The result of the national pay ballot across all universities was as follows:
3,381 voting in favour of taking strike action (54.9%)
2,782 voting in favour of not taking strike action (45.1%)
The Higher Education Service Group Executive (HESGE) met in September and voted to not take any action in the form of a strike, so we’re still technically in dispute, but not going to use the power of withdrawing our labour to further our claim for more.
Many members will be confused and unhappy about the outcome, in that a clear majority of action has been overturned by the HESGE. The rationale given for the decision is that the turnout was low and as such, this suggests that national support for action would also be low. Also, there was some doubt about the ability of other unions to take action on the same day, if it were to have gone ahead.
The turnout was, in fact, something that we are not officially allowed to have. Clearly it was low, and if you accept the national website’s figure of 50,000 members across higher education, allowing for some of them being Student Union or at universities which are not part of the national pay scheme, then the turnout is much lower than we’d hoped for. I would suggest that it’s around 25% and that the 50,000 is overstated or at least rounded up imaginatively.
However, I don’t accept that this is a sensible reason to overturn a majority, however small, and we all know that backing down at the first real test will invite an even smaller “final offer” this time next year. I’m not in favour of members losing pay for the sake of it, but I think a strike over pay would have been something to focus on, draw more members into the union and demonstrate that we are going to stand up for ourselves. Those members who thought “what’s the point” will have evidence to back up their view next year.
I can’t prove this with a secret ballot run by an external body, but I would have expected the turnout for our branch to be significantly close to, if not more than 50%, which I think demonstrates the large degree of separation across higher education between well organised branches and those that are struggling or led by people with a mentality that only ever wants to negotiate to limit the effect of defeats.
How we deal with this problem is open to discussion, but I don’t think it’s healthy for the union as a whole for members who want to fight being held back from doing so by branches that don’t or members who, not unreasonably, don’t vote or don’t see the point of striking.
So, the 1.1% pay award, or slightly more for grade 1, (which is due to be paid in October anyway) will almost certainly be it as far as this year’s pay goes. UCU meanwhile will fight on.
There will be the need for branches and activists to discuss with each other what went wrong and what we can do in the future.
Thank you for all those members who voted, whichever way you did. I’m proud of the way our branch made an effort to increase turnout and engage with all our members.
Ivan Bonsell, in a personal capacity