by Tassia Kobylinska and Marian Carty, Goldsmiths UCU delegates
Who does the union belong to? The answer to that came loud and clear today: the union belongs to its members. The union is ours! #OurUcu
Congress fell apart for good today when the Unite branch representing UCU staff members walked out and refused to hear members’ motions for the fourth time. In shutting down Motions 10 and 11, the ones that are critical of the General Secretary, and demanding they be withdrawn over and over, UCU leaders have also shut down democracy – the undoubted theme of this conference. Despite earlier passing an emergency motion presented by 18 branch delegates (L8 here) which declared that “Congress believes a) all elected officers of UCU can be subjected to criticism by members in relation to their representation of members b) this disruption undermines UCU democratic structures and c) we cannot allow motions voicing dissent with GS not be debated”, the top table did the exact opposite and shut down Congress.
Here is a summary of the events leading up to Congress dissolving. It ends with a call to action from members to reclaim the union from a leadership which has completely cut itself adrift to the point of calling a trade dispute against its own members.
Three emergency motions were tabled before returning to where Congress left off on day one:
- L8 (here) as mentioned above, on the right of members to hold elected officers to account, was carried.
- L9 (here) on the make up of the Democracy Commission to review our democratic structures, was carried
- L10 (here with last sentence removed referencing London as venue and to take place within one month) to recall Congress to deal with all outstanding business left unheard due to repeated disruption, was carried.
We then tuned to the controversial Motions 10 and 11. The Chair of Congress, Joanna de Groot spoke to the joint statement (following the Unite/NEC JNC emergency meeting which took place on Thursday, one day after the walkout and trade dispute declared on day 1). She asked that members reconsider their decision and withdraw Motions 10 and 11. Alan Barker, Chair of the Congress Business Committee (CBC) then stood to make a point of order to note that this was the fourth time we were pressing to hear motions 10 and 11 (stormy applause from the floor!).
A call for clarification on the rules relating to complaints procedures was answered with reference to Rule 13 (here) that states members can complain about another member breaking a rule but not the General Secretary as she is is not a member. Another rule, 35.1 (here) states that branches can complain about the conduct of the General Secretary and effectively demand her removal. Who hears the complaint? The President Joanna De Groot. Is there an appeal process? No. The President’s decision is final.
There were then two calls to Sally Hunt to speak to Congress on whether she supported the principle of hearing these motions. But she chose to remain silent and the Chair supported her decision, stating it would create more complications.
Members then voted on the proposal put by the JNC statement (here) to reconsider its decision not to withdraw Motions 10 and 11. This was voted down and Motion 10 was ordered to be heard at which point panel and Unite members walked out and Congress was suspended,
90 minutes later (30 minute suspension; 1 hour lunch) a statement was released that UCU staff members were refusing to return and that Congress therefore could not continue.
At this point members decided to challenge those decisions and to continue Congress by appointing our own chair (Nita Sanghera, the incoming Vice President) and our own tellers. However, it became clear very quickly that as Unite members would not switch on the mics, it would be too difficult to carry on. Instead, it was agreed that we should write a statement and return to our branches ASAP so that we can discuss, debate and decide how we can transform our union into the democratic, member-led union it should be, with the right to hold our leaders to account, and get on with the work of campaigning to defend our jobs, pay and pensions.
A union movement has been born! @OurUCU #OurUCU
London Region UCU has called a special meeting to discuss next steps: 2-5pm on Saturday 9 June, venue TBC.
Meanwhile, we are on our way home.