UCU Congress and Strike

Each May the University and College Union (UCU) holds its national Congress, at which delegates from tertiary and adult education establishments meet to decide the policy of the union. Controversy is a relatively common event at UCU Congress in recent years (e.g. motions of no confidence in the General Secretary) – but having a day of Congress abandoned because UCU staff are taking strike action is something new.

The Unite branch at UCU has been in dispute with the management team for months now over treatment of Black staff; health and safety concerns; UCU senior managers recognising another union; and failing to negotiate on hybrid working. While UCU members have heard rumours about these disputes UCU bosses have kept most of the matters under cover and hidden from members.

Ultimately, UCU staff had had enough and called a day of strike action during Congress on Thursday 30th May. This finally forced UCU bosses to break cover and they had to disclose to Congress delegates (although not the wider membership) that that day of Congress would have to be abandoned.

Once Congress delegates arrived in Bournemouth, they were able to meet with UCU staff and form links. On the morning of the 30th UCU staff held a protest outside the Bournemouth International Conference Centre (the location of the cancelled day of Congress) and were joined by a very good number of UCU delegates. An even better turnout was present at a hybrid meeting held at one of the hotels delegates were stating at. At this meeting UCU staff outlined the incredibly poor treatment they had suffered by bosses – many staff and delegates being upset by the speeches made by UCU workers.

The final day of Congress was noted by the challenge of delegates to get UCU managers to resolve the dispute. The attempt of UCU management to try and block delegates was resisted with delegates repeatedly insisting motions of support for UCU staff be tabled and voted on, and then overwhelmingly passing those motions.

UCU bosses have been wrong footed by the action taken by the staff at Congress, meaning that more and more UCU branches are learning about the dispute, and showing solidarity with UCU staff by demanding that the dispute be settled.

Anarchist Communists have always been critical of mainstream unions. We recognise that whilst workers can self-organise within such unions, we are at the same time sharply aware that the structures of these unions act as a break on worker militancy. And it is also well known that mainstream unions are often very poor employers themselves. By working together UCU staff and UCU members can fight to both improve working conditions and build a stronger rank and file.