Officials of the education union UCU have downed tools and walked out - from their own annual congress.
Paid officials from the UCU union today walked out of their Congress at the Manchester Central in a dispute with their own members.
Two motions, 10 and 11, were due to be debated stating no confidence in and censuring the General Secretary (GS) of the Union, Sally Hunt, for their handling of the bitter pensions dispute earlier this year.
That dispute saw fourteen days of strikes in February and March by academics and support staff at 64 institutions across the UK.
Motion 10 called for “the resignation of Sally Hunt as General Secretary with immediate effect”, while Motion 11 resolved:
i. to censure the GS for relaying branch positions at the 28 March meeting whose accuracy, in the absence of a vote, or provision of a detailed list of positions, could not be verified.
ii. to ensure that in future branch representatives’ positions are recorded in a clear and verifiable manner.
However, before the motions could be discussed, a letter was circulated by Unite, another union which represents UCU’s paid officials.
The letter stated “Our members believe that if Congress debates these motions, it will breach agreements between UCU and Unite which protect employees’ dignity at work and right to due process.”
The General Secretary is an elected post with salary and benefits in the region of over £125,000, according to the THE.
Unite’s letter ended with an ultimatum: “We want to be clear with you that if these motions are debated, Unite will need to hold immediate emergency meetings to consider our response to this attack on our rights.”
After delegates voted 144 to 123 to debate the motions, UCU officials suspended Congress proceedings, walked out and formed a picket line outside.
Delegates in the hall reported on Twitter that around 10 people joined the pickets, while over 100 delegates remained in the hall and produced a collective statement asserting their right to discuss concerns with their own union.
UCU members reacted with shock and sarcasm on Twitter:
On the plus side of #UCU2018 at least we know now that the national officers can drive a hard bargain - just against members, rather than for us in the #USSstrike— Jamie Woodcock (@jamie_woodcock) May 30, 2018
Can’t overstate how incredibly bad for this is for @ucu If union transparency & accountability can’t be discussed at congress, then where can they be discussed. Walking out to prevent discussion about democratic structures only demonstrates that discussion is needed. #ucu2018 https://t.co/JiyHvI885b— Jo Grady (@DrJoGrady) May 30, 2018
In a way, a credible industrial strategy is being developed @ UCU Congress: unofficial walk outs & solidarity pickets. If only they’d apply this approach against the employers instead of their own freaking membership we might actually be able to save our pensions #UCU18 #UCU2018— PerrierCommunist (@PerrierCommuni1) May 30, 2018
So picketing prior to dispute being declared, with secondary picketing and wildcat actions. I'm pretty sure UCU officials are usually against this sort of thing. #UCU2018— Graham Smith (@GrahamSmith4) May 30, 2018
Imagine hiring Saatchi & Saatchi to wage a PR war against a union and then, entirely independently and unprompted, it just shits itself inside out for all the world to see.— Salty Hunt (@MediocreDave) May 30, 2018
The pensions dispute was called off in April when UCU put an offer from the employers to members, which was accepted by a ballot of the membership 64 to 36 on a 64% turnout.
The strike saw considerable rank-and-file activity as new members joined the union and strikers resisted attempts by union leaders to get them back to work.
A previous offer in March was only rejected after at least 45 branches voted against the leadership’s position and hundreds of UCU members protested outside their own union headquarters. The hashtag #NoCapitulation trended on Twitter.
Dr Jack Saunders is a UCU member who was on strike for the full fourteen days earlier this year.
He told libcom.org “the problem isn't with members voting to end the strike, really. All disputes end eventually.”
“The issue was the manner in which is was ended. The General Secretary and her followers were essentially pushing for us to go back from about 4-5 days in on the back of the most meagre of concessions.”
“There was a fair bit of bureaucratic manipulation around the very hasty decision to call a ballot of the members.”
Saunders, who studies the history of work in post-war Britain, added “I've never heard of full-time union officials walking out on conference on these sorts of grounds. It's absurd really.”
Amanda Williams, a UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) member for Higher Education - London and east, joined the union staffers’ picket.
She said on Twitter “If you don't like what NEC members are doing vote us out when our term is up.”
However in a Twitter thread, UCU’s University College London branch described the walkout as a “power play”.
“No rule, policy, motion, or other UCU instrument exists that prevents this or rules out democratic decisions critical of high office in the union”, they wrote.
The UCU’s annual congress opened today and is due to run until Friday.