Higher Education talks enter crucial stage

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The University and College Union (UCU) is now in its third week of strike action over pensions, pay, equality issues, workload and casualization of the sector. Although developments are being kept pretty much in secret, branches have pressed the Union leadership for an open discussion and ratification of any agreements that we may collectively come to. Some branches have also been discussing what the next step could entail if there is insufficient progress. While the sector does not have a huge amount of power in some senses, unless railway unions or NHS workers, universities are increasingly concerned about their reputations in a competitive education “market”, especially when it comes to high fee payment international students and loss of income due to a lack of grant applications from governments, agencies and trusts. Apparently, some Russell Group universities (those in the “top” bracket in research and teaching rankings) have been assessing the damaging effect of the strikes on their reputation and, specifically, the fact that the cat is out of the bag in respect of the precariousness of lecturers and academic related staff in these institutions. Rather than caring about the quality of their workers’ work lives, it may be this reputational factor that makes them shift. As stated, branches have in the meantime been reassessing the next step and a serious examination of a summer marking and examination boycott has been broached. This is where our power lies.

The response of the management across different universities varies. Some are harsher, having been schooled in the very own departments of Management Studies that universities offer, but many still have a recognition that learning and decency are core values in the sector. The problem, however, is that UCU as a union allows managers to join. It is therefore difficult to discuss trade union tactics freely and it may have individual and collective consequences when members implement them. From our anarchosyndicalist perspective, managers should not be allowed in the union – this means that it is the workers who control it and it in the workers’ interests that our kind of union operates. Our union is still under construction but it has made gains in different sectors and has won disputes. We invite workers’ seeking a combative and not purely representative approach to join us.