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UCU General Secretary Election Result

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Sally Hunt on being re-elected as General Secretary of UCU. I congratulated Sally personally this morning and we look forward to continuing to work together for all members.

To all those members who voted for me, thank you!  I really enjoyed meeting all members who came to hustings and hearing from all members who emailed me to discuss your concerns and what you think our union should be doing.

I’m pleased to see that I achieved 41% of the votes cast. This is a significant increase on the vote share gained by the challenger during the last GS election which was a commendable 27%.  The result illustrates that almost half of our active members in UCU want a change in leadership.

However, the turnout in this ballot is a major cause for concern.  Only 13.7% of UCU members participated in this ballot. It is unfortunate that the mandate for the re-elected General Secretary only comes from 8% of the overall membership.

We need to work hard to re-engage the disengaged. This is equally as important to us as recruitment. After meeting so many brilliant, committed members around the country, I have every confidence that we can work together to build UCU from below. It will take time and it will definitely take effort but if we want UCU to be seen as an active, organising, campaigning union, then we all have a part to play

We are living through difficult times, the equality agenda is under attack, the freedom of the press and workers’ rights.  We can take courage from the resistance that is already building up to Trump in the USA.   Like many other UCU activists I will be part of the resistance against racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination and hatred championed by the Alt-Right.  I’m looking forward to the big demonstration against racism in London on March 18th (there will be a coach leaving from Liverpool – contact me for details) and to the debate at UCU Congress in May about how we build our union.

Thank you!

Jo.

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Independence and Factions in UCU

After speaking at another great hustings last night, this time in The Casa, Liverpool for our Merseyside branches, I got home to write a public response to Sally Hunt’s claims in the all member email circulated yesterday (Feb 2nd). It seems Rhiannon Lockley has articulated everything I was going to say perfectly in a facebook post. Thanks Rhiannon.

Rhiannon wrote:

Just read the first candidate email from Sally Hunt for UCU general secretary.

I think Sally has a lot of strengths and has worked hard to lead our union but I want to respond to the issue she presents on independence and factional interest. I find it surprising for a candidate who refers to themself as independent to spend a section of their address attacking one out of two equally operational and weighted factions but not even mentioning the other by name.

Sally implies that the left is controlled by the SWP. Like our candidate for general secretary Jo McNeill and lots of UCU left members and supporters I know, I’m a Corbyn supporting Labour party member. It is this more than anything which made me want to respond, because I feel like myself and people like me are being painted as puppets. What is this meant to say? That we are too silly or powerless to have any input into decisions or even realise that other parties are present? Incidentally there are also some Greens and plenty of people who don’t belong to a party.

Sally refers to “other” factions but does not and will not name the Independent Broad Left, who I am sure endorse her as a candidate whether she is connected to them or not. I know of only Vicky Blake who is a truly independent candidate (there may be others) but barring one honourable exception IBL candidates state that they are independent in campaign literature so most members have never heard of them even though once elected they vote as part of a bloc on crucial issues such as industrial action.

The other thing not mentioned is the IBL and Lexit. Sally is quick to remind members that the SWP supported Lexit, which they did, openly. What this completely and it’s hard not to think deliberately misses is that the IBL are broadly organised by the CP (communist party) although like the left, contain plenty of Labour party members also. Like the SWP the CP supported Lexit. So this is not a matter of factional external interest: rather, there are two factions operational within our union, both with key members linked to external political parties and both of whom had members campaigning for Brexit, along with members who campaigned the other way. The racism that has built in the last few years and the implications for migrants including but definitely not limited to the climate and implications of Brexit require more than mud-slinging to resolve.

In a time of growing challenges for trades unionism and increasing attacks on education we need a union which fights for our members but I also believe we need to fight for our students and our communities. Democratic debate is at the heart of how unions function – debate which involves us meeting, organising and making decisions collectively. I understand the pressures to shift from model to a single cyber-relationship between the GS and the members but I don’t think that cutting out us interacting with each other would be a step forward in how we organise or get rid of the workload problem that prevents organising.

I m often exhausted by my attempts to balance the three main commitments in my life – my young family, my teaching and my trades unionism. I voluntarily do my activism stuff because it is core to what I think about how the world works and how I can make the world better for my kids, my colleagues and my students.

I’m proud to support Jo who used to be an access student like mine and who is a branch rep and Corbyn supporter like me. Jo is completely open about where she coming from but as a branch rep in practical terms she is someone who recognises and values the need to work with everyone. I think she is just what we need

<end of facebook post>

Rhiannon Lockley is standing for the West Midlands seat on the NEC, if you’re from that region, please vote for her. We need people like Rhiannon to make UCU the union we want and need.

Testimonial

I am happy to support Jo McNeill in her campaign to be elected as UCU General Secretary.  Jo possesses the experience and skills vital to this demanding role. She commands huge respect from so many areas of society and displays strong leadership qualities.

It is my opinion that it is precisely Jo’s personal trajectory that makes her the ideal candidate.  Her own education and career path have given her experience at all levels and most importantly she retains close links at all levels.

Jo is a committed Trade Unionist and activist.  I can attest to this because of her visibility. I know that I will inevitably bump into Jo at any important event, even those organised at short notice. This is because she has a deep-rooted humanity and empathy that renders it impossible for her to ignore the plight of others. She will be at the forefront of responding to an injustice or social issue and is an accomplished campaigner.

Organisational skills are crucial to the demanding role of head of a union. Fortunately, Jo’s extensive experience means she is a leader in the area and would bring to the post of General Secretary, an expertise tempered with a sensitivity for the individual. The transferable skills she has developed over time, would be a great asset to UCU.

Jo’s commitment to challenging social injustice at all levels means she has an in depth knowledge of present day society and the ensuing pressures which impact so negatively upon a majority of the population.

I know Jo through my own campaigning and trade union involvement. She is a genuine, personable, strong woman who enriches any company.  Her fundamental humanity gives me hope for the future. Her election to the post of General secretary of UCU would offer hope to so many. I wish her every success.

Sheila Coleman

Unite the Union, North West Region Community Coordinator

Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Trump – the first days

Any hopes that Donald Trump would become more presidential or moderate in office must surely be expiring.

In his inaugural address Trump used the phrase ‘America First’.  This was the name in the 1940s of an anti-interventionist committee, which opposed the USA entering the war against fascism.  The use of this term played to the Alt-Right and American fascist parties.  It would be naïve to think Trump does not know the historical connotations of this term.

What has happened in his first week in office?  Trump signed 14 presidential orders.

On 22nd January came the first attacks on healthcare provision.  If ‘Obamacare’ is repealed millions of Americans will be left without healthcare.  The US has no comprehensive National Health Service.  For millions of Americans healthcare goes with the job.  This means if you lose your job you and your family can lose access to healthcare.

23rd January brought a return to the global gag on abortion.  Funding will be restricted for global healthcare groups that provide abortion services.  This will cost women’s lives.

On the 24th January the climate took a battering.  Trump and his team are climate change deniers.  Trump signed two memos for oil pipelines.  These pipelines signal how the Trump administration will focus on extracting fossil fuels, not investing in renewable energy sources, thus adding to global warming.  The Dakota Access pipeline crosses land sacred to Native American groups.

On the 25th January Trump attacked sanctuary cities, denying federal funds to more than 400 cities and counties that given support to undocumented migrants.  He also issued an order calling for the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.  Thus Trump continues to scapegoat migrants and foster hatred. He also on the 25th suggested he would like to see torture reintroduced and that he believes torture works.  His views have received widespread condemnation.  It’s no wonder the President of Mexico cancelled a meeting with Trump.

On the 27th Trump signed an order to ban all refugees coming to the USA and has imposed a 90 day restriction on anyone from seven Majority Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the USA.

We need to tell the British Government we do not want a special relationship with Donald Trump.  Theresa May should be embarrassed to be the first political leader to go to meet Trump. Her initial silence in reaction to the refugee ban translated as acceptance, a position we cannot allow in this country.

It looks like we should expect an atrocity a day from Trump.  We must salute the women’s marches of Saturday 21st January and organise to support this mass movement.  The necessary job of building the resistance has begun.  Trump won’t go away for a while, but neither will we.

UCU General Secretary Election Coming Soon…

After talking to a number of members in various different branches recently, I realise not everybody knows that we are about to receive ballot papers which will allow you the opportunity to vote for a new UCU leadership.

This election period is important, as well as the annual election of NEC members, this time you also have the opportunity to vote for a new General Secretary. The GS election only comes around once in every FIVE years.

I’m publishing this blog post to ask those of you who are aware of the upcoming election to raise it’s importance with your colleagues and professional networks. Turnout in the last General Secretary election was only 12%.

This time, there are just two candidates, Sally Hunt and me.

The ballot opens on February 1st and closes on March 1st. If you don’t receive your ballot paper, make sure you request one asap, the timeframe is extremely tight.

I’ll be speaking at a number of meetings across the country in the coming weeks. To find out if I’m coming to a branch near you or to request details of how to book a hustings or a meeting, please email me at: j.mcneill@liverpool.ac.uk

We have never needed to defend our members and our education system more than we do now, if you believe UCU is ready for change, support my campaign!

How can you actively support my campaign?

  • Act as a point of contact in your branch (email me to arrange this: j.mcneill@liverpool.ac.uk) – this involves receiving campaign materials either via email or in hardcopy, whichever you prefer, to share with your colleagues.
  • Ask your branch to invite Sally and I to a hustings.
  • Follow me on twitter and RT my posts: @jomcneillUCU
  • Follow me on facebook and share my posts: https://www.facebook.com/votejo4gensec/
  • Follow my blog and share posts with your colleagues/professional networks: https://jo4ucugensec.wordpress.com/
  • When the ballot papers arrive, ask your colleagues to check they’ve received them.
  • Prompt your colleagues to vote and to post their ballot papers.

Regardless of who you vote for, please do vote!

20 STUDENT UNIONS NATIONALLY VOTE TO BOYCOTT NSS – WHAT SHOULD UCU DO TO SUPPORT THEM?

I’d like to thank our students at the University of Liverpool who have voted overwhelmingly to boycott the NSS. This photograph is me with our Guild President Sean Turner at the November 19th demo to defend education. As President of the University of Liverpool UCU Branch I will continue to support our students all the way and we are meeting our members on Wednesday December 14th at 1pm to discuss how we can help our students to conduct this boycott successfully.

Why has the NUS nationally called for a boycott of the NSS?

The new HE Bill which is working its way through Parliament allows for tuition fees to be increased. The Teaching Evaluation Framework or TEF, is a rating system based on a set of criteria which ranks universities into Gold, Silver or Bronze institutions. The ranking criteria includes the scores each university achieves in the NSS.

The University of Liverpool is already advertising an expected fee increase for 2017-18 entry:

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/finance/fees/

The introduction of the HE Bill will completely change the HE sector as we know it. This will open the doors to free marketisation. Social inequality will be entrenched for generations to come when working class students choose Bronze institutions with their lower fees while the children of the privileged elite will go for Gold. TEF will cause lecturers to abandon quality teaching due to management enforcing uniformity for TEF rankings. Most existing HEIs will fall to be awarded gold status leaving them vulnerable to financial crisis, bankruptcy and privatisation by being handed over to private providers. For our UCU members we will see an even more dramatic increase in casualisation and performance management, wages will become stratified and private providers will be unlikely to recognise Trade Unions.

This change will be drastic and it will be devastating and our students hold the power. Boycotting the NSS renders the TEF useless. We need to step up and support every student willing to engage in this boycott.

The University of Liverpool is the 20th student union branch to vote in favour of a boycott of the NSS. UCU branches in those 20 institutions need to co-ordinate our support and we should call on UCU nationally to make sure all 20 branches are aware of what their students are doing and know how they can support them.

What can UCU members do?

The national UCU strategy is to send strongly worded letters to our MPs. That’s fine in theory and should continue but when approximately 1% of our overall membership has engaged in this activity, it’s not nearly enough.  We can’t afford to sleepwalk into this level of detriment to our higher education system.

In the short term we can speak to our students to tell them we also support the boycott. Then we can ask our members to ask their final year undergrads to pledge to support the boycott via this NUS website:

https://www.nus.org.uk/nssboycott

We can publicly declare branch support for the boycott and we can ask our employers to stand with our students and UCU and boycott TEF entirely in defence of education as a greater good. We need UCU to nationally co-ordinate support of the NSS boycott and we need this quickly. Branches where students haven’t voted to support the boycott yet should be briefed on how they can get the message out to their students – as complete a boycott as possible is what we need to win this!

This is an outstanding demonstration of solidarity between students and staff, by working together we can kill this bill!

NUS/UCU Demo and HE Bill Third Reading

On Saturday November 19th I left Liverpool at 6.30am on one of two coaches full of students and staff from University of Liverpool, Liverpool Hope, Edge Hill, LJMU and City of Liverpool College to travel to London and take to the streets with 15000 other angry protestors from every college and university in the country to defend our education system. NUS and UCU worked together nationally and locally to pull together the biggest education demonstration since November 2010.

The atmosphere at the march was fantastic, as usual, but what was different about Saturday’s march was the overwhelming intention of everyone I spoke to, to see this action as the first step in a sustained campaign to fight for our education system in a way where we collectively have the power to make gains.

NUS nationally have voted to boycott the NSS in order to pressurise the government to drop the highly damaging HE Bill and the impending TEF. UCU set policy at our Congress to support our students through this boycott. We have a democratically agreed mandate. Now we need to contact branches, offer guidance and support and enable them to actively support our students. Our employers will not like this, they will take a hardline approach and students and their unions will be targeted. As part of the NUS strategy, students will be advised not to complete a survey which can result in further increases in tuition fees. We have to actively be with them in solidarity.

Why do we have such a problem with the HE Bill? The impact of this Bill is far reaching, it allows the neo-liberal agenda to advance at speed, for profit providers will be allowed to set up alongside or within our universities and charge extortionate fees for profit. There are threats to staff and our rights, private providers are unlikely to have union recognition. There are threats to academic freedom as this bill allows the government to have an opinion on which areas of research do (and do not) receive funding. Most importantly, this complete overhaul of our education system will impact massively on our future students, particularly those from working class backgrounds. The public education system as we know it will no longer exist. Our education system will mirror the failed US system. None of us want that.

TEF is imminent, your institution could opt into a 2 year pilot as early as January 2017. UCU have to take immediate action against this. We have already let this HE Bill get too far. We need nationally co-ordinated local action in every branch across the country. We were out marching on Saturday to defend our education system, now we have to translate that collective anger into practical action. Our members are against TEF. We need to lead this fight from the front and with the support of our students, this is a fight we could win!

The HE Bill goes through its Third Reading today. There is a protest in Parliament Square at 1pm, if you are in London or can get there, please support it.

If you can’t get to London you can sign this open letter to UCU:

Click here to sign the open letter.

I will be speaking at a meeting on the HE Bill at Liverpool John Moores University on Wednesday November 30th at 5pm. Full details will be circulated asap. All are welcome!

End Casualisation in HE and FE!

The Guardian has published a series of articles in the past few days about the increase in casualisation in HE, we know that these contracts are blighting FE as well.  UCU has worked extremely hard, the national Anti-Casualisation Committee in particular, to raise the profile of this detrimental increase in insecure jobs with a national anti-casualisation campaign but regretfully, the decision to backdown from our pay dispute this week came at the expense of taking casualisation in our sector off the national collective bargaining table. Bad timing as this major concern from our members has just been given national publicity in the mainstream press.

I’ve written a letter to The Guardian in response to their articles. Please read, add your signature and circulate to your colleagues.

Click here to read the letter to The Guardian and add your signature if you agree.

Please share this post.

Lack of Leadership Results in Yet Another Loss of HE Pay

The result of the consultative ballot on HE pay has been returned and National Officers have made the decision to call off the current dispute.

The turnout was incredibly poor, just over 12% with only 7% of our HE membership voting to end this dispute.

The notice to members tells us:

  • 57% of those who participated in the ballot voted not to undertake any further industrial action with 43% voting for further sustained action.
  • 52% of participating members voted to agree that the offer provided a sufficient basis for the union to begin ‘detailed joint work aimed at tackling the gender pay gap and casualisation’ while 48% did not agree that this offer was enough.
  • The 1.1% pay uplift which employers had already imposed was ‘noted’ it was not accepted.

There are a number of reasons why I’m angry and why our members will be feeling the same, even those who voted to end the dispute and particularly those who didn’t engage in the ballot.

The offer made by UCEA was not just insignificant, it was insulting. They offered a 1.1% pay rise and they invited us to ‘working groups’ to further discuss casualisation and the gender pay gap. In other words, they kicked two of the most damaging aspects of our current working conditions, into the long grass.

Our dispute was live. We were working to contract, external examiners had resigned, we have all lost THREE days pay.

The implementation of the Trade Union Bill means that any future ballots will have to have a 50% turnout before we can take any national industrial action.

I attended three of the four Regional Pay Briefings in September where members were consulted about the future of the dispute. The main themes to emerge from those briefings were concerns relating to the lack of an effective industrial action strategy, issues about transparency in regard to the consequences members would face if they went into a marking boycott and the ability to deliver the level of action needed given the action had stagnated and members were disengaged.  Nobody said they didn’t think pay, casualisation or the gender pay gap were not worth fighting over. In fact, many delegates said they’d seen an increase in engagement in relation to casualisation and gender pay being a part of the pay dispute.

On October 14th a report was given to HEC detailing the outcome from the Regional Pay Briefings which included recommendations for next steps, one of which was a consultative e-ballot. I tabled an amendment which was carried nem con. The amendment instructed Head Office to circulate contextual information to all members. We talked extensively about making members aware that any future ballots would be held in the context of the TU Bill. This information was not circulated.

When questioned about this, our current General Secretary told me she believed our members are ‘intelligent’ and therefore didn’t need this detail. I don’t doubt our members intelligence, I do however, know how overworked and stressed the majority of them are just completing their ever increasing daily workloads. I know far too many of them are on casualised contracts so don’t always have the opportunity to access emails or get to meetings. I know many of them are worrying about losing their jobs in one of the never-ending re-structures and I know that our overworked, underpaid members expect UCU to provide this kind of detailed information to them – they pay their dues, they expect UCU to do that work, they want us to offer direction and lead them to a win!

Our members are sick and tired of being led into industrial action, losing pay, putting their necks on the line only to be marched back down the hill by the national union who don’t have any confidence in their own strategy.

A win takes hard work, it takes time and resource and effort to build a high profile, national campaign which should be at its height when the ballot opens in order to maximise turnout.

NEC carried a motion instructing the General Secretary and NEC members to go on a speaking tour of branches to build the campaign prior to the ballot in an attempt to increase turnout. Did they come to speak at your branch?

Timing is key and co-ordinating our timeframe with the joint campus unions offers our members a collective position we always find strength in.  Sending ballots out during holiday periods is always problematic,  our national officers, from General Secretary through to the elected Chairs of our national committees, should know how the academic year runs by now!

Ultimately we need a clear, effective strategy, our members want to know what we mean when we put Action Short of Strike on the ballot, they want to know how academics can  ‘work to contract’ when hours of work are not specified in their contracts. They want to know how Academic Related staff and Researchers etc can support a marking and assessment boycott when they are not contracted to do any marking. Most importantly, our members want to know specifically what support the national union will give them if hardline employers move to 100% lockouts.

I led the University of Liverpool branch to a win over a major dispute where almost 3000 staff were threatened to be dismissed from their contracts and reinstated on far inferior terms and conditions. I organised a high profile campaign, held mass meetings, employed a range of tactics which made the employer pay attention and then, with the campaign at its height, we went to a ballot. We had a 50% ballot result which gave us the mandate we needed to push our employer into a corner and come out with a win!

I know how to lead and I know how to co-ordinate and deliver an effective dispute strategy. UCU needs a leader who can win the industrial fights we initiate.

UCU/NUS Demo Nov 19th

UCU and NUS are uniting in central London this Saturday, November 19th to demonstrate in defence of education. The Tory Government is driving a neo-liberal agenda forward at an ever increasing pace giving way to the marketisation of the education sector. Privatisation is already sneaking into our institutions and tuition fees are about to increase. Our current students are leaving with extortionate debts and prospective students from working class backgrounds are thinking twice about continuing their education.  I believe that education should be equally accessible to all and I have spent my working life doing what I can to help achieve that. That’s why I’ll be leaving Liverpool University at 6am on Saturday morning on one of two coachloads of staff and students who are uniting to take this fight to the streets. Educating our future generations should be fundamental – join us!