around 80 people came to a fringe meeting on Karl Marx on Saturday evening organised by the Socialist Workers Party.