Vote for Democracy Commission delegates

Given the need for greater democracy within the union, the Branch Solidarity Network fully welcomes the establishment of the Democracy Commission. We would encourage all members to cast their vote in this important ballot to help improve our democratic structures and bring about greater transparency and accountability within UCU. We have provided the personal statements of all candidates to help members make informed decisions on how to cast their vote for candidates who will best provide us with the union democracy we desperately need.

Higher education (12 seats; 6 pre-92, 6 post-92, at least 6 to be filled by women)

Saira Weiner (Liverpool John Moores University, post-92, woman)

Members having confidence in UCU’s democratic structures is absolutely crucial if we are to continue to build a fighting, responsive and active union.

The USS dispute involved an unprecedented number of new members becoming active for the first time. However, serious questions have been raised about internal democracy which urgently need answering.

If elected I will seek to ensure members views and rights are of primary concern within the union and the structures are transparent, clear and democratic.

As a member of Women’s Standing Committee, and previously as elected Equality Rep on NEC I will seek to ensure that Equality is at the heart of our UCU and that the democratic structures reflect this. I am currently Branch Secretary at LJMU UCU branch.

Pat Hornby Atkinson (Edge Hill University, post-92, woman)

UCU is now 12 years old. It was formed as two great unions AUT and NATFHE merged. It is time to take stock. A great deal has changed in the Higher and Further Education sectors since 2006 and it is good that we review and reflect so that we can respond speedily and effectively. I would like to see a complete and thorough review and one that takes into account all ‘voices’. We are a diverse group but we share a common interest in defending an education system that is under attack. We have to get this right for all of our members and for the future of higher and further education and the students who rely on us to fight for their futures.

Christina Paine (London Metropolitan University [City], post-92, woman)

I stand for the UCU democracy commission as a representative of London Metropolitan University. I am NEC HE Casualised Rep and I have always fought tirelessly for the rights of casualised workers, women and disabled members both in my university, within the UCU and in wider joint union initiatives. As a representative of post 92 universities I will fight for a members-led, grass-roots union which fights on issues which affect ordinary members and will fight for the democratic structures we need to be made in order to win disputes. I have fought solidly in my workplace, and in out wider union on workload, redundancy, health & safety, disability and mental health, women’s equality, and to raise the profile of casualization. We need a union with a transparent structure and a minimum of bureaucracy, where the principles of member representation and equality are upheld throughout disputes and within our democratic structure.

Lesley McGorrigan (University of Leeds, pre-92, woman)

Six years on NEC has given me insight into a democratic deficit in UCU. Our Leeds branch has a healthy democratic tradition. When members realise that they ARE the union ie. the offices, staff and assets exist to serve their decisions and interests, we are a powerful force. UCU is effective when members are in the driving seat. We saw this during the USS dispute where member meetings around the country communicated via social media, dictating the direction of a delegate meeting in London. Conversely we suffered a low point when HQ emails argued to accept a deal which was not endorsed by the elected HEC. Democracy works when those on the ground in our colleges and universities use our voices to determine and influence policy, strategy and action. We can learn democratic lessons from all our past struggles and activities; I will bring this memory into the Democracy Commission.

Mark Abel (University of Brighton [Grand Parade], post-92)

Having previously served in a variety of branch officer roles in both UCU and its predecessor NATFHE, I am currently Chair of the Coordinating Committee at the University of Brighton.

Drawing on my experience of two industrial disputes at Brighton in 2017 in defence of the union’s negotiating rights, I was a member of the UCU’s Commission on Effective Industrial Action, and was elected to the NEC earlier this year.

The Democracy Commission provides an opportunity to address the problems which emerged at Congress 2018 and to improve the way in which disputes are handled by the leadership of the union. We need to find effective democratic mechanisms which allow members control of the strategy and direction of the union, especially during sector-wide industrial disputes, and the ability to hold their elected leaders to account.

As a member of UCU Left, I support the principle of a member-led union.

Sean Wallis (University College London, pre-92)

I am president of the UCL UCU branch, London HE regional secretary, a member of the National Executive Committee, and a national negotiator.

I was on strike for 14 days with my colleagues. I am a member of UCU Left.

I have some ideas as to where democratic deficits exist:

  • Member-accountability of disputes. The process of calling sector conferences is arduous and insufficiently responsive to events, whereas ‘branch delegates meetings’ are too loose to be democratic.
  • Accountability of officers and officials. The Commission needs a plan to increase the accountability of all elected postholders to those who elect them. Mechanisms for recall should be clear and transparent. We have Model Branch Rule 12 – but no equivalent in the National Rules.
  • Democracy is not just for the top. All branches should ensure they are models of accountability and involvement.

I am very keen to hear from members.

Mike Finn (University of Exeter, pre-92)

As a trade unionist who has worked across sectors, including teaching from year 9 to postgraduate level, I have been on the frontline as our institutions has been under attack from market fundamentalism. As an expert on higher education policy, I have both witnessed and written on how education itself is being broken up in favour of what Collini calls ‘HiEdBiz’. The most powerful weapon we have in our fight to save our profession as educators is our trade unionism – but until now, the voices of members, branches and activists in UCU have only been intermittently heard. In recent disputes it’s become increasingly clear that to fight as effectively as we can for public education we need to revitalise our union’s democratic structures. Were I elected that’s what I’d be arguing for – giving members not only voice but the opportunity to lead the union from the grassroots.

Rachel Cohen (City, University of London, pre-92, woman)

UCU membership rose massively during this year’s USS and FE pay disputes, with unprecedented grass-roots engagement and interest in decision-making. For many pre-92 members this has resulted in new frustrations with our national representative structure and with branches’ (limited) influence.

Meanwhile, as an NEC member (2016-2018), I witnessed my and others’ efforts to increase transparency and accountability, being repeatedly obstructed.

Our branch brought motions to UCU Congress 2018 that will increase democracy and transparency and accountability, but there is more to be done – something made clear by the disruption at Congress.

The Democracy Commission is timely, therefore. It provides an opportunity for UCU to embrace diversity and for members to reclaim, and remake our union (#ourUCU).

See my more detailed suggestions in USSBriefs23, ‘UCU’s national democratic structures: a case for reform’ (

Bruce E Baker (Newcastle University, pre-92)

I have been a member of UCU since starting my career in the UK in 2004 and have served on the branch committee and as branch chair/president at both Royal Holloway, University of London and Newcastle University. At both those institutions, I have helped lead successful local campaigns, against redundancies at RHUL in 2010-2011 and against research performance management at Newcastle in 2015-2016. I believe many of the problems HE and FE face come ultimately from bad governance of our institutions, and the same is true of our union. Our successes have come from the hard work of our members, being bold enough to stand up against management. Our failures have come not from our weakness, but from a culture within the union that has presumed the leaders know better than the members what it is we want and what we are willing to do to get it.

Colin Younger (University of Sunderland, post-92)

It never occurred to me not to join a Union. I remember listening to the claxon sounding in Hebburn Shipyard knowing the men had ‘downed tools’ over some social injustice. Crossing a picket-line was apostasy; people were poor but pulled together in mutual support, then the miners’ strike; frugal times yet common goals.

In a sense, the miners led me to apply for this position. My brother, a staunch supporter of UCU, President of the DMA, and a Chair of Engineering died of a brain-tumour in April. He was 55. Paul was lauded and lionised for his ceaseless campaigning for social justice. In these post-truth, post-Thatcher days of extreme Neo-Liberalism, workers’ rights are increasingly threatened and everything from Health to HE has been marketised in the service of Capitalism. I want to pick up Paul’s baton and support my fellow-workers in the interests of the many not the few.

Dr Jamie Woodcock (University of Oxford, pre-92)

I am a researcher based at the Oxford Internet Institute. I have previously been involved in six different UCU branches, including being a rep, on the executive committee, and elected to the national anti-casualisation committee. As a UCU member since 2010, I have campaigned for a democratic and accountable union that is prepared to fight for its members. The latest pension campaign has highlighted a deep democratic deficit within the union. During the dispute, I helped to organise a rank-and-file bulletin called “The University Worker” (the archive can be found here: ). Along with a Facebook group of over 1,000 people, we used this to encourage communication and organising between members. I also co-organised the “Open letter rejecting the UCU/UUK agreement at ACAS”, which gathered 10,000 signatures. If elected to the Democracy Commission, I will continue fighting to democratise UCU, raising the voice of the rank-and-file in the review.

Anne Alexander (University of Cambridge, pre-92, woman)

  • The USS strikes showed that members really care about democratic accountability in UCU, with regular mass meetings and high levels of engagement by branches through delegate meetings and interactions with NEC members
  • We can build on this momentum to make UCU into a genuinely ‘member-led’ union
  • I believe that means creating a culture in the union where elected officials at all levels accept they will be held to account by members through democratic deliberation
  • On the picket lines in the USS strikes we could see a new union coming in being – with massive participation from casualised workers and with women, LGBTQ and BME colleagues playing a leading role – let’s make sure that is properly reflected in our elected committees

Michael Bailey (University of Essex, pre-92)

Our union needs a shot of democracy. As an active UCU member I welcome the opportunity to participate in the forthcoming Democracy Commission, to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the recent USS strike action, and to discuss future industrial negotiating strategies. If elected, I would do my utmost to ensure that the Commission undertakes a fair and transparent consultation by listening to the views of all members and committees. It’s vital that members and staff have confidence in the union’s leadership, democratic structures and overall ability to protect our interests. Finally, as well as being a member of Essex UCU committee, I have experience as the branch representative for Colchester Trades Council, Secretary for Wivenhoe Branch Labour Party and Trade Union Liaison Officer for Harwich and North Essex Constituency Labour Party. Please support me as an energetic and independent voice.

Des Freedman (Goldsmiths, University of London, pre-92)

Our union has grown significantly in the last year because we have fought back against our employer’s offensives on pay, pensions and casualisation. Many members are now asking tough questions about whether their voices, and those of their local branches, are sufficiently heard by the national leadership and whether that leadership is properly accountable to its members. We need meaningfully democratic structures that both allow us to conduct effective campaigns and to represent the views of ordinary members at critical times. This simply didn’t happen during the recent USS strikes until members themselves applied pressure.

I am vice-president of Goldsmiths UCU and its former president. I have been a branch activist since I joined Goldsmiths in 2001 and recently helped to launch the Branch Solidarity Network that aims to support branches as they campaign on issues at both local and national levels. Democracy is a key part of our struggle.

Jane Harvey (University of Wolverhampton [Walsall], post-92, woman)

Please support my application to the Democracy Committee. I have been a committed and active member since 2000 when I entered HE from the NHS. I have served UCU members as a caseworker, negotiating committee member and Branch Chair. I have attended congress for several times, including 2018. I intend to ensure that the Democracy Committee will enhance the democratic functions of our union. All views, whether from vocal minorities or not, need to be heard but not to drown the views of the majority of members. I intend to bring common sense and pragmatism to bear and ensure that congress never repeats the mistakes made this year. I want the structures and processes to be transparent and fit for purpose with appropriate foresight regarding potential outcomes of decisions.

Dr Douglas Chalmers (Glasgow Caledonian University, post-92)

Currently President Elect of UCU and becoming President in June 2019, I chair the HE Committee of UCU. I am very anxious that UCU adopt the most democratic standards possible and that our way of working makes us a beacon for democratic practice in the Trade Union Movement.

Having been active at most levels of the union, and remaining active at branch level, I am aware of some of the shortcomings of our day to day work. I believe that we need to give more emphasis to the views of members, that we should be a ‘member-led’ union and that relying on centrally based Congresses and conferences are not the best way to ensure the voice of members is accurately heard. I believe that there needs to be more accountability of members of our national, regional and UK wide committees ensuring that they are indeed representative of the union’s voice.

Marian Mayer (Bournemouth University, post-92, woman)

A trade union activist since I began working in HE in 2004, branch roles held include Faculty representative, Equality officer, Chair; currently Vice-Chair and Health and Safety representative. I am the elected chair of the Southern Region committee. Previously a member of the Commission for Effective Industrial Action: the commission’s report was unanimously accepted at Congress, endorsed by the President. As your representative I will work with colleagues on the Commission to ensure that we produce a well-researched and fully informed report for Congress 2019. Democracy, transparency and accountability are core principles for effective union activism, and my abiding principles in all of the work I do on behalf of members. There is great potential for this commission to bring together all activists within the union to work for the benefit of members, and to strengthen UCU so that we can resist attacks on pensions, pay and job security.

Grant Buttars (University of Edinburgh, pre-92)

I have just taken over as Branch President at UCU Edinburgh and have been a member of our branch since 2002 and more active since c2012. I am also active in a range of grassroots campaigns and organisations.

Democracy has to be at the heart of a trade union. Part of this is the capacity for self-criticism and change. A strong union is one with an active and engaged membership, supported by an accountable leadership. This means creating flexible and responsive structures and processes that puts members’ voices at its heart and ones that can change easily and accountably to meet changing needs and circumstances.

The union is its members. The structures and processes should serve those members. If they are simply rules to be followed, we weaken our capacity. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, it is imperative that we have a union that is fit for purpose.


Anthony O’Hanlon (University of Liverpool, pre-92)

I am a UCU member who was inspired to become more active during this year’s historic and transformative USS dispute. While the dispute may have originally been based on pensions, through the conversations that took place on picket lines among the many new grassroots members, it exposed an energy and enthusiasm to push back against the aggressive marketization of the Higher Education sector.

A dynamic, democratic and transparent UCU which strives to engage with, and is ultimately accountable to the rank and file membership will be key in enabling us to transform the FE and HE sectors. If nominated, I will work to ensure our democratic structures provide a platform for our hugely expanded membership to have a say in the direction of our Union to bring about positive changes to our working conditions and environment.

To democratise our workplaces we must begin by fully democratising our Union.

Jess Meacham (University of Sheffield, pre-92, woman)

I’m a branch officer at Sheffield UCU. Along with Sam Morecroft I co-authored the Congress motion calling for a democracy review and a piece for the SUCU blog about the rationale behind it, which you can read here: As a branch, Sheffield UCU believes that the democracy commission is an important opportunity for UCU to consider how it might be most effective as a democratic, campaigning, member-led union.

I’ve represented Sheffield at Congress for the last two years and was heavily involved in the USS strike locally. Sheffield has an active, participatory membership that has, along with the rest of the union, been transformed by the strike. I’ve been involved in several member-led initiatives this year, including USS Briefs and Our UCU, and I’m well-places to represent the interests of members from pre-1992 branches on the democracy commission.

Dr Caitlin Adams (Open University, pre-92, woman)

I’ve been active in the union for c. 14 years as an academic and academic-related member. I am currently a vice-president of the Open University branch.

I’ve seen the effectiveness of AUT/UCU structures in many areas, but also watched new members put off by what seem archaic rules. Procedures designed to ensure debate sometimes feel accessible only to long-term insiders. The relationship between regional and national structures is unclear.

In representing a distance-learning institution I would advocate sensible experimentation with online engagement. I would suggest improved election processes (perhaps to include video addresses or hustings) and greater openness about the work of union committees.

Whatever results from this commission, members should be able to determine where votes have been cast on issues that matter to them, and how their elected representatives voted.

Kirsty Keywood (University of Manchester, pre-92, woman)

I am a newly-returned member of UCU, having rejoined the Union to support the action against USS proposals. I have over 20 years’ experience of developing policy within and beyond the university sector that is responsive to member and stakeholder input. I have been recently co-opted to the UMUCU exec and am working with members to improve support for colleagues with a mental health diagnosis. I helped organise a number of events @WilliamsonBuilding during the strike that you may have followed on twitter.

The recent strike has highlighted significant tensions among the membership as to how the UCU ought to move forward and the ways in which members’ views should feed into industrial dispute decision-making and ongoing policy development. Nevertheless, there is a shared commitment to move forward and to rebuild trust and confidence in our union. I would like to be part of that process.

Denis A Nicole (University of Southampton, pre-92)

I believe that the work of the Democracy Commission will be a vital component of UCU’s evolution as we grow and take on the challenges of marketisation. Our successes in early 2018 were overshadowed by the dreadful events at Congress; we must not damage ourselves in this way again.

I will work to help develop revised structures to ensure that the decisions we take as a Union meet the aspirations, and carry the support, of the great majority of members in our branches.

I have served as Southampton University Branch President and as Southern Region Chair; I am currently Region Treasurer and a member of the NEC. I was the opening speaker at the SW TUC/UCU “Tolpuddle University” in July.

Adam Hansen (Northumbria University, post-92)

As Northumbria UCU Branch Vice-Chair, it would be my privilege to contribute to the Democracy Commission. Democracy is fundamental to how unions work because a union is only as strong as its members. That strength comes from working with members, and finding new ways to do so. UCU can be good at this, but could be better: we need to reach out to people who have big ideas but don’t know how to be heard in the union’s existing structures – meaning those structures may need to evolve to work for both more and less active members. As one of the country’s biggest branches, Northumbria has a lot to say about the union’s democratic structures, and works very hard to engage people. I hope to share nationally our local experiences of this, but I also anticipate learning from other branches too, to help equip us all for future struggles.

Toby Andrew (Imperial College London, pre-92)

The University pension dispute illustrates how determined the UUK is to ruthlessly promote employer interests at the expense of staff, including the abolition of the UK university covenant pension scheme. I believe we need a union that is equally determined to uncompromisingly defend the interests of staff, especially given the current context of unaccountable and reckless university administrations. In order to achieve this, we need a campaigning union that demonstrably puts the interests of its members first, engages the membership in discussions about the best way to do this and most importantly, that the UCU is structured and organised to be solely accountable to the membership. If I am elected to the UCU democracy commission, I will endeavour to positively contribute to revitalising and democratising our union in order to defend our members, in particular casualised staff.

Further education (8 seats; at least 4 to be filled by women)

Justin Wynne (East Sussex College Group [Hastings])

I have been an active Branch Secretary for almost 4 years and going into my 2nd year on the FEC and NEC. In this time, I have been involved in rebuilding and doubling the Branch size. By engaging with non-members to turn them into members, and then move from passive to active members seen in a 67% turn out in our last ballot. For me, there is a democratic deficit where only the minority of active members guide our union based on a mandate from the minority of the branch. This needs reviewing to ensure that our Union is working for the majority, not the minority of members. Without this, no campaign or strategy undertaken will have the best support of our members.

Cecily Blyther (Petroc, woman)

Petroc Anti-casualisation Rep, Health and Safety Rep, SW Region Anti-casualisation Rep, Minutes Secretary, Anti-casualisation Committee, NEC, FE Rep for Casualised Staff

While there is disquiet about the workings of the organisation at the top of UCU, any work our members are doing will not be as effective as possible. It is imperative that we review our democratic structure and ensure that all of our operations run as smoothly as possible.

I am keen to ensure that fairness and equality rule and that as many members as possible will have a chance to have their say in the running of our union. As the employers concentrate on finding ways and loopholes to increase the percentage of academic staff, it is very important that we continue to keep our sights on fighting to reverse this trend and to facilitate a meaningful consultation that includes all casualised members.

Margot Hill (Croydon College, woman)

I am standing for election to this commission because I want our union to be a campaigning union that acts as the voice of our members as they take on the struggle against marketisation, low wages, inequality and in defence of education. Last year saw thousands join UCU to take action against pension attacks in HE and against low pay in FE. Members engaged in branch building and campaigning on an unprecedented scale and want their voices to be heard and acted upon. At Congress questions of accountability, recall and democracy came to the fore expressing frustration over decisions that many felt exposed a democratic deficit in our organisation. I am Branch Secretary of Croydon College, a former national negotiator and an NEC member. I have been active in disputes at all level. UCU needs to be an active campaigning body that embeds accountability and recall at all levels.

Kerry Lemon (NCG – Newcastle College, woman)

I am seeking election to the democracy commission as I recognise the importance of accountability and integrity.

Everyone, regardless of their position, elected or nonelected, has responsibility for their decisions and actions. It is essential that we create processes that work in the best interests of all paid and lay members to uphold the values at the core of our trade union.

I am experienced at working collaboratively with branch members on issues affecting them; working directly with our Principalship to improve working conditions. As a branch we have had success implementing workload processes, streamlining roles and making positive changes to observation processes.

My background in senior leadership within the childcare sector includes significant, relevant experience in implementing complex, politically relevant structures, policies and processes to ensure best outcomes for children, staff and stakeholders, balancing sectoral needs against a changing political climate, to ensure fairness, accountability and transparency for all.

Carolyn Campbell (Trafford College, woman)

At this year’s conference a motion was passed expressing the concerns of some members about the democratic processes within our union and this commission seeks to address those concerns. All democratic organisations, and especially trade unions, need to scrutinise their policies, procedures and processes in order to ensure the full participation and representation of members, and that such policies are fair and accessible to all. This is especially true in times like these when trade unions are increasingly under attack in the form of government legislation that seeks to curb their activities. I would welcome the opportunity, as an independent candidate, to represent the views of members in FE in this forum. I am currently a member of the NEC and FEC, representing members’ in a number of roles including National Pay Negotiations and the Legal Support Review Panel. I have the skills and experience to represent your views.

John James (Coleg Gwent [Newport])

As the Chair of Council for UCU Wales, I am standing to represent both HE and FE sectors. As a TUC lecturer, I also work closely with other unions and understand how they democratically organise.

As a member of UCU left, I believe too many members view UCU as little more than a service to which they pay as an insurance. It is vital for our Union systems to be more open and transparent that allows members to have more of a say in its decisions.

The recent Pre-92 HE strikes saw a resurgence in member-led activism that inspired thousands however the handling of the dispute has now caused significant issues being highlighted at this years Congress at significant cost.

We now can reset our structures bring a balance between our members views and representative democracy. We need a union that it fit for the future.

Jacqueline D’Arcy (Warwickshire College Group, woman)

I am standing as an independent candidate.

Democracy in UCU must mean:

  • Elected officers, committee members and congress delegates being directly accountable to members for their decisions
  • Big Decisions taken by as many members as possible not just the most politically active or those able to attend meetings and conferences
  • The opening up of our structures to enable the widest possible participation in UCU

The union faces real challenges both from government and our employers. Pay is being held down. We face increasing workloads, more casualisation and attacks on hard fought for conditions including our pensions.

If we expect members to support us on these issues, we must give them a real say and a real vote on every big decision that affects them.

If elected, I will argue for a commission that places rank and file members at the centre of UCU’s decision making.

Rachel Minshull (Leeds City College, woman)

Democracy and accountability are essential for any progressive and successful union. Members expect their elected representatives to reflect the majority view of the members that they represent during both discussions and voting. The Commission must fully discuss how this can be achieved and implemented.

Democracy and accountability must be integral at all levels within UCU. This includes branch, regional and national levels. The Commission must fully discuss the roles of regional and national officials.

The scenes and action taken at the last Congress must never be repeated. We need to ensure that members of staff who work for UCU have appropriate means to raise their concerns. Standing orders that cause ambiguity need to be addressed.

We need to learn from our own experiences and best practice used by other unions.

If elected to the Commission, I would fully engage with discussions to fully integrate democracy and accountability within our union.

Martha Harris (City of Liverpool College [Arts and Mulberry], woman)

The USS dispute this year brought a quantitative change to the UCU membership but also a qualitative one. Newly engaged members are engaged and energised to rigorously resist the destructive impact of marketisation on HE. FE is also experiencing an era of unprecedented marketisation. This shift towards markets and quasi-markets within FE has resulted in an erosion of the sense of ‘social purpose’ of FE and a rapid decline in Community Education and Second Chance learning programmes. A cohesive UCU is imperative and instrumental for fighting these attritions

A cohesive, democratic UCU, which endeavours to engage with, and is fully accountable to its membership, will be crucial in transforming HE and FE. If nominated, I will work to ensure UCU’s democratic structures offer its membership a voice in the direction of our Union to bring about positive changes to our working conditions, environment alongside protecting a comprehensive curriculum for students.

NB There are also contested seats in regional and devolved nations involving Scotland, London and Southern but we don’t have access to candidate statements for these.


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