On the first day of Congress delegates were met by members of the UCU UNITE staff branch (UCU officials and admin staff) distributing leaflets, which expressed their concern about the content of four of the motions tabled to be debated in Congress. The UNITE members believed that these motions undermined their employment rights, making them inappropriate for debate at Congress. The statement made clear that, should congress choose to debate them, the UNITE staff branch would walk out, effectively shutting down congress.
The first two motions that were objected to, called for a democracy review, in the light of how the USS strike action was paused, despite many branch representatives voicing their opposition to putting the UUK ‘offer’ to a ballot. The contentious part for the UNITE branch was the demand to review the status of unelected officials and a call for UCU officials to be elected. This was considered to be an attack on their terms and conditions, and ultimately, the jobs of UCU officials who, throughout the history of the UCU, have been appointed. The Sheffield delegates who had sent in the motion, agreed to delete the controversial part. This motion went on to be passed. The final two motions (motions 10 and 11) called respectively for the General Secretary’s resignation with immediate effect and her censure, due to her conduct of the USS dispute. The movers of the motions asserted their view that the majority of branches wished for the strike to continue into the summer term and that this was ignored and overridden by SH in her address in the e-ballot email. The UNITE branch considered that these motions were unacceptable as the GS is an employee of the UCU and has a right to due process according to employment law.
There were discussions between UNITE and the branches, which had voted for and sent in the motions, these delegates insisted that the motions did not intend to sack Sally Hunt but to hold her to account for decisions taken during the dispute. There was no agreement reached. Congress voted overwhelmingly to debate the motions, and there followed a walk out of the UCU UNITE branch, who were joined by all the elected officers on the platform and some of the congress delegates.
The majority of congress remained in the room. This happened on three occasions.
Before the third walk out congress passed a motion calling for a recall of congress in order that to discuss these issues as well as all the motions that were not addressed because of the walk outs.
After the third and final walk out by the staff, the elected offers on the platform and some delegates, the head of legal services (not the president) returned to the hall to announce that the staff would not return to the congress floor until the motions were withdrawn. The majority of delegates remained in the hall and held a meeting to discuss where to go next. A statement was discussed and amended by a number of delegates (many first time). The meeting agreed on a statement to be circulated to the membership. The statement urged branches and regions to meet as soon as possible to discuss these developments with their members.
Prior to the first walk out important 3 motions were debated relating to conduct of non-statutory ballots (motion 7); UCU structures and decision making: democracy, transparency and ‘plain English (motion 8)’; Union transparency and accountability during disputes. They were all passed by congress.
Sally Hunt’s address emphasised the highly successful USS national dispute, which inspired local action in FE over pay. She highlighted repeatedly how this year had been a turnaround year for the union and how we had defeated the anti trade union laws. She spoke of the 16,000 increase in membership, winning a variety of local disputes and of UCU’s growing political influence and all of this a tribute to the hard work of members in the branches.
The HE conference experienced no disruption and a number of key issues were debated, including following: the Pay campaign and industrial action; demand for USS negotiators to restore status quo and government protection for USS; USS dispute: National Dispute Committee; campaigning on VC and SMT pay ; gender pay; precarious contracts and fixed term contracts; workload campaign; ; Redundancies and South Bank University and other post 92 institutions; HESC monitor JEP; Transparency and confidentiality of JEP ; the University is Ours ; instructional racism and recruitment, retention and promotion of BAME staff; recruitment, retention and promotion of BAME staff; recruitment, retention and promotion of LGBTQi staff, and we also heard concerns around Lecture Capture at Open University and its use across the sector.
Many of the proposers of motions were first time delegates and many of these were young or new activists, who had become involved as result of the USS dispute
Report by Goldsmiths Delegate Marian Carty