On behalf UCU Branch Officers I am writing to thank you for your commitment to the union, locally and nationally through 2023.
It has been a very tough year, with ballot campaigns and industrial action, including the Marking and Assessment Boycott. We have not achieved all that we hoped for, and on some key issues we will have to maintain our campaigns and pressure. But it is important to acknowledge the scale of the victory on USS. In two weeks time every members of USS will be paying lower contributions, and by April we will have our pensions back (with uprating for the lost years). You can see the immediate impact on your contributions here.
Make no mistake, it was our action that has achieved this win. Every member of USS will benefit, but it was our solidarity and financial sacrifice that secured this outcome. Collective action works.
In the year ahead your local branch will be focusing relentlessly on working in our own institution to improve the quality of our working lives – defending jobs, demanding equality and fighting for secure contracts and sustainable workloads. The branch committee has been busy developing a plan to take this work forward next year, and there will be lots of opportunities to be involved in different ways. Watch this space.
Nationally the union will need to consider how its campaigns move forward. Much of this debate will take place through the election process for General Secretary (starting in earnest in the New Year). As with all such developments, locally we will be working to provide members with the maximum opportunity to engage in debates and participate in decision-making.
Finally, as a branch we will continue to play our role in the wider trade union movement – whether that is defending public services in our own community in Nottingham City or standing in solidarity with those elsewhere in the world, for example in Ukraine and Gaza, who currently face unspeakable hardship.
There will be much to do in 2024, and there is much happening now that is a source of great anxiety, but we hope all our members get to enjoy a well earned break over the holiday period and that it will be possible to enjoy a genuine rest in the company of family and friends. Enjoy the time.
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.
Howard University of Nottingham UCU Branch President (union email here)
Yesterday UCU announced that ‘We have, last night, reached a point in negotiations where proposals have been put forward which provide an interim resolution in our disputes with Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and Universities UK (UUK).’ You can read the full details of the proposals here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/12834
There is a lot of detail to digest in a very short timeframe and we think that a conversation might be helpful. We are calling (yet another) emergency branch meeting TOMORROW Thursday 16 March at 1pm.
A Branch Delegate Meeting has been called tomorrow at 3pm. Agnes Flues and Catherine Rottenberg will attend and vote on behalf of our branch on this question: “Do you support UCU members now getting a vote on the negotiated proposals that have been reached, and pausing strike action (ASOS would continue) whilst this consultation takes place?” Yes/No
They need to hear your views so they can represent the membership accurately.
Each of you will have received an email with an informal vote link with the same question. Both BDM and this e-ballot are only indicative and will be presented to the Higher Education Committee (HEC) who have the authority to decide on the way forward.
In the ongoing debate about what the next steps in our industrial action to restore USS benefits and obtain a better deal for pay and working conditions should be, we (UoNUCU branch committee) think that the proposal in our September motion is the most sensible: on-going strike action from the first day of the second semester, organised in such a way that members only take strike action on those days when withdrawing labour impacts the employer. Read a longer rationale here
Branch meeting to discuss this and make your voice heard Jan 6 2023 at 13:00 Zoom link will be sent to branch members via email