Congress report back

By Myka Tucker-Abramson, Craig Gent, and Tor Krever

Congress took place this year from Saturday 25 May to Monday 27 May in Harrogate. Myka Tucker-Abramson, Tor Krever, and Craig Gent were the delegates for the University of Warwick

Our motions

  • Our climate emergency motion was composited with a similar motion from Lambeth College. Lambeth moved the motion and Tor seconded it on behalf of WUCU, using his time to explain the importance of the “scope 3” language in the motion and the need for attention not only to direct emissions but also value chain emissions. This motion passed unanimously.
  • Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to debate our motion on creating international staff working groups, but it will be taken up by NEC in due course. However, there was some very exciting motions that were passed on migrant members. Most notably, motions were passed to include migrant representatives in the equality structure (84) and to include migrant representation on NEC (85).
  • As well, an amendment to Senate House’s motion backing academics on precarious contracts (HE16), which supported the IWGB’s boycott of Senate House also passed. While this was not a motion we moved, it was a campaign we were actively involved with.

Equality motions

We passed a range of equality related motions including those demanding better mental health support. And several addressing and urging the fight against the rise of the far-right. Of particular importance were:

  • motions supporting the Stansted 15
  • motions against the deportation of Bambile China Agnakuribe, a student at Dundee.
  • One of the first controversial motions to pass was “Sexual Harassment Has No Place in Our Union” (18), which ultimately passed with minor amendments.

There were motions passed opposing Prevent and on anti-casualisation. Indeed, anti-casualisation was a constant theme throughout the three days and it if Congress is any sign, there seems to be a promising real focus and awareness of the importance of anti-casualisation for many of our members.

HE Sector Conference

The HE Sector got off to quite the start with Congress voting down HE1 which asked congress to “note the report and approve the recommendations of the national negotiators.” The key source of disagreement here was the use of another consultative ballot over pay. Ballot fatigue remains a concern for many. There was discussion of multi-year pay negotiations (see motions HE2, which also prompted disagreement, and was remitted to NEC. There were also motions added to agenda items that sought to bind UCU to disaggregated ballots, which ultimately didn’t carry.

Perhaps the most important motions that were passed here were HE4, which committed us to “initiating a concerted campaign to win industrial action ballots for a fight over pay [with a focus on equality and anti-casualisation] to commence in the autumn” and HE 6, which committed us to calling “on UUK to pick up any additional employee contributions from 1 October 2019 and not pass them on” and to “enter into dispute and prepare for an industrial action ballot if the employers do not agree.” Both of these passed, but it is not clear how those will work together.

Another key issue that arose in both the Equality Committee and HE Sector Conference was a series of motions that appeared to be “academic freedom” – one was called “Academic Freedom to Discuss Sex and Gender” (32), the other “Respectful Dialogue on Gender Diversity” (21) – but which was quickly revealed to be a motion about debating trans rights. Motion 32 thankfully fell, but 21 was motion was remitted because of lack of time.

On the USS front, congress called on employers to pay any extra contributions and for the resignation of Bill Galvin. An emergency motion brought by Cambridge condemned Trinity’s decision to withdraw from USS (L8).

Democracy Commission

The democracy commission report and rule change motions were also the site of vigorous debate. The commission was created by Congress last year and its work is ongoing; there will be a special conference in November that we will need to send delegates too. There was a good motion passed that removes the cap of Congress delegates per branch so large branches are proportionately represented. And we voted down a motion that would have reduced the number of FE delegates to Congress, further marginalising FE in the union.  A number of the motions put forward by the Democracy Commission – e.g. to set up a dispute committee (82), and to ensure that the “representational powers and duties of the General Secretary would be transferred to elected officers of the union, while powers relating to staffing and the day to day running of the union can be delegated to employees of the union” were remitted (80). In both cases this was not so much a rejection of the principle, but a result of concerns around the details of implementation.

Our New GS

Finally, the new GS, Jo Grady gave a speech which re-emphasised many of her key campaign claims: to respect the findings of the democracy commission, to be a members-led fighting union, to tackle issues of casualisation, the hostile environment, and the attacks on pensions.

One last note:

While we are entitled to three delegates, because of a bureaucratic mix up we ultimately only had two delegates.  This was in spite of the issue being raised with a UCU official.

We think that there are issues with conference registration and see this potentially as a form of disenfranchisement that can have serious consequences given the importance of Congress as a decision making body. As a branch, we would recommend either writing a letter to the UCU expressing our frustration with this process or b) submitting a motion next year that calls for a change to how Congress registration works.


Addendum: Motions we submitted to Congress

Motion E: The Climate Emergency: Zero Carbon Workplaces by 2030

Congress notes that: 

  • The IPCC Report (Oct 2018) on anthropogenic global Climate Change outlines the significantly intensified harm likely to result from a 2°C vs 1.5°C rise; but acknowledges the possibility of avoiding thisii;
  • UK universities and colleges have reduced Greenhouse Gas emissions, but most no longer comply with new scientific understanding;
  • Some UK university managements, such as Bristol, are rising to this challenge, setting clear targets for carbon neutrality by 2030; elsewhere, such as the University of Warwick, UCU branches are supporting student leadership.

Congress Resolves to:  

  • Issue a public statement on the Climate Emergency and commit to researching and developing a plan to achieve “Scope 3” Carbon Neutrality by 2030 in all the institutions where members work;
  • Encourage all UCU Branches to recognise a State of Climate Emergency and campaign, in collaboration with others, for institutional commitments to “Scope 3” Carbon Neutrality by 2030.

Motion G: Fight for the Rights of International Workers and Staff (HE Sector Conference Version)  

HESC notes that:

  • In light of heightened and rather polarised discussion of policies on immigration in the UK, rising visa fees, increased monitoring by the Home Office and uncertainty over EU colleagues as Brexit nears, there is widespread concerned as to whether the University is supporting our international staff and workers
  • UCU activism during the strike led to the Home Office to add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers, showing that UCU activism can improve the lot of all workers.

HESC resolves to:

  • Issue a public statement on the need to address the issues faced by international staff and workers.
  • Encourage all UCU Branches to create International Staff Working Groups to start addressing issues relating to increased monitoring, rising visa and NHS surcharge costs, and the impact of the EU Referendum.