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From The Socialist newspaper, 8 July 2020

Southampton UCU: election victory for combative rank and file

UCU strikers at University of East London 5 March 2020, photo Ian Pattison

UCU members took 22 days of strike action in the 'Four Fights' dispute, photo Ian Pattison   (Click to enlarge)

Bea Gardner, Southampton UCU (personal capacity)

An overwhelming victory for rank-and-file activists is the result of the first contested branch elections in years for Southampton University and College Union (UCU).

The new rank and file convincingly won the majority of positions, including president, vice-president, health and safety officer, anti-casualisation officer, and communications officer. The victory cements a process of transformation underway since the 2018 pensions strike that is being replicated in many branches.

In 2018, thousands joined the union. Branch democracy was revitalised, with many stepping into activity for the first time.

The new activist layer was fed up with business-as-usual politics. They wanted the union fighting for members who have had their pay and conditions eroded by a decade of market-driven policies.

Over the last year, this fresh layer has developed confidence and experience. It led the 'Four Fights' dispute in many branches, in which members took up to 22 days of strike action last academic year.

However, while introducing a new layer to workers' struggle, experience has also exposed them to the barriers posed by trade union bureaucracy. The so-called 'old guard' has been resistant to change.

Unable to see the shifting ground beneath their feet, they have written off new activists for being too militant, and appealed to a 'moderate majority' which no longer exists. In such circumstances, elections are essential to move past the factional stalemate.

Some go to great lengths to avoid elections, thinking it divisive for the branch. But without them, the majority of the membership is left with no choice over who represents them. Elections provide an opportunity for debate about the best direction for the union, and the sort of leadership members want.

The Southampton UCU victory is therefore a decisive step for the development of the branch. However, it is just the start. The new leadership will be tested by the enormity of events in the next few months, including the financial crisis in higher education.

Branch leaders will also face enormous pressure to drop their most combative demands. To counter this, they will need to continue to engage and mobilise members in a movement from below, while quickly learning lessons from previous victories (and defeats) of the workers' movement.

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In The Socialist 8 July 2020:


Workplace news

Fantastic virtual NSSN conference: "Fight for our lives and livelihoods''

Homerton hospital workers deserve equal pay and conditions

Jobcentre reopening: only union struggle will put safety first

Southampton UCU: election victory for combative rank and file

Tower Hamlets council workers strike against wholesale attack on terms and conditions

Nottingham unions fight council job cuts


News

Fight for every job, fight for socialism

Tory NHS betrayal

Young people have no choice but to fight the system

Leicester: End the scandal of sweatshop labour

Covid pandemic and Northern Ireland - workers must resist the bosses' offensive

1,600 less benefits if your job goes - while super-rich splash cash

Testing: Tories' 5bn gift to private sector

Johnson blames care workers for deaths

3bn green pledge: not enough for climate or jobs

Poverty rises again - especially for BAME workers

Them and us


No going back

No going back: Nationalise social care!


Campaigns

The best place to start - join the Socialist Party

Trans rights protests oppose Tory backsliding

Black Lives Matter - the fight is not over


International news

Hong Kong: The fight for democratic rights

Bangladesh: Stop closure and privatisation of Jute Mills


Readers' opinion

TV: The school that tried to end racism

Books that inspired me: The Fire Next Time

The Socialist Inbox


 

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