Dear UCU member
You will by now be aware that UCU did not meet the 50% threshold in the pay and conditions ballot that closed last week.
This result is desperately disappointing. It marks the end, for now, of the disputes that first began in early 2018 when we took strike action to defend the USS pension scheme.
However, despite the setback of the ballot result, it is important to recognise that the battle for our pensions has been won. It is an unprecedented victory, and our action has secured substantial benefits for every USS member in the sector. It would not have happened unless UCU members made it happen.
Nevertheless, while proclaiming the scale of the win on USS, we also need to acknowledge that we did not make a breakthrough on pay, precarity, workload and equalities. For all our efforts, we were not able to shift our employers on these core issues. That fight will need to continue, but realistically not until the union has collectively taken stock of our recent campaigns and assessed the implications for future strategy. As always, your local branch will endeavour to engage with members as much as is possible, and will take every opportunity to present members’ views in national debates and decision-making processes.
For now, I would like to make two points:
First, is to make clear that your local branch will continue to make every effort to make progress on the issues that matter to you by working locally to improve the working conditions of UCU members at Nottingham. Our records indicate that over 60% of UoNUCU branch members voted in the national ballot (the national turnout was 42%). Those figures show that branch members at Nottingham remain profoundly dissatisfied with working conditions in the sector, and in our institution, and remain committed to acting collectively to address the issues. In the immediate future we will be focusing that frustration locally. The union branch is completely committed to national bargaining, and being part of a national framework, but we know there is plenty of scope to act locally and to make real progress on core issues. Our recent local agreement on principles for the use of casual contracts is one example of how your union branch is winning for members at the local level. The commitment of branch officers and departmental reps is to build on this success and to seek to make further progress across a wider range of issues. In the coming weeks and months we will be sharing our plans to develop these campaigns, and at every turn we will be working to engage with as many members as possible. There will be lots of opportunities to be involved!
Second, is to extend a heartfelt thanks from the branch committee to every member who has been involved in our campaigns since they began back in 2018. Whatever we may think of the outcomes, and some of the decisions that have been made along the way, the experience has been extraordinary. Here are some figures to reflect the experience.
· 11 industrial action ballots (six in the last year) – disaggregated, aggregated and one covering only our branch. Not only did we get over 50% every single time, but in the last disaggregated ballot UoNUCU secured the highest turnout across 150 branches nationally. In the ballot in March 2023 our records showed a turnout of 73%!
· 69 days of strike action – whatever the weather!
· Two marking and assessment boycotts, including throughout Summer this year when the branch called 7 branch meetings in 8 weeks during July and August!
The level of engagement by branch members has been astonishing – every vote cast, every picket line stood on, every meeting attended and throughout the MAB. It is what secured the win on pensions, and it is what needs to be mobilised across the sector to win on working conditions. That breakthrough will have to come, because although the ballot result marks the end of the current campaign, UCU’s action has made visible the flaws in the UK higher education system that employers and governments cannot ignore. The marketised and individualised model of higher education that successive governments have promoted is a busted flush – and it is action by UCU members that has exposed just how broken it is. We have refused to accept that there is no alternative to the unsustainable system currently on offer, and in so doing, we have kept alive the idea that another university is possible.
At this precise moment, with the recent ballot result, we are clearly not where we want to be as a national union. But we have much to be proud about, and locally we remain well placed to face the future. We keep going – and we look forward to working with members to make sure we secure the change the sector needs.
University of Nottingham UCU Branch President (union email here)