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Kathy Taylor, UCU president, speech to Congress 2013

Brighton, May 2013


In my address to you today, I want to speak about the key issues that have faced our union over my presidential term, and the challenges that we all know are facing us in the future.

There has never been a time in the history of the trade union movement when we haven't faced challenges.

I started my career as a lecturer in further education at the height of Margaret Thatcher's reign of tyranny.

What a nightmare that thirty years later, in the same month that I took up the vice-presidency in 2010, Cameron and Clegg should join together to resume that ideological class war.

A war, Congress, which has brought us into constant conflict with this government for the past three years, and into a fight-back which we know will have to continue tillthey are defeated.

And the first target they identified was education.

Because theyknow, as we in the trade union movement have always known, that education for the working class has always been a route out of poverty, out of deprivation, and a means of enhancing life chances and achieving social mobility.

And they know that the way to achieve their goal of returning the education system to one of privilege rather than right is to:

  • restrict access
  • withdraw public funding
  • end financial support
  • limit opportunities.

And so, we have faced an unprecedented onslaught on a multitude of fronts as they have attempted to undermine publicly funded and accountable education and expose it to the market, reducing education to a commodity, based not on ability, but on the ability to pay.

How have they done this?

  • Decimation of funding for both further and higher education.
  • Removal of all forms of support , the axing of EMA,- their latest stroke - introducing loans to replace funding for those over 24 wishing to take advanced level qualifications in further education
  • The introduction of sky-high tuition fees.

And the result:

  • courses cut in college and universities
  • England now the most expensive place in the world to study for a degree at a public university
  • students from the richest 20% are 10 times more likely than those from the poorest 20% to go to university.
  • a million, Congress, a million of our young people not in education, employment or training, a lost generation
  • bottom of the league, 29th out of 29 European countries in the take-up of post-compulsory education.

And the effects on our members, and all who work in the post-16 sector, have been devastating.

Thousands of jobs have been lost, and those still in work have faced massive attacks on their terms and conditions, the appalling increases in casualisation, massive hikes in workloads, a growing culture of aggressive and macho management,

And now, shamefully, we are top of the leaderboard of professions, in our levels of work-related stress, attacks on our professionalism and academic freedom and attacks on our right to a decent and fair pension at the end of our service.

And the motions you have debated at the sector conferences and at the Congress over the past three days clearly reflect those battles.

But, on every single front, we should be proud that UCU members have been at the forefront of the fight back from the very beginning, locally, nationally, using all the tools and resources at our disposal.

I want to pay tribute to every member of this union for their willingness to stand up and demonstrate their opposition to this government.

And I also wantto applaud every member of our staff, working with all of us, for all of us, to support us in our fight.

  • We have taken Industrial action.
  • We have demonstrated, marched and campaigned.
  • We have lobbied MPs, Ministers, employers' associations, indeed anyone who we thought could assist in our campaign to defend education in general and our profession in particular.

Throughout the past three years, as vice-president and now as your President, I have had the privilege of representing you and speaking on your behalf in all the arenas we have been involved in, at branches, at regional committees, at demos, at conferences, regionally, nationally and internationally:I just want to share a few of my memories with you:

  • The first major UCU/NUS Demo in London, followed by the Demo in Manchester - my first experience of the tradition at NUS demos of being in the line of fire of eggs being pelted towards their leadership, a tradition I encountered again when I was speaking at the latest NUS demo at Kennington. Not that I'm encouraging that particular tradition to take hold at UCU Conferences.
  • Standing in solidarity with members at picket lines all over the country - I'll name just a couple:
  • Trying to present the giant Petition for the reinstatement of the Halesowen 4 and sending a text message, (with technical assistance from Joe Rooney, to the Principal.He didn't answer.
  • The tour of London picket lines that Martin Whelton from head office took me on when London region took strike action with our NUT comrades and climbing up (not without some difficulty) on the flat bed wagon we were using as a speaker's platform.
  • The television interview at some unearthly time in the morning "on the red sofa" with Bill Turnbull (always a feature of any nightmare I have)
  • Giving evidence to the enquiry headed up by Lord Lingfield into professionalism following our hugely successful IFL boycott, with Barry Lovejoy and the General Secretary, a most interesting, if not surreal, experience.

And let us not forget that we have had successes, victories that make a real and tangible difference to our members:

Without UCU there would have been no Lingfield enquiry

Without UCU there would have been no government u-turn on tax breaks for private universities

And without UCU - without you - many thousands more teachers, lecturers and academic related staff would have been forced out of their profession

In addition, in line with our proud record on equality issues, we have been in the forefront of challenging this government on the damaging impact of their policies and the effects of their pernicious and divisive rhetoric , on the marginalised andvulnerable within our workplaces and communities.

Just very recently I was very happy to be asked to chair a highly successful Conference organised by our union on Austerity and Equality in Multicultural Britain. And proud to add my voice of condemnation on your behalf at the Newcastle Unites against the EDL rally last Saturday in my home town.

I have also been proud to have represented you at events and conferences hosted and attended by our sister trade unions internationally, within the framework of Education International and the European Trade Union Committee for Education, recognising, as we all do, that the threat to education and those working in education is not limited to the UK but is global.

Colleagues, the fight goes on.And we must have a union that is ready and prepared to take that fight forward.

At this Congress we have faced head on the consequences of job losses in our sectors and the effect this has had on membership numbers.

My presidential year has been a tumultuous one as our union, through your Executive, has debated and discussed the strategy needed, the changes to our structures required, to position UCU to be an effective force on behalf of its members.

We must continue to evolve, and continue to evaluate and review our union's structures to make sure that happens, to ensure that UCU remains an effective, campaigning, independent trade union.

Congress, UCU is your union.

UCU is its members.

The more members who participate in our democratic life, the stronger we will be.We must continue to develop ways, not only to recruit members, which of course is vital, but to encourage those members to play an active part in the life of our union at branch, regional and national level.

Finally, I would like to say some thank yous.

First, can I sincerely thank the other officers within the presidential team for their support and (mostly) good sense.

I would also like to thank the members of the National Executive and the members of all the sub- and standing committees who have put themselves forward to act on your behalf between Congresses, not an easy option and very oftenunsung, in my view.

And I want to thank all our staff for their dedication and hard work.

Last but not least, thank you, delegates, the lay activists, who work in the branches, the life-blood of this union.

In conclusion, I, as you all do, believe in UCU.

I believe this union is needed more than ever today, and in the future, to protect our members, to protect education, to fight for equality of access and opportunity.

We believe that education should be at the centre of social and economic renewal. We have to convince this government that investment in education benefits not only the individual but society, contributes to economic recovery and growth, and saves money in terms of the health and well-being of its citizens.

We must ensure that we continue to be the voice for the profession we are proud to represent.

Thank you, everyone.


Last updated: 3 April 2019