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University and College Union conference 2019: Preparing for struggle
Sam Morecroft, UCU delegate (personal capacity)
The University and College Union (UCU) conference 2019 took place 25-27 May, at a important time for our union. Over the last year there have been crucial victories on pay at many further education colleges up and down the country, which show that strike action works and must be built upon.
But we have also been thwarted by the draconian Tory anti-union laws in higher education, where despite winning huge votes in favour of industrial action over casualisation, workload, pay and the gender pay gap we have twice failed to reach the required 50% turnout threshold required for legal industrial action.
The mood and tone of the conference could not have been more different from the chaos of 2018, which was paralysed by staff walkouts.
Our new general secretary elect, Jo Grady, made a carefully judged speech on the first day, pledging to respect the views of the elected 'democracy commission', and never to use union employees as a shield as the previous general secretary had done.
By doing this, she signalled her willingness to accept the right of UCU members to recall the general secretary - meaning that if UCU members are dissatisfied with her leadership, we will have the power to force an early election and choose a new general secretary. Socialist Party members fought hard politically for the commission to be created.
The Socialist Party has always put forward the idea that all trade union leaders should be subject to recall by union members, and we congratulate Grady on accepting this important democratic right.
The election of Grady, a rank-and-file member of the union who came to prominence as a result of the important USS pension briefs group during the USS pension strike, signifies a shift to the left in the union. This was further underlined by the important decisions taken at this conference.
The further education conference resolved to continue to build local industrial action on pay in England and to support ongoing strikes. In higher education, we resolved to ballot for industrial action if the bosses' organisation Universities UK press ahead with plans to increase employee contributions to the USS pension, to mount a defence of the TPS pension and to ballot together for strike action on pay, workload and casualisation.
We agreed to spotlight the horrendous struggle at Bradford College, where 165 workers have been threatened with redundancy - a direct result of the Tory assault on further education. Importantly, conference recognised the magnificent struggle of the 'Youth Strike 4 Climate', and resolved to call on the Trade Union Congress to organise a general strike alongside the school students.
In UCU we face the wholesale destruction of post-16 education at the hands of this rotten Tory government. But our union is preparing to fightback!
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