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Stop infighting over university union tactics, Grady tells UCU

In congress address, general secretary pledges to work to end in-house industrial dispute and to ‘hold Labour’s feet to the fire’

May 28, 2024
Jo Grady
Source: UCU

The University and College Union’s general secretary has urged members to?“stop fighting amongst ourselves over tactics”, while pledging to?seek an?end to an?industrial dispute with the organisation’s own staff.

In her opening address to?the UCU congress, which was ahead of?the start of?the event on 29?May, Jo?Grady also promised to?hold an?incoming Labour government’s “feet to?the fire” over the need to?reform higher education funding.

The conference, taking place in Bournemouth, is the first to be held since Dr?Grady was re-elected as?leader of?the UK’s main higher education union in?March, after narrowly defeating a challenge from Ewan McGaughey, a professor at King’s College London. And it comes as the union’s prolonged dispute with employers over salaries and working conditions stands at a crossroads, with long-running walkouts having failed to secure a better pay offer and industrial action having been brought to a close by the failure of the latest strike ballot last November.

Dr Grady, who campaigned on a promise to take a?more strategic approach to securing progress in the industrial disputes, said she wanted to “build a?union capable of winning national disputes again and again”, that “intimidates every single employer”.

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“It won’t happen overnight, and it can only happen if we stop fighting amongst ourselves over tactics and unite around a strategy to win…My big call is for unity; our members need it more than ever,” said Dr Grady. “So let’s have open debates, robust debates and honest debates – and then we come out together.”

Dr Grady said the union would need to be “dense, disciplined and meaningfully democratic”.

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UCU has faced accusations of hypocrisy for pushing vice-chancellors to improve working conditions while facing an industrial dispute with its own staff represented by the Unite union, whose members have voted to?take strike action over allegations of?workplace racism and breaches of?working conditions. Staff members have complained of a?“culture of?fear” within UCU, and have claimed that black staff members are victimised and discriminated against.

In her speech, Dr Grady acknowledged “some challenges and the ongoing dispute with the staff union”, which she described as “very regrettable”.

“I want to assure every member and all of our staff that we are doing everything possible to get to a better place and reach a settlement,” she said. “We are committed to tabling concessions and compromises. We have agreed to independent support. We want to create a workplace which sets the standard across our movement.”



Dr Grady claimed success for the union in facing down threats of compulsory redundancies at institutions including the universities of Aberdeen and East Anglia and Northumbria after balloting for strike action, but warned that the funding model for UK?higher education was “beyond repair”, with jobs and departments at risk and “at?the whim of foreign exchange markets”.

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“The industrial situation is difficult right now at many universities; it’s important for us to be honest about that,” Dr?Grady said.

She said she would welcome a Labour government, but made clear that UCU would “hold Labour’s feet to the fire”.

“We will be clear and resolute in our demands of a Labour government: this is a systemic crisis demanding a systemic solution,” Dr?Grady said.

“We need to sweep away the fee-based funding model, replacing it with sustained, long-term public funding. Anything less would be a sticking plaster.”

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Dr Grady said she wanted to “gut” the English sector regulator, the Office for Students, and see it turned into a “public education task force”.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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