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Taking action in higher education

Autumn action fists

Preparations and FAQ for the HE strikes

With ten days to go until the next wave of strike action in our higher education disputes, I am answering some of the questions and address some of the issues members have raised.

When is my institution going on strike?

Branches have been given an option to vary their strike dates to avoid reading weeks or other periods in which action would be less effective. Click here to see the dates your institution is taking action.

What prospects are there for further negotiations before the strikes start?

The union is working very hard to resolve the situation before the action starts. In fact, the threat of action has already led to the possibility of progress in our USS dispute. This morning we learnt that Universities UK has launched a fresh consultation of employers on whether to cover USS pension contribution increases that have been imposed on members. The ball is in the employers' court: they are being given an opportunity to resolve the USS dispute now, before any more action has to happen. I will let you know the outcome of the consultation as soon as possible.

At the same time I have made clear to employers that if they want to avoid any further action, they need to make us an improved offer in our 'Four Fights' dispute as well. As I pointed out two weeks ago we have made some progress on job security and equality, but almost none on workload and none whatsoever on pay. If we are to rule out all further action that needs to change.

Preparing for 14 days of action

Some members have asked me about the scale of the action voted for by the higher education committee (HEC). We know from experience that large-scale industrial action is the only thing that causes significant change in our sector. If the action is successful we could see immense short-term and long-term benefits for everyone who works in higher education.

Don't forget that there is only one party to blame when staff are forced to go on strike like this: the employers. Employers have already faced one wave of action but they still have not offered us any financial concessions whatsoever - not a penny. All they have offered is verbal commitments to work together on the issues we are in dispute over.

Better offers are likely to come if we apply more pressure. We have to be ready to follow through on our threat of strike action and take all 14 days, but we may not need to. If the start of the action is effective employers will be more likely to come forward and make improved offers. If we receive a credible offer you will get a chance to have a say about whether we call off the dispute.

This wave of action will be spread out and staggered over four weeks. That leaves employers more time to negotiate with us before the 14 days are over. My advice to you is to be ready to take 14 days if necessary, but take the action one day at a time.

Employers didn't make an offer after the first wave - what has changed?

The employers were surprised by the commitment which you showed in the first eight days of action. This time they will have a better idea of the amount of disruption which your withdrawal of labour can cause. They will also know that there are now even more staff ready to participate. Thanks to the success of the reballots that closed on 28 January, there are now 74 institutions in a position to take action, compared with 60 in the last wave of strikes.

We have to remember that many people had similar doubts about the possibility that the USS strike in 2018 would cause employers to shift their position - but it did. Employers will always tell you that industrial action is futile, but that is because they know how effective it can be.

Facebook Live Q&A
 
I will be hosting a Facebook Live Q&A on Thursday 13 February from 1pm to 2pm. I am hoping to answer a wide range of questions from as many of you as possible about the disputes, developments in negotiations, and the planned action.

The live stream will be available on the UCU Facebook page and it will continue to be available for viewing after the session has ended. You do not need a Facebook login to view it. Questions can be submitted via Facebook or to this email address, either in advance or during the session. Your questions will be read out during the Q&A but any sensitive personal data will be anonymised unless you specify otherwise.
 
Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 11 February 2020