Academia,  Trade Unions

Resistance is futile: Sally Hunt vs. the collective

UCU Congress took place last week in Manchester.  One of the most significant moments came when Sally Hunt’s proposals to reform the NEC were voted down.  These reforms had been supported in a survey (not an official poll) of members at all but a handful of union branches. (You can find out more about the results here.) The Times Higher reports:

Moves to elect lay negotiators via a one-member, one-vote system and to ballot the national membership on final pay offers as decided by negotiators were voted down by a majority of UCU delegates on 10 June.

A third proposal, to reduce the size of the union’s national executive committee, was also rejected.

Instead, a motion was carried to set up a commission to examine the size of the UCU’s national executive committee, which will report back to congress in 2013.

The commission will comprise five representatives from higher education and five from further education, who will consult local branches about the proposed changes.

In her speech on 9 June, Ms Hunt told delegates that any attempt to block or delay her reforms would ignore the wishes of rank-and-file members.

Heckled by some delegates, she said she had a clear democratic mandate to make changes thanks to her recent re-election and the 80 per cent of members who had backed her reforms in a recent online poll.

But members of UCU Left argued that the e-survey was “merely a snap opinion poll which tells us little and cannot be regarded as a mandate”.

Here is what the Socialist Worker has to say about these developments.  This is an interesting snippet:

Sean Vernell, a member of the union’s national executive committee, said, “There are two visions of trade unions. One is of a collective that can organise resistance. Another is of something that exists to service individuals.

Although I agree that unions ought to be more than an insurance policy, something to turn to when things go wrong for you personally (though those things are important and useful) a ‘collective’ really ought to represent the views of its members and in my experience the intersection between academics and SWP supporters is pretty small. Also, members recently voted to retain Sally Hunt as head of UCU, rather than her UCU Left rival, Mark Campbell, and voted in other moderate figures to the NEC, suggesting that members are fed up with UCU Left. (I voted for her myself, but not out of any active enthusiasm.)   Now – most members don’t vote in these elections.  Obviously those who vote for UCU Left candidates are likely to be more on the left than those who don’t.  But I suspect those who bothered to vote, but voted against them, are also more on the left than your average academic.

I thought this observation  in the Socialist Worker piece was unintentionally rather amusing – or sinister, depending on your perspective:

“A handful of people voting by email on rules changes is not the way we should do things in a union,” she added. “That’s very individualistic. But we’re not a bunch of individuals – we’re a collective.”

Here’s another comment:

Guy Stoate, also from the union’s executive committee, said that the union’s present structures had delivered several successful strikes. “I’ve never been in a staff room and heard people say, ‘the problem with the UCU is that there are too many NEC members’,” he said.

The first bit makes the union sound like an obstetrics unit. And no, I’ve never heard that said either – but I have heard a few real world voices say that the problem with the NEC is that it contains too many SWP activists.

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