Latest motions on ‘Four Fights’ offer and Covid-19 strategy

Several branches have today (Friday 22 May) voted to reject the employers’ offer in the ‘Four Fights’ dispute on pay and equalities and to revisit the situation in the autumn. Sheffield, KCL, UCL, Goldsmiths, Leeds, Queen Mary, Lancaster, Ulster and Strathclyde (that we know of) all decided that the offer was nowhere near sufficient but also that it wasn’t the right time to pursue a ballot in June. Both Goldsmiths and Queen Mary also called on the General Secretary to hold a “national meeting for members and representatives along the lines of the recent, highly successful mass meetings by the National Educators Union” with QM calling on HEC to “launch a national campaign in response to the mass redundancies threatened by university management”. We also link below to some important motions including one from Liverpool on a Joint Union Campus Campaign around Covid-19 (which adopts our manifesto) another from Strathclyde and finally Queen Mary’s great motion on a “Post Covid Settlement”.

Queen Mary UCU motions on USS and Four Fights

Goldsmiths UCU motion on USS and Four Fights

Strathclyde UCU motion on Four Fights

Strathclyde UCU motion calling for a national union strategy over COVID-19

Queen Mary emergency motion for a Post Covid Settlement

Liverpool UCU, Joint Campus Union Campaign (May 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a climate of uncertainty across the Higher Education sector. This crisis has highlighted the flaws in a marketised model of Higher Education that has emphasised revenue over the working and learning conditions of staff and students creating widespread precarity and inequality.

This Branch notes the work of the ‘The New Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance in COVID Times’ and believes such a manifesto can act as the basis for transforming universities into institutions that prioritise the interests of staff and students over profit and managerial vanity projects. 

This Branch believes that the response to this crisis does not have to include threats to jobs or an undermining of our working conditions. An alternative is possible.

Therefore this Branch resolves to launch a campaign with the campus unions of UNISON and UNITE to put an end to the failed experiment of marketisation and create a sustainable university. To do this, the joint unions will make the following demands:

  • Reiterate our claim that all fixed term contracts set to expire be renewed for a minimum of six months.
  • Reiterate that our members refused to take on work previously done by fixed-term and casualised colleagues if asked.
  • No redundancies, threats to jobs or changes to terms and conditions of employment.

To achieve this we demand the University:

  • Scraps capital development projects. Any resumption of such projects would need the collective agreement of the campus unions.
  • Develops plans and financial models drawing down on its unrestricted reserves before any consideration of job losses and erosion of terms and conditions of employment. These models should be shared transparently with the campus unions and all staff.
  • Put an end to gross pay inequality by introducing a maximum salary package for senior management of £100,000 per annum which would equate to roughly six times the amount of the lowest paid full time member of staff.
  • To campaign to roll out similar measures across the sector as a first step in moving towards a sustainable, de-marketised, system of higher education.

Sorry to anyone called TINA but there are alternatives to redundancies

by Bruce Baker, Newcastle UCU and NEC

University managers tell us we are in “unprecedented” times. They want to avoid redundancies (except at Roehampton, Sussex, and Nottingham), but they will have to do Bad Things to avoid doing Worse Things. Here are some thoughts, especially on getting and using financial information.

1. No one expects redundancies, like the Spanish Inquisition. Until about five minutes before the Section 188 notice arrives, expect to hear the phrase “no one is talking about redundancies”. Still, better to prepare, just in case.

2. Even if “no one is talking about [definite, costed, compulsory] redundancies”, many branches will be having the potential of redundancies used to push detrimental changes to contracts and working conditions. Treat changes backed by threat of redundancy as if they were redundancies.

3. There is a process for redundancy, and ACAS has helpfully explained best practice here. Familiarise yourself with it.

4. There are basic questions to ask. Without going through all the complexities, the key one is this: are these (threats of) redundancies being made on the basis of a business case or a financial case?

5. A business case means that the employer is no longer doing the same thing and doesn’t need the people who did that. A financial case means they are doing the same thing but can’t afford to keep the same number of staff. What we are facing now are financial cases.

6. At the first stage, employer should make a redundancy plan, in consultation with trade unions, which must include how to share information.

7. If a financial case is being made, then the union should request the financial data which underpins that in order to see if there are other options besides redundancies (or the Bad Thing which is better than redundancies, for that matter).

8. Chances are the management will attempt to fob you off with a document that the Finance Director put together to justify the Bad Thing. It will have numbers in it, which will be scary and will suggest that ‘There Is No Alternative’.

9. Do not accept this. Remember, numbers are only numbers, and it is the narrative they create which has power. A report like this, even if it contains numbers, is a narrative to support the Bad Thing. Get the actual numbers and write your own alternative narrative.

10.  Here are a series of questions our NorthernUCU official suggested that we at Newcastle UCU ask for, supplemented with a couple that DurhamUCU thought relevant. (Please suggest additional ones.)

  • What is the current operating surplus?
  • What are the University’s current liquid assets?
  • How much do they expect to lose in the current FY and from where?
  • What is the projected income for the next year, broken down, and what is the basis for these projections?
  • What are the equivalent projections for the two years beyond the next financial year?
  • What is the cost of the normal implementation of [REDACTED] for the current year?
  • How much has the normal implementation of [REDACTED] cost over the past three years?
  • How much is allocated to pensions in each of the next three years?
  • How much is allocated to depreciation of capital assets in each of the next three years, and how is that calculated?

11. When these questions are posed to management, keep the members informed as they might have further ideas. Also, find members with accountancy experience to help dig through what comes back and to insist on getting the full account, not just central books.

12. Check with members at every stage and publicise, publicise, publicise. This is money from the public purse and/or the pockets of students. There is a public interest in seeing that it is stewarded carefully & a public interest in the sustainability of universities.

13. What must be sustained is not the shiny buildings, not the international ventures, not the metrics, but the community of scholars, those whose work supports that scholarship, and those who learn from them. That is all. Reject TINA (sorry to anyone called “Tina”).

Picture from https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/4389/Protests-at-University-of-Gloucestershire-over-job-cull-row

#ournewnormal: thoughts on tech software and managerial control

Phil Taylor, Professor of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Strathclyde and a member of the Strathclyde UCU committee writes for Branch Solidarity Network on how we need to resist the imposition of a new managerial norm in the light of Covid-19. Instead, staff and students need to unite to ensure that tech, software and contractual changes aren’t used to cut jobs and undermine teaching as part of our struggle for a ‘new normal’ after coronavirus.

I am no expert in Panopto, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and their intrinsic properties, However, I am deeply suspicious of all the software packages that are now being used to facilitate ‘remote teaching’ because the ownership and control resides with third parties and with the management whose interests are contrary to ours. They may well be courting us at the moment because they need us to meet the immediate demands of students; they may even be indulging in grand thank you gestures such as additional ‘rest days’. But they’re doing this while developing other agendas which are more concerned with students progressing to future years of their programmes and of course about keeping the income from PGTs. 

Meanwhile, senior management groups (the university equivalent of Cobras if you like) are engaging in mathematical modelling and projections for what a post Covid-19 HE would look like at their institutional level. Top of the list is of course saving money and that means primarily saving money on labour costs, the largest element of spending. We’ve already seen Sussex and others announce redundancies and Durham float the idea of a huge increase in online teaching, partly in response to the expected collapse in the ‘unregulated’ overseas postgraduate market, especially China and India.

It is within management’s projected conceptions of their ‘new normal’ that we have to consider how they will attempt to reshape HE in terms of labour and labour costs. Within this political-economic context, technologies of various kinds will be employed by senior management in order to pursue their financial imperatives. It is worth remembering that many HEIs also are in hock to money lenders for huge sums following the shiny buildings that have mushroomed around the campuses, towns and cities. These vanity projects have exposed many HEIs and this will be an added driver to their financial parsimony and cuts agendas. We need to be acutely aware of this ‘economic-realpolitik’as the bland ‘we’re all in it together, thank you for all your efforts’ propaganda continues.  We will face the harsh realities soon enough.

Here are some of the key things we need to watch out for.

1) A significant amount of online teaching is now being delivered by Zoom to remote students even though, as we discovered recently, that Zoom is compromised. 

2) We have to assume that what we upload on Moodle systems are now going to be a big battleground – what us old International Relations folk called a ‘frontier of control’. They will want to use and reuse our uploaded lectures slides, even more so now that we have added voice overs and podcasts. This is an intellectual property battleground over which we must be eternally vigilant. MOOCs are a real problem – potentially not that different to turkeys voting for Christmas. They will want to turn temporary exigencies into permanent fixtures.

3) Universities will claim that our online efforts have been a success and indeed they have been – but only because we are committed to the students. In reality, action short of strike action (ASOS) has de facto has been in abeyance since the lockdown despite the best efforts of some branches. A key argument for me is that these ‘successes’ have only happened because staff had previously established personal, face-to-face relationships with the student. So a few additional remote lectures only ‘work’ because they are based on the solid teaching foundations we had already created with in-person lectures, tutorials and supervisions. 

4) We, not managers, most of whom have never taught or if they have it was eons ago, need to be the guardians of pedagogical practice. We will have to struggle to maintain that over and over again as our managements attempt to impose top-down, ‘lean and mean’ consultant-led approaches. Keep an eye out for these vile snakeoil salespeople and beware talk of ‘continuous improvement’, ’creative synergies’ and ‘agile working’ (straight out of the lean handbooks) as they basically mean downsizing and increased exploitation. You might want to use FOI requests or SARs to shine a light on the role of these consultants. 

5) Administrative workers at all levels of the institution together with librarians and IT workers are also about to face a massive intensification of work pressures. Academic staff will need to work so closely with them and see them as equals in every sense. They will bear a big brunt of management’s attempt to cut costs. Once again, watch out for the role of organisations like Capita who are mysteriously brought in to advise as  IT consultants. 

6) In terms of our relationship to students, I hardly need to repeat what we have learned through our recent struggles over pay, equalities and pensions: that our fight is their fight, and vice-versa. Senior mangement’s version of the ‘new normal’ will surely be larger classes, beamed and streamed lectures, and recycling of our old lectures. We say openly to students that the tech is likely to devalue their learning if it accompanied by cuts in staffing and provision. We will need to fight together for ourversion of the ‘new normal’. If students en masse demand lectures and not technologically mediated and facilitated dumbed down bullet points, It can be a big weapon in our collective armoury. 

7) When it comes  to Panopto and ‘lecture capture’, it’s almost unbelievable that this derives from Bentham’s model for the 19th century surveillance prison. They don’t even understand the irony or perhaps they cynically do. There are live battles over this including at the University of Greenwich where resistance is underway and there is some tremendous work done by legal academics on intellectual property which we need to share collectively. 

At the moment – and faced with the huge pressures of life under coronavirus – it’s hard to find the time to be anything other than ‘reactive’. Somehow, we need to create the space  for us to develop and organise our version of the ‘new normal’as opposed to the very familiar one that managements are attempting to impose. Their versions generally won’t come in one big bang as it makes it easier it easier for the campus trade unions to campaign against them. Instead, it will be insidious and incremental. 

We need to share best practice, particularly in terms of local agreements that protect terms and conditions. Members at all levels of UCU are involved in negotiations on tech, remote working, modes of teaching, and new financial ‘realities’ and it’s vital that we collaborate with each other in these struggles. 

One important principle for our union work in this area is that there should be maximum transparency and openness, and no clandestine ‘partnership agreements’. All members need to be informed and involved as much as possible so that they can see that union organisation is our best defence. Our ‘new normal’ means no return to mental ill-health, overwork, casualised contracts and health and safety breaches. We need New Technology Agreements (NTAs) as part of wider collective agreements where tech and software implementation is subject to bargaining locally and nationally. The national union is crucial here in leading and disseminating information both about the issues and our struggles. 

We have an opportunity to recast the ‘new normal’ as, at least temporarily, managements need us to get them through really challenging times. In other sectors, the ‘magic money tree’ has been found to exist and we need to insist that higher education is also a social priority, especially should there be a significant rise in unemployment following the pandemic (which of course we need to resist). We need maximum unity between administrators, academics, IT staff, counsellors, cleaners, security staff, librarians, students, their families, and even future students. 

One last thought on technology. In my research on call centres over the last 25 years, I have encountered the worst of the deleterious effects of information and communication and have seen horrendous evidence of burnout and stress. Technology is used in universities now as a vicious form of performance management – take a look, for example, at Pure(owned by Elsevier) the ‘objective’ REF tool. We have allowed universities to take our creative labour and actually pay them to have it and then to use it back against us as a disciplinary tool that causes rampant mental ill-health. Our ‘new normal’ would cancel Pure and the like and abolish the REF and all its distortions and venal behaviours.

In winning the ‘new normal’, we will need to compile inventories of tech and the software that our institutions buy, licence and use. We need smart and critical tech people (of which there are many) to collaborate and help us understand their intrinsic properties, how they are being used against us in the name of efficiency and the ‘student experience’. Crucially, we need to learn how we counter them while still helping students to actually learn through high-quality education and not a dumbed-down education that comes at our – and the students’ – expense and at great pedagogical cost. 

Ultimately though what will really matter is for the union nationally to debate these issues and to decide on courses of action where we fight for #ournewnormal, not theirs.

Resources for #UCUStrikesBack 2020

The Strikes Are Working!

‘Go with the flow’ – how to persuade people to join UCU & support the pickets

Thanks to @bronterre1 and @PlacardSticks

Strike Websites

SOAS

Sussex

New branch leaflets

Treasure trove of resources – posters, bunting design, badges & more – available HERE

What’s it all about?

The UCU has produced a short explainer on USS here

New Videos

thanks to Tassia Kobylinska, Goldsmiths UCU
Thanks to Sussex UCU

Have you set your out-of-office message yet?

I am not able to check email today as members of xxxx UCU are taking industrial action, along with members at 73 other universities, in opposition to threats to our pension, deteriorating conditions and pay inequalities [amend as necessary]. Members of xxxx UCU will be on strike on the following days: Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February, Monday 24 through to Wednesday 26 February, Monday 2 through to Thursday 5 March, and Monday 9 through to Friday 13 March [amend as necessary]. If you would like more information about the dispute please go here and here [amend as necessary], and do contact my vice-chancellor, xxxx,, to find out what steps the institution is taking to avoid a dispute. 

2020 Teach-Out Schedules

SOAS schedule

Queen Mary UCU

Goldsmiths schedule

Newcastle UCU

Liverpool schedule

Music for the picket line

UCU strike lgbtq + disco (with thanks to Kirsteen Paton)

GU Collective’s 30 songs for UCU picket lines on Spotify

Liverpool UCU strike playlist

Birmingham Law strike playlist

We are the University strike playlist (Grace Krause)

UCL -IOE UCU strike playlist

Rosa Campbell’s Strike songs playlist on Spotify 

Leah Chan’s playlist for 2019 UCU strikes on Spotify

10 best union songs of all time (thanks to CBC)

Protest in Harmony (Edinburgh UCU) songsheet

Strike handbooks & guidance for members

KCL Student strike FAQs

Really comprehensive guide to strike activities and advice from Exeter UCU and Bristol UCU

Sheffield Hallam UCU

Comprehensive guide from the National Union of Students (February 2020) to supporting the strikes

James Sumner’s 2020 strike handbook

Sheffield UCU detailed guidance for members (2019)

Effective strike participation guidance (Jo McNeill)

Leicester UCU strike handbook (2019)

Sussex UCU Tumblr site (2019) (filled with goodies)

Guidance for autistic workers and UCU branches (produced by Anna Nibbs, Sheffield UCU, and Janine Booth, TUC Disabled Workers Committee)

Rallies/marches/events

South West Region Strike Rally and March, Wednesday 26 February, Meet 11am at the Victoria Rooms, 88 Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol

LONDON DEMONSTRATION: THE MONEY’S THERE, WHERE’S OUR SHARE?MARCH FROM UCEA/UUK TO USS IN THE CITY, 12 noon,Wednesday 26 February, Tavistock Square, WC1

Southampton Solidarity Rally, 12.30pm Wednesday 26 February, Jubilee Plaza (Highfield)

UCU Scotland Strike Rally: 11.30am, Tuesday 25 February, Bristol Square, Edinburgh

London Strike Solidarity Assembly, 6.30pm Tuesday 25 February, Imperial Hotel, 61 Russell Square (with John McDonnell, Mark Serwotka, Jane Loftus, Lowkey & others)

Information about local hardship funds (from 2019)

Exeter UCU

Goldsmiths UCU

Leeds UCU

Strathclyde UCU

Liverpool UCU

York UCU

Cambridge UCU

Stirling UCU

Heriot-Watt UCU

Bangor UCU

Open University UCU

Pay deductions

See Andrew Chitty’s googledoc for up to date pay deductions in relation to the November/December strikes. Effectively, as of January 2020, most universities chose to deduct pay over one or two months. To the best of our knowledge, only eight institutions agreed to deductions spread over three monthsUSS Briefs have compiled a dossier of communications from vice-chancellors which contains some of this information. (Please email branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com for updates on whether your branch has been able to negotiate staggered deductions). 

Goldsmiths UCU has issued some guidance to members in the light of its management’s refusal initially to spread deductions which contains some interesting proposals. Following pressure, management agreed to deduct pay over two months but in April and May 2020, i.e. five months after the action in order to allow members to prepare.

Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) information for UCU branches in dispute

Members taking part in strike action over pensions, pay and equalities are also engaged in action short of a strike (ASOS) that started on 25 November. This will be especially important now that we have returned to work and there is pressure to reschedule classes and to pick up additional responsibilities following the strike. Just take a look at what Liverpool University is threatening its staff with! We need to resist this pressure and to insist on no deductions for working to contract. However, many employers are still “reserving the right” to deduct for ASOS and branches need to defend members at risk of deductions for engaging in ASOS. We offer information below about what ASOS consists of and how we should respond to threats from the employers.

What is ASOS?

ASOS pay deductions and how to resist

#USSbriefs87 by Andrew Chitty, Felicity Callard and Leon Rocha

Has every employer threatened to deduct pay for engaging in ASOS?

No – Sheffield University, for example, have stated that “we will not deduct any pay from staff who participate in this type of action” (see screenshot below). We encourage all branches to apply pressure on those institutions who take a hard line on ASOS – for example through lobbies, petitions, liaising with external examiners and so on- and to call for urgent meetings with HR. A number of institutions have declared that they will not deduct pay for taking part in ASOS including Southampton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Kent, Ulster and St Andrews. Others, including Goldsmiths, have said that “Staff will not have salary deducted for working to contract”.

via Sheffield UCU

Guidance on ASOS and how to respond to requests to take part in voluntary activities

Leicester UCU’s guidance on how to deal with ASOS queries and “how to respond (nicely!) to volunteer” is invaluable.

Guidance from Goldsmiths UCU and Ulster UCU are also useful.

This is a great thread from Vian Bakir of Bangor UCU on what ASOS involves.

ASOS for hourly-paid staff

Letter to Head of Department from a Graduate Teaching Assistant (via @hopehakes)

What’s the legal opinion on deducting pay for taking part in ASOS?

Read this post from legal academics on ‘deductions for action short of a strike’

Detailed information from UCU

UCU information on working to contract

What does ‘action short of a strike’ mean for academic-related and professional services staff?

#UCUStrikesBack: picket lines are go

Music for the picket line

GU Collective’s 30 songs for UCU picket lines on Spotify

Liverpool UCU strike playlist

Birmingham Law strike playlist

We are the University strike playlist (Grace Krause)

UCL -IOE UCU strike playlist

Rosa Campbell’s Strike songs playlist on Spotify 

Leah Chan’s playlist for 2019 UCU strikes on Spotify

10 best union songs of all time (thanks to CBC)

Protest in Harmony (Edinburgh UCU) songsheet

Information about local hardship funds

Exeter UCU

Goldsmiths UCU

Leeds UCU

Strathclyde UCU

Liverpool UCU

York UCU

Cambridge UCU

Stirling UCU

Heriot-Watt UCU

Bangor UCU

Open University UCU

Pay deductions

See Andrew Chitty’s Twitter thread about pay deductions. Effectively, as of 26 November, most universities are following UCEA guidance and deducting pay in a single month. Only City, Cambridge, Essex, Queen Mary and Royal Holloway have agreed to deductions spread over three months starting January 2020 (as far as we know). USS Briefs have compiled a dossier of communications from vice-chancellors which contains this information.

Goldsmiths UCU has issued some guidance to members in the light of its management’s refusal to spread deductions which contains some interesting proposals.

Picketing Excellence Framework

Thanks to Southampton UCU

Strike handbooks

This is how to picket

STRIKE 2019: Get the pickets out resources

BSN is hosting a collection of images, emails, suggestions, videos (when they’re made) and anything else to help branches prepare for the forthcoming strikes. Send your material to us at branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com. Here’s our first batch.

Strike Handbook for UCU activists

Stickers & memes

Checklist

Guidance for members

What are the issues? Slides for students

UCU branch information for students

Warwick strike FAQs for students

Cambridge UCU 4 page strike explainer (PDF)

Cambridge UCU 4 page strike explainer EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)

Cambridge UCU 2 page support the strikes EDITABLE (but please make a copy first)

Leeds UCU strike explainer for students

Goldsmiths UCU letter to students

Warwick UCU Strike FAQs for students

Royal Holloway UCU information to share with students

Strike FAQs for Sussex students

Additionally, there are leaflets explaining the strikes to students in Chinese and Arabic – produced by Universities Resist Border Controls.

Teach outs

Sheffield UCU
Liverpool UCU
Lancaster UCU

Sussex teach out schedule

Leeds teach out schedule

Bath teach out article

Goldsmiths teach out schedule

Cardiff teach out schedule

Royal Holloway teach out schedule

Model branch announcements about the action

Brighton statement here

Royal Holloway statement here

Ulster statement here

Model out of office messages

Out of Office message from Brighton UCU

Guidance on picketing

Very detailed guidance on how to organise your picket lines by Jo McNeill, former president of Liverpool UCU

Information for non-EU staff

See lots more information here from UCU

How to respond to a manager asking if you plan to take strike action

Videos

Join the UCU strike (Clare Rowan)

Queens University Belfast video

Strike BU – a message to students (Bournemouth UCU)

Employers’ responses

A comprehensive set of responses from university has been assembled by USS Briefs and can be accessed at https://medium.com/ussbriefs/vice-chancellors-emails-sent-in-relation-to-ucustrikesback-12c0b42a857e