My name is Jo McNeill. I’m standing against Sally Hunt in the UCU General Secretary election.
President of University of Liverpool UCU – 4 years
North West Elected NEC member – 4 years
National Negotiator (Higher Education)
Member of National UCU Strategy & Finance Committee, and Recruitment, Organising & Campaigns Committee
Former mature student, returned to education via an Access course
Academic Related UCU member
Part-time PhD student (on equality and access to HE)
Background in widening participation – worked for Aimhigher with schools, FE, Pre and Post-92s
Currently Fair Access in Admissions Manager at Liverpool, now permanently contracted after several years on casual contracts
Innovative Practice Editor Journal of Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning (OU Centre for Inclusion)
Member of the Labour Party
UCU Left supported candidate
It’s time for change. In FE, our union has lost national bargaining. In HE, we have abandoned the fight to restore the value of our pay, and address gender inequality and casualisation. Our Prison and Adult Educators and our members in the devolved nations feel like the ‘poor relations’ and have not been treated equally in the past ten years.
UCU is confronted with a new situation: the risk to institutions from Local Area Reviews in FE; the ongoing implementation of Prevent; the threat to the very idea of a university from the HE Bill; the unknown consequences of Brexit, the immediate threat to the residency of our EU colleagues; the need for a national strategy to restore the value of pay and to defend our pensions.
We address these issues in the context of the Government’s anti-union Act, and thresholds for action that are difficult to attain.
Few members have seen improvements in their local terms and conditions, and most are fearful of being able to maintain the status quo. In my experience, at Liverpool and elsewhere, UCU members fully appreciate the structural constraints of Government policy in their sectors, and most are keen to resist. Our problem is the widespread disillusionment of members in the UCU’s capacity to follow through on its policies, and to mount consistent support when we vote for action.
We deserve a more strategically effective union. We need timely plans of action that follow the instructions of members’ wishes as determined by conference decisions. We need a union whose leadership seeks to give us confidence that we can win.
More than all else, we need a leadership that can offer a clear vision of what needs to be attained and preserved, and a strategy to secure those objectives.
We need an appropriate strategy for the restoration of national bargaining in FE, and for the defence of national bargaining in HE. No goal is worthwhile unless a feasible route to its attainment is identified.
With national action currently abandoned, we need to identify branches in both sectors that can take local action on the gender pay gap, on casualisation, on job losses, or the narrowing of provision.
Rebuilding the strength of our branches through small and large victories locally has to be the first step in the route to re-establishing the UCU as a national force.
The Liverpool Experience
UCU needs a leadership to evolve that guides all of our members with a clear voice, a democratic attitude, and a vision for education. Recent experience at Liverpool offers a small template.
When the University of Liverpool declared a major dispute, I led us through intensive negotiations, organised and mobilised our branch, and delivered a high-profile public campaign prior to the dissemination of the ballot. Because of this, our ballot turnout was 51% and was the key change in the nature of the negotiations. In this case, we won, and without having to take a single day of industrial action.
I mobilised our branch when management threatened a 100% lockout. It can be done. We did it. UCU nationally should have stood with us, and with the other branches facing the same threat. We need to rebuild our national collective strength.
We should expect a strong national response when any one of our branches is singled out and attacked. We did not see this when branches suffered 100% lockouts after the 2-hour strikes.
We cannot afford for this to continue. We cannot afford further erosion of our pensions, loss of real pay, or increasing casualisation. We cannot afford mere verbal protests at discrimination.
Local and National
Given the collapse of the recent pay dispute in HE, it’s now for local branches to campaign. At Liverpool, we have succeeded in putting casualisation and gender pay into local negotiations.
That is the way that we need to respond to the new circumstances – not by replacing national negotiations with local bargaining but by using local campaigns to renew the UCU’s national influence.
As General Secretary, I would not allow members to be led into fights without a clear understanding of the strategy needed to win.
Politics, Equality, Solidarity
We have strong member-driven equality policies in UCU but these are not always successfully implemented in our workplaces. We need branches to report on what they are doing on discrimination. We need a strong voice in all levels of Parliamentary debate backed by national campaigns and on an operational level, support for branches in local policy development to secure the position of our EU colleagues and students. Academic freedom is incompatible with national parochialism.
I felt it was important for me to volunteer to visit the Jungle in Calais. What I saw there will always be with me but it’s what we do when we leave the camp that matters. UCU as an education union has a pivotal role to play.
If we are a divided community, then we will not be able to defend education; if we are unable to defend our pay and pensions then we will be unable effectively to defend our colleagues.
Winning £10million in compensation for individual members, mainly in out of court settlements, isn’t an indication of our union’s success. It’s a testament to the fact that our employers are brave enough to put our members through the untold stress and detriment these processes involve to the tune of that amount.
A strong union would have less individual cases to settle as we would expect to resolve more matters collectively. An effective review of our Legal Scheme is long overdue.
Casualisation and Workloads
This curse is a cross-sectoral issue, and is an increasing problem. UCU activists have worked tirelessly to defeat precarious contracts, and the work of the national casualisation committee successfully pushed this blight onto the national bargaining table. Members were engaged and committed. Unfortunately, our leadership was not.
Many members are struggling under excessive workloads, and this issue is the main priority for most. We need a national approach to ensure every branch adopts and implements agreed workload models.
Pay, the gender pay gap and pensions, along with the preservation of employment, ought to be the central concern of any union. Our profession is no longer the well-paid, secure profession it was once thought to be. What disengages members is a poorly executed industrial action strategy, and a repeated pattern of national failure.
There is no reason why this need continue but an absolute condition for new possibilities is that the UCU have a new leadership both in its FE and its HE sectors.
I do intend to maintain consistency in the member-led initiatives which have pushed the union forward and the government back. The FE campaigning, initiated by London Region members which included lobbies of parliament, marches on BIS and the London mayor. There have been successful regional conferences and organising days which I would hope to continue and expand on. Liaising with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn has helped raise the profile of important campaigns and I will continue to build those relationships.
Our members drove national action to defend members pay against massive real term cuts in last five years, they mobilised hundreds of ESOL students to get into parliament to speak to their MPs about cuts to funding, they won reprieves on fees for students on certain benefits and gained a freeze on further FE funding cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The FE Charter, introduced by Lambeth College during their strike has now been adopted by the union. As was the brilliant idea of a conference highlighting the importance of cradle to grave education, initiated by a London college, now taken up nationally by Head Office. I will continue to work with organisations like Stand up to Racism, I will continue to actively support refugees and I will continue the ongoing campaign against Prevent.
All of these ideas came from members, not Sally Hunt and they will continue under my leadership.
Context of our struggles
I support the anti-austerity movement that propelled Corbyn to lead Labour. Corbyn’s first major education speech was at the UCU’s Cradle to Grave conference. He supported the Charter for Further Education, and he worked with UCU to lobby Parliament to defend Further and Adult education from further cuts. John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, spoke in support of our members pay rise when Further Education workers took action. Both have offered support to London Met.
If elected as General Secretary, I will seek to inspire confidence, reignite trust, and strive to galvanise members. I intend to:
- regularly visit branches and regional meetings;
- lead and facilitate national disputes with democratically agreed recommendations;
- ensure more legal support to members;
- maintain the anti-racist, pro-refugee position UCU has currently but implement it in our workplaces;
- raise the profile of equality campaigns;
- call for a national review on monitoring and lesson observations
- build a national campaign against increasing workloads;
- resist casualisation by nationally co-ordinated local action until we can address this issue via national bargaining;
- campaign to close the gender pay gap.
The future of post-16 education is at stake. UCU has to rise to the challenge.
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