On Friday night, like most people I know, I allowed myself a smile.
Status quo. Independent panel. Comparable scheme.
For me, this was a win. We’d done it. Forced them to take DC off the table, as UCU’s national leadership encouraged us to believe we had done, won a commitment to an independent panel ahead of a new valuation, and kept the status quo until it was over. No transition.
The first crack came when the FT’s pensions correspondent, the brilliant Josephine Cumbo, noted that UUK and UCU diverged in their view of the deal. UUK claimed that they hadn’t agreed to the withdrawal of DC.
Then, like many members, it turned out I’d been fooled by the ‘status quo’ line. It wasn’t a gain. It was just a headline. We had that until April 2019 anyway, even with the possibility of a future transitional arrangement.
The final nail in the coffin for this proposal as it stood – as clamours for a counter-offer built over the weekend – was the revelation from elected USS negotiator Carlo Morelli that this had been negotiated without the elected negotiators present; they hadn’t even seen it until an hour before the rest of us. They weren’t allowed to amend it or push back. By then – for this union member at least – the argument for a counter offer was incontestable.
Sally Hunt’s email on Friday begged questions of its own, ones which started to come into sharper relief as scepticism grew. Why the ‘essence’ of the proposal? Speculation began to grow that this was the product of a revitalised UUK messaging offensive, perhaps reinforced by a communications consultancy. But no more than that. The arrival of pro-proposal ‘bots’ on Twitter attempting to swing members’ views was another apparently-sinister development.
And in the clamour surrounding the ‘win’, as I and others called it, you’d have to forgive our colleagues in Liverpool for feeling momentarily isolated as UUK President Janet Beer announced 220 job losses amongst the academic staff. Not to mention the swingeing cuts at the Open University and elsewhere. It is all, as they rightly reminded us, part of the same picture.
The latest email from Hunt begs further questions as to why UCU national did not negotiate this proposal in the proper manner, and why the elected negotiators weren’t involved. The meeting of branch delegates at Carlow Street a fortnight ago was at times tense, and at least one branch mentioned a vote of no confidence in Hunt’s leadership, but it was in general carried out in an atmosphere of good faith – even as the gulf between leadership and branches had never been more stark.
Given the revelations on the provenance of this offer, and the email by Hunt this morning seemingly suggesting that a counter offer is improbable, it’s hard to believe the meeting on Wednesday will be as good natured.
As it stands, this proposal isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. It raises serious questions about the actions of the leadership following the Carlow Street meeting of two weeks ago. It is a clear and unambiguous attempt to demobilise the membership at a time when members are under threat of losing their jobs, not just their pensions, at a number of institutions.
UCU can, and must, fight on. As we’ve learned in the past two weeks, that means keeping up the pressure on our national leadership as well as the employers. Questions must be answered about what happened after the meeting of two weeks ago. And if they aren’t answered satisfactorily, consequences must follow.