By Dan Davison, UCU member and Cambridge Universities Labour Club
This October, we in the University and College Union (UCU) saw our largest ever turnout in a pay ballot. 42% of members voted nationally, with 68.9% in favour of industrial action. The ballot covered 147 universities and 110 colleges.
Pay in higher education has declined by 21% in real terms since 2009. Similarly, college staff pay has fallen by 25% over the last ten years. With UNISON also balloting its members in HE, a national UCU strike could have emboldened cleaners, maintenance staff, and other non-academic workers on campus to join forces with their academic colleagues in the struggle to raise pay and working conditions across the entire sector.
Instead, the 50% turnout requirement for industrial action ballots, which the Tory government imposed under the Trade Union Act 2016, halted us in our tracks. Just a handful of UCU branches achieved over 50% turnout. Most painfully of all, several branches came within only a few percentage points of the threshold. For instance, my own branch at Cambridge had a 48% turnout with 79.6% voting for strike action and 88.4% voting for action short of a strike. Had just 25 more members voted against strike action, Cambridge UCU would have been able to strike!
Numerous union branches, including Cambridge UCU and Exeter UCU, have passed a motion to campaign for repeal of all the anti-trade union laws introduced since Thatcher. While I welcome the Labour Party’s renewed commitment at its 2018 national conference to repealing this Draconian legislation, we can only guarantee this unshackling of the unions through grassroots pressure. I urge all students to back the call to repeal all anti-union laws and to stand in solidarity with UCU’s rank-and-file.
Pass the model motion in your Labour Club here: studentleftnetwork.com/model-motions
The Clarion Magazine are working to get discussion in the labour movement about the anti-union laws, how they are used, and what the next Labour government should do about them. To request a speaker for your Labour Club, UCU branch, or activist group get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow the campaign, find articles and solidarity statements and order a Free Our Unions pamphlet here: theclarionmag.org/campaigning-against-anti-union-laws