November 22, 2019

UCU Strike 25th November – 4th December

UCU members are taking strike action across the University for eight working days from Monday 25th November.

We support the strike!

UNISON members at the University voted 78% in favour of strike action over pay, with a 51% turnout. Our members feel exasperated about real-terms pay falling over the last ten years and wanted to campaign for something better, but the fact that UNISON nationally did not achieve a turnout above 50% means that we can’t legally organise for strike action.

However, we absolutely support UCU’s strike and we’ll do everything we can, legally, to make the strike successful and bring the employers’ body back to the negotiating table for meaningful talks over pay and the other issues that UCU are striking over.

UNISON remains in dispute and will continue to do so until this is resolved. We are happy to talk to the employers’ organisation (UCEA) to resolve this dispute, but we cannot accept another year of pay cuts.

Please read carefully our guidance on what UNISON members can and cannot do during the strike.

UCU picket lines

We expect UCU members to form picket lines at each University entrance. These will be UCU members who are tasked with asking others to join them in refusing to work that day.

Picket lines always come with strikes. The idea is that some union members (and some people who could and arguably should be union members) will not want to lose pay and join the strike, so the pickets are there to try to persuade them to join in. In fact UCU members who do go into work are not accepting the democracy of their union which did vote overwhelmingly to strike. We’d politely encourage them to join their fellow UCU members.

Some workplaces have a tradition of one union and one solid picket line. Brighton bin workers take strike action by forming one mass picket at the depot gates. (The police know better than to make a fuss about the number of pickets.) Some sections of workers have a long tradition of respecting picket lines and not exercising the individual “right to work.” The tradition of the organised working class is that you have no right to deliberately weaken the strike if your union has democratically voted to take action, just as you have no right to strike if it hasn’t.

(The “right to work” is a Thatcherite expression that was designed to promote the individual rights over the collective, which suited a government trying to break strikes. Ironically, mass unemployment meant that millions of workers had no right to work during large parts of the 1980s.)

It’s a slightly different situation at the University, with a history of different strikes over various issues and multiple entrances at each University site.

What makes this complicated is the fact that there are two unions at the University, one with a legal strike mandate (UCU) and one without (UNISON). This is further complicated by the overlap of potential membership. (Whilst we say that UNISON is the union for support staff, UCU will accept membership applications from support staff above a certain grade.)

So, the picket line is there primarily so that strikers can ask academic staff and UCU members (and potential members) not to cross it.

For UNISON members, it will be necessary to work on strike days, unless you’re on leave or off sick, and if we need to cross the picket lines then we’ll explain the situation, whilst adding that we fully support what UCU strikers are doing. Going into work does not mean that we don’t support the strike.

Whilst UCU pickets may ask us to stay away from work on strike days, they will respect the fact that as UNISON members, we have no legal mandate to do so.


UCU strikers will welcome anything we can do to show solidarity. This could mean bringing pickets cups of tea or stopping for five minutes to talk to them. If UCU organise events during strike days then we can attend them, provided we’re doing so in our own time.

Given that UCU strikers will be losing eight days’ worth of pay, we’d encourage all UNISON members to consider donating to their hardship fund which is designed to alleviate some of the worst cases of UCU members managing without being paid.

The web address is

Covering work

If we are asked to specifically cover the work of a UCU striker, then there is grounds to suggest that this request may be unreasonable. Managers should know that trying to get you to cover for a striking colleague is inappropriate, and they should not ask you to do work that a striking UCU member would have done.

Obviously, we are obliged to carry out “reasonable management instructions” and may be asked to do work as a result of the strike. If you have any doubt, please contact us for advice.

Students and non-union members

If students ask, we should explain that UCU have voted to strike and that whilst we have also voted to strike, the method by which we held our ballot (aggregate rather than disaggregate) prevents us from taking action. We support UCU and would urge students to support them as well. It is in the interests of students that all university staff are well motivated and properly paid.

As always, we think that non-union members should join one. If UCU members succeed in winning a better deal over pay, we will all benefit.


We appreciate that this is a complicated situation. If you have any questions at all then please feel free to contact your local steward or branch rep.


November 11, 2019

78.1% in favour of strike action on a 51.4% turnout!

This is the local result of our pay ballot. We’re pleased that the vast majority of members who voted did so to support our recommendation, that threatening strike action was the only way to get a decent pay rise. We’re also pleased to have reached the 50% turnout required for legal industrial action. Thanks very much to all our members who voted and activists who campaigned for it.

Unfortunately, the national turnout was nowhere near good enough, so the debate continues over what we should do in the future. We appreciate it’s enourmously frustrating to be balloted repeatedly, only for nothing to happen, and Brighton activists have already started to argue nationally for a fresh approach to the question of delivering significant improvements to pay for us all.

UCU will be taking strike action from the 25th November to the 4th December. Obviously we give them our full support and we’ll have more informaiton about how we can do that before their strike begins.

There’s more detailed analysis in our November newsletter, available in the Newsletters section of the blog.

As always, please let us know if you have any comments or questions.

October 31, 2019

2019-20 Pay Ballot Results

National Result: nearly two thirds of members who voted, voted in favour of strike action, but the turnout fell short of the 50% required for legal industrial action to take place.

First of all, thanks to all our members who voted, particularly those who made the effort to call and get a new ballot paper. We really appreciate the level of support for what we’re trying to achieve for all of us. We won’t know how our branch did until next week, but based on our records, we’re reasonably confident of reaching 50% here.

Nationally, the result is very disappointing, because the turnout, as per the anti-trade union laws, prevents the union from taking industrial action over the imposed real-terms pay cut.

There will be discussions within UNISON over what this means for the future, how we conduct ballots in the future and whether we, as a branch in Brighton, need to re-think our involvement in national pay negotiations.

At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for UCU’s result, also due today. If UCU colleagues strike at Brighton or elsewhere, we will of course give them as much support we can, but unfortunately, we will not be able to join them in taking strike action over pay.

October 24, 2019

2019-20 Pay Ballot – Last chance to vote!

Since ballot papers were first posted out to home addresses on 9th September, we’ve been campaigning to make sure that all our members use their vote. We’ve send out emails, handed out newsletters and leaflets and spoken to hundreds of people because it’s important that we maximise the turnout. Without at least 50% of our members voting, on a national basis, the result will not pass the legal threshold for action.

If you’ve already voted, thanks very much for your efforts. Please let us know you’ve voted if you haven’t already.

If you haven’t yet returned your ballot paper, you need to post it so that it is received by Wednesday 30th October – please post it today!

If you don’t have a ballot paper, please call 0800 0857 857 as soon as you can. You can only request a new ballot paper until 12pm on Friday 25th October, so please call today.

If you have any questions, please give us a shout. We’ll let you know the results as soon as we get them.

October 1, 2019

Pay Ballot – have you voted yet?

We’re half way through the pay ballot which closes on 30th October. UCU are also balloting to the same timescale. It’s important that all our members vote and we’re encouraging members to vote YES for strike action, because what we’ve been offered (and what has been imposed) falls well below what we asked for and well below what we deserve.

If you’ve received an email from Electoral Reform Services today (1st October), you probably haven’t voted. Please make sure you do or call 0800 0857 857 for a new ballot paper.

More details in October’s newsletter, out soon.

September 12, 2019

Global Climate Strike 20-27 September 2019

Support the Striking School and College Students!

I don’t need to start this by outlining the latest predictions from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). All reasonable people recognise that without serious and significant intervention on a global scale, the planet is heading towards a drastic increase in extreme weather conditions which will have a disastrous effect on the world’s ecosystem and future generations.

Given the scale and seriousness of the issue, it’s hardly surprising that a movement to fight climate change has taken off, the significant feature being that it is led by school and college students, determined that their future will not be characterised by a political and economic leadership that fails to act.

As an antidote to the idiocy and short-sightedness of Trump and Bolsonaro, Greta Thunberg’s call to action has been a welcome change. Her example of striking from school as a protest against the inaction of the Swedish government has found an echo, and become an inspiration for thousands of young people across the planet. In February, the Youth Strike 4 Climate Change began organising demonstrations in Britain.

The movement of school and college students has shown an inspiring militancy, determination and seriousness. An estimated 1.5 million participated in the global student strike on 15th March, adopting the method of strike action from the trade union movement. It is enormously significant that walking out of school to effect change is seen as the best tactic.

20th September 2019 is the next significant date for this movement. The “Earth Strike” announced for that day has the support of lecturers’ union UCU and BFAWU, which organises workers in the catering industry. The active involvement of working people and trade unions would prove decisive in moving the campaign to the next level.

UNISON has put forward the idea of Green Week, 16-20 September, giving “members the chance to show support for the school climate strikers ahead of their campaign to raise awareness and the school climate strike on 20 September.”

This proposes individual branches campaigning to “green” their workplaces and show verbal support for those participating on 20th September. Whilst raising awareness of the issue and taking up some of the arguments, what’s missing here is a willingness to do what the students want (getting involved on the day by walking out of workplaces) and proposing what measures are necessary for reversing climate change.

The anti-trade union laws not only impose very restrictive measures on how industrial action ballots can be run (postal ballots to home addresses and a 50% turnout threshold), they also outlaw all “political” strikes i.e. those that do not relate directly to a dispute with the employer over pay, pensions, terms and conditions etc.

(For this branch to legally strike, we’d need to formulate a trade dispute relating to climate change, negotiate with the University and then declare a dispute. Then once negotiations are exhausted, we’d need to formulate some demands, win a ballot on the back of that with a 50% turnout and fend off any attempts at court action along the way. The entire system is rigged in favour of the employer where business as usual e.g. imposing real terms pay cuts, is seen as perfectly legal and non-controversial behaviour.)

So, given where we are, this branch can and does give full material and practical support to those students taking strike action.

Our members who feel strongly enough to get involved on the day will need to be imaginative about how they do that. We would argue that the University should take a flexible approach in the application of annual leave, flexitime and unpaid leave if necessary. If members of staff want to get involved in events in Brighton or elsewhere then this can easily be managed with some planning.

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, we have asked the University to declare a climate emergency and commit itself to reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Other Universities have already done this and we think a declaration from such a large and influential employer and higher education institution is long overdue.

Demonstrating a serious commitment to tackle the problem also sends out a message to students and potential students that this university has not totally lost its reputation for being prepared to take risks and being audacious in its ambition. Brighton has been at the forefront of campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, which all trade unionists have supported. We’d like to see a similar commitment to the fight against climate change.

At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for a response to our proposals.

However, the campaign cannot be limited to putting pressure on institutions or individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. Greta Thunberg told the UN “if solutions within this system are so hard to find then maybe we need a new system”. The slogan of “system change, not climate change” has been taken up by many striking school students, but with many differing ideas of what system change might look like.

For socialists like me, the old saying “you can’t control what you don’t own” is particularly relevant. As long as a small group of people prioritise their need to make short term profits over the longer term needs of the planet then the battle is lost. Governments can attempt to legislate against the worst excesses, but as we’re witnessing in Brazil, the US and China, since those in power rest on the profit-based system, climate change will continue.

This is not limited to the most extreme, unhinged right-wing leaders such as Bolsonaro and Trump. Successive governments East and West, from Clinton to Obama, Blair to Johnson, have either opposed measures to deal with the problem or, to loud fanfares, agreed minor changes which are either unenforceable or ineffective.

In my opinion (not necessarily UNISON’s!), it is absolutely necessary to establish democratic control over the agri-business, fossil fuels and large-scale manufacturing sectors so that they can be planned on an environmentally sustainable basis. Even now, giant corporations like BP and Shell use their power and influence to block binding measures on climate policy whilst promoting themselves as institutions which care about the planet.

Taking the large corporations into public ownership, linked to democratic workers’ control and planning would allow these companies to be run on an accountable basis and transitioned away from destroying the planet, to providing climate change solutions.

Without a significant change in how the world economy operates, capitalism will destroy the planet. Where profit and private ownership of the world’s resources comes first, the longer term future of humanity will lose out.

The trade union movement should support immediate measures which will make a difference. Calling for massive state controlled and funded investment in green energy and a thorough housing insulation programme, combined with free and integrated public transport, would be a start. It could also create thousands of decent jobs.

Fundamentally, transforming society to one based on human need, rather than profit, provides the solution. A democratic socialist society which plans how to sustainably use the resources to meet the needs of everyone should, as far as I’m concerned, be our ultimate aim.

Ivan Bonsell (in an entirely personal capacity)

(If you have any points about this or anything else, feel free to post them, or send me an article and I’d be happy to post it.)

August 21, 2019

2019-20 Pay Ballot starts 9th September

If you work directly for the University, you should receive a ballot paper to your home address within days of the 9th September.

Your employer’s pay offer isn’t good enough.

Living costs have soared and yet most staff have been offered another pitiful pay increase of just 1.8%.

So we’re asking UNISON members like you to join with colleagues and vote YES for strike action. We must demand an improved pay offer.

To be able to effectively threaten to take action, we need a turnout of at least 50% of those balloted. To achieve this, we’ll be contacting all members to check that people have voted. If you want to make life easier for us all, let us know when you’ve posted your ballot!

Please let me know if you have any questions.



August 12, 2019

Labour Link National Committee Elections

If you’re a member of Labour Link (that means you’re paying into UNISON’s affiliated fund as either part of or in addition to your membership subs) then you should have received a ballot paper this week. If you think you should have received a ballot, but you haven’t, please let us know.

This is for the South East seat for the National Labour Link Committee.

Our branch nominated Dan Sartin from West Sussex because we know him well and believe he’s the best person to represent our region.

Obviously how you vote is up to you, but please make sure that you do by the deadline of 13th September.


August 2, 2019

August 2019 Newsletter is out now

Featuring the latest on pay, strike action at Birmingham and the Local Government Pension Scheme.

It’s available in the Newsletter page, along with a year’s worth of back issues.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

July 16, 2019

Local Government Pension Scheme under attack

PENSIONS: Defend local government pensions
The government is currently consulting on plans to allow universities and colleges in England to opt out of offering the local government pension scheme (LGPS) to new non-teaching staff. The proposal would:

  • create a two-tier workforce with new starters offered inferior pensions;
  • disproportionately affect women and the lower paid;
  • threaten the future sustainability of the whole scheme.

This attack on pension rights is the thin end of the wedge – let’s take action.

Find out more about the issue – and share our film


Take action: Email your MP to defend the LGPS


The consultation closes on 31 July: make your views heard – download template responses via the resources section


Are you in the LGPS? Respond to the government consultation