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#WeAreTheUniversity – Part I

Last Friday, just as I was about to leave Union House, Amanda reminded me it’s our third and final National Recruitment Week next week (week beginning 14 May). This regular event can be met in the office with a range of responses, from “OK, where’s the banner and the stand materials? Who’s on the rota?” to “Really? Again? But we have [insert urgent and depressing problem here] to deal with next week!”

I have to admit, my feelings were closer to the latter this time, as first thing Tuesday I will be attending yet another meeting regarding yet another consultation which could result in colleagues losing their jobs.  We simply haven’t got the time to think about something else…

And then, as I took a moment on Sunday to enjoy the Bank Holiday sunshine, I thought, actually, how can we not afford to do this?

We have six more weeks of term time, and six more weeks before our Annual General Meeting. There has never been a more important time for recruitment – if you think this year has been bruising, then next year will be even worse.

It is time to gather together as a community and to show that “We Are the University.”

During the strike weeks, the hashtag #WeAreTheUniversity became familiar to Twitter users: but even if you are not a keen social media user, you will understand the sentiment. We long since decided to stop calling the Senior Management Team “the University” in our communications (as in, “the University has decided…” this or that), because we are the University, not senior management. So few of the important decisions now are taken without any demonstrable benefit to education or research.  We need to take a stand, and we need to do it via every means available to us.

Support your union, and help us to support you. Please, do whatever you can to help us recruit more members: talk to your colleagues, have honest discussions about how you are going to manage the pressures of a consultation in your department. Tell them to visit ucu.org.uk/join – it’s so easy to join the union.

And please don’t think it won’t happen to you: the two departments in the University that came top in the country in REF2014 are now looking to the next academic year with many fewer staff and with severely challenging recruitment due to by arbitrary decisions by the Senior Management Team. Those that remain wonder what the future will bring. As far as we are concerned, we want the future to be in the hands of the university community, and we hope, so do you.

Recruit a friend, put “LUNCH AT THE UCU AGM” in your diary for 15 June, and join the effort to save jobs, education, research, and community – for everyone here: 12:15pm for lunch, Building 44, Room 1041.

 

 

 

More on Clarity Travel and AirBnB

When we sent an email to members last week about the less-than-loved policy forcing us to use Clarity Travel, we mentioned we had seen a Faculty email informing staff that they could no longer use AirBnB for university-related business, and they would not be reimbursed if they submitted receipts from AirBnB. Since this appeared to be policy that was (typically) partially and ineptly communicated, and – worse – to be retrospectively enacted, we promised we would come back to you.  We touched a nerve, because we have been deluged by comments and questions.

We have done a little digging, and we have some information to share. But before we get to the root of this non-policy that has not been negotiated or consulted on, we’d like to share with you some of the most important aspects that have been highlighted to us since last Friday:

  • Equal opportunities / discrimination: many staff have good reasons for looking for self-catering or apartment accommodation when travelling. Those with specific dietary needs or accommodation specification (potentially associated with disability or a medical condition) or travelling with carers have welcomed the flexibility of AirBnB.
  • While hotel-style self-catering accommodation can be found, it is often very expensive, or only available for week-long bookings. Shorter bookings can be made through AirBnB.
  • AirBnB have a facility for businesses called AirBnB for Work, which is not covered in the report below.
  • Edinburgh University (a fellow Russell Group institution) has a very sensible and grown-up policy in place that permits the use of AirBnB, with conditions, and also seems reasonable in terms of the use of its nominated travel company for trips under £300, or trips funded by external agencies.
  • AirBnB makes it possible for the increasing number of academics forced to self-fund research activities to attend conferences, work in the field, and present their work in the UK and abroad. Removing access to AirBnB will result in these activities being drastically curtailed, to the detriment of departments and individuals.

We invite further comments below: if you emailed in to the branch, we would love it if you would reproduce your comments here, so that management can see them.

And now, the digging:

Agenda Item 9, UoS Consultative Health and Safety Committee meeting, Monday 11 December 2017

In December 2017, the Consultative Health and Safety Committee received a paper from Cathy Day, the university’s Director of Health, Safety, and Risk, which purports to be a report on the use of AirBnB for university-related travel. It makes some interesting claims and reveals some of management’s reasonings for the recently communicated ban on any further use of AirBnB or other “unregulated providers.”

Item 3.1 of this paper reads:

In July 2017 the University appointed Clarity as their travel management company and then mandated that all air travel should be booked through them. There was no such mandate for accommodation but professional services personnel within Faculties such as Heads of Faculty Finance and Health & Safety Advisers have promoted the use of Clarity wherever possible and endeavoured to manage the issues raised by users over available options. One of those options is Air BnB which cannot currently be booked via the travel management system because Clarity do not have an arrangement to do so and nor do they have any means of checking the suitability, security or safety of accommodation on offer. Those preferring to use Air BnB therefore have to book their accommodation independently.

This appears to suggest that one of the reasons for not permitting the business use of AirBnB is that Clarity do not have a way of recouping “rent” (see here for a definition of “rent-seeking”) from them.

Item 3.2 of the paper reads:

All travellers at the University are required to complete a travel risk assessment and to implement measures to control the risk to as low as reasonably practicable. If undertaken as per the guidance provided this should be sufficient to enable the employee to fulfil their duty of care and to inform them whether the journey, accommodation, location is suitable or not. Checking and signing off this assessment enables the University to also fulfil its duty of care. There are good examples of travel risk assessments across the University. However, there is currently no central database and thus limited knowledge about how well travel risk assessments are completed and whether these are sufficiently checked and signed off.

This item suggests that the University’s risk assessments are sufficiently detailed to allow for the University’s and the employee’s duty of care to be fulfilled.

Item 3.3 of the paper reads:

Travel insurance provided by the University does not cover personal liability for damage caused to Air BnB properties because they are unregulated and in the eyes of the insurer are open to fraudulent claims. Home owners (hosts) may have suitable insurance to cover this but it is not a requirement of Air BnB so needs to be checked for each booking by the guest.

Again, this seems like there are mechanisms to ensure that a stay in AirBnB would present no financial risk to the university.

Item 3.4 caused us a little bit of pre-weekend amusement:

Two simple benchmarking exercises have taken place. The first carried out in September 2017 is attached at appendix A which included 20 large and complex companies within the within the UK of which the University of Southampton was one. The response was mixed…

The second benchmarking was undertaken in November 2017 with the Universities Safety & Health Association network. Very few said they had any policy on the use of it but those that did, either banned it or used Business Air BnB. The lack of responses indicated no definitive conclusion.

Appendix A is reproduced here.  It reveals that this “benchmarking exercise” was conducted by expat-academy.com. We note that this service organisation will conduct a benchmarking exercise for you if you email them with a question. Their website states:

Benchmarking Service: For any question you want to ask other GM [global mobility] professionals but can’t due to anti-trust, you can send them our way. We send your question, consolidate responses and distribute answers anonymously. Click HERE to email us and ask your question!

Slightly hilariously (at least to this blogger), expat-academy chose to benchmark us with Diageo, Pearsons, and Imperial Tobacco: those well-known academic research institutions which require their staff members to self-fund their business activities.

The “second benchmarking” conducted among universities is a bit more nebulous: a lack of responses, and “very few” saying they had any policy. No evidence of any exercise actually being carried out is produced.

Item 4 is where it gets maddening:

4.1 Strategic: This report endorses the University’s strategic goals of;

    • Collegiality – by improving the management of travel to ensure risks are identified and addressed.
    • Quality – by improving the experience, safety and security of those who travel on behalf of the University.
    • Reputation – by helping to ensure travel arrangements are well managed to avoid any reputation damage.
    • Sustainability – by reducing risks associated with travel, thus enabling the university to continue its research, promotional activities and attendance at important events.

4.2  Financial:The cost to the University in respect of lost reputation should anything occur at an event could be extremely damaging.

4.3 Equality and Legal: Equality legislation is often complimentary [sic] to that of Health and Safety with several aspects forming an integral part of good health and safety management such as the risks and environment affecting the disabled, expectant mothers, young and older people, cultural needs etc

4.4  Risk and Health & Safety This report reflects the health and safety management system in place at the time. Failure to identify and assess risks can often mean that inappropriate or insufficient measures have been implemented to control them.

4.5  Reputation Poor health and safety can seriously impact upon the reputation of the University. A serious incident resulting in a large fine, enforcement action or imprisonment could be extremely damaging to the University.

 

This item shows that the overriding consideration here is finance – not the financial cost to external funders or to self-funding staff of Clarity-bookable hotels and Clarity’s rent on top – but the potential cost to the University of some sort of reputational damage caused by its academics trashing an AirBnB property (see Item 3.3 above). The report makes no other reference to equality, or an equality impact assessment of such a policy, but our members have identified that this is a primary concern for them. It also states (Item 3.2 above) that the current risk assessment procedure is sufficient to both employer and employee, if properly carried out.

We will be taking this matter to the Joint Negotiating Committee on 4 June, so we would welcome further comments from members. We are particularly exercised that the policy is being enacted retrospectively, so causing more financial distress to employees. Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

“Don’t let our pensions go extinct” – Or, it’s not over ’til it’s over

It’s now been a month since the Dinosaur of Solidarity led striking members around the campus in a conga, celebrating our strength of resolve that was evident from the fourteen days of successful strike action held during February and March.

We hope that branch members are aware of the result of the e-ballot consultation on UUK’s proposal, in which nationally members voted almost 2:1 in favour of suspending strike action to allow for the formation of a Joint Expert Panel; the JEP will be charged with scrutinising the valuation methodology of the USS scheme.  We understand that UUK and UCU are meeting this week to scope out a framework for the panel. We also understand that objections have been raised both in this forum and by UCU press office about UUK’s press release on Friday 13 April, after the result of the consultative ballot became known. We await a report to HEC on these deliberations.

We have so much to be proud of as a branch. We’ve delivered a continual and joyous message of solidarity throughout the strike (Nota bene: it’s not over ’til it’s over). Our commitment to consensus and democracy may make the message we deliver seem out of step with other parts of the union, but we’ve maintained a respectful conversation within the branch about the way the dispute has been managed; we have done our utmost to consult with our members on substantive issues, and we have tried to help all members make decisions for themselves.

We would love to see the warmth and cooperation of the strike weeks continue in the branch’s activities in the months to come: while none of us wanted to cancel classes or lose income, and most of us really didn’t like being out in the cold and wet, almost every other aspect of the picket was life-enhancing: the singing, the baking (if you ignore an extra kilo or two), the space and time to meet and talk with new colleagues, the shared sense of purpose, the support of our students, the teach-outs, the generosity of strangers.  While senior management opine about – without ever demonstrating – collegiality as a value, we found a way to make it work in the snow and the rain.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity is our gift to our colleagues, local and national; she may have been (contrary to reports) a serendipitous creation, but she is also a symbol of what is best about our branch: a collective expression of a positive will for change, fairness, courage, and good humour when faced with management’s baffling and sometimes surreal vision for our community. By tapping into our enhanced collegiality we not only keep ourselves ready, should need arise, to get back out on the pickets, but we also will be able to be a proactive force for good in the university, like never before. It’s wonderful to see our membership so dramatically increased, but it’s even more wonderful to have so many colleagues energised in the pursuit of a better, more democratic workplace.

 

 

 

UCU consultation on UUK proposals – information for Southampton UCU members, 5 April 2018

As you will know from UCU emails and, if you are following the debate on Twitter, from numerous blogs and Twitter threads, members now must take part in an e-ballot on the choice whether or not to accept UUK’s proposal for a Joint Expert Panel. The consultation opened Wednesday 4 April at 12 midday and closes at 2pm on Friday 13 April.

You should receive a personalised link to the e-ballot. Do not delete this email: it has your unique voting link in it. If you have not received an e-ballot email, the quickest way to resolve this is to request a new ballot using the form below. Will help to have your membership number ready (can be found via the MyUCU portal on the UCU webpage).

We will have an informal Branch Meeting on Friday 6 April (4pm, 02 / 1089 [L/T D], Highfield) and an EEGM Wednesday 11 April (3.30pm, LT/B, Avenue). MEMBERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND BOTH MEETINGS IF POSSIBLE. Friday’s meeting will be a chance to let us know your views prior to the formal meeting on Wednesday.

The e-ballot consultation is on the UUK proposal made on 23 March 2018: whether to accept the proposal and suspend our action, or to reject it and continue the strike. The proposal outlines a new forum for reaching consensus; it does not constitute a definitive offer regarding our pension:

  • UUK have proposed a joint expert panel (JEP), nominated in equal numbers from both sides, to agree key principles to underpin the joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund. The JEP “will make an assessment of the valuation” and make a recommendation to the JNC aimed at providing a guaranteed [e.g. Defined Benefit] pension.
  • Future negotiations will “reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision” and include discussions on “comparability between USS and TPS.”

Plus

  • The 100% Defined Contribution (January 2018) proposal is “off the table.”
  • The Pensions Regulator (tPR) has indicated in a letter to USS that they will engage with the JEP.

The branch executive are not yet recommending a position in this important vote – we will meet on Monday to see if we have a consensus based on current information; however, the USS Board meet on 11 April, and they will also need to endorse the proposal if it is to be workable. Above all, this is your pension and we respect the right of members to reach their own decisions. We will support the majority decision of our union following this democratic process. Your branch executive have a range of views regarding the vote and the proposals and we are happy to discuss these with you as personal opinions (with the caveat that we are none of us actuarial or pension experts).

We urge you to read the email from Sally Hunt about the consultation, sent 4/4/18, and consider the various briefing materials from UCU and colleagues in other branches:

Below we summarise the UUK proposal and the different sides of the argument, to the best of our understanding:

VOTE YES: 

If the majority vote YES then UCU will suspend the industrial action but keep our legal strike mandate live until the proposal is formally noted at the USS Board .

Reasons you might consider voting yes (to accept the proposals)

  • The offer of JEP and willingness to negotiate was a key demand – now met.
  • To suspend the industrial action – in the interests of students and colleagues, or in light of hardship/detriment. Accept that we can restart action if needed.
  • In the opinion of several lead negotiators, we have negotiated the best offer possible (the impact of strike was limited – we have not shut down the Universities and timing means less impact due to exam period etc. Note that some Universities are planning to strip out content from exams so students are not disadvantaged and this could reduce impact.)
  • The DB deal we were offered and rejected in March (1/85 DB accrual up to £42k, but with inflation revaluation only up to 2.5% CPI) represents some movement by UUK, notably in retaining commitment to DB in short term, and the offer to put in more money into our pension than they have before. This is a sign of willingness to move in the right direction.
  • This will take the 23 January JNC 100% DC option off the table.
  • Useful blog/information: Mike Otsuka

VOTE NO:

If the majority vote NO then UCU will continue with currently planned strike action (16 April onwards) and have a fresh ballot to escalate the action further in the Autumn. UCU will ask the employers to further improve their proposal so that it contains a ‘no detriment’ clause (to commit the employers to paying more into our pension to preserve current DB – their unwillingness to do this was a factor in bringing about the current dispute).

Reasons you might consider voting no (to reject the proposals)

  • More strike action could provide more leverage and stopping now may lose momentum and support.
  • The proposal is not a long term DB deal which many UCU members want.  (Reference in Jarvis’s letter to “meaningful” defined benefits is the language used to describe the DB deal rejected in March)
  • The JEP and valuation requires us to trust UUK and our employers.  The JEP may have little authority, no time-scale, and no way of reaching a decision. USS may not be able to delay submission of the 2017 valuation for the JEP so this may only influence the next valuation. This does not return us to the September valuation so the scheme may still be considered to be at risk of future deficit.
  • USS leadership may not accept JEP or JNC recommendations. USS might accept a move to Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) but this is not possible under current regulatory framework. CDC is not as good as DB. Accepting the proposal may open up CDC possibility.
  • Useful blog/information: Sam Marsh

 

 

Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions

Hello to all parents of University of Southampton students:

We wanted, as a branch, to talk to the parents of the students affected by the recent industrial action, and potentially by its continuation in the summer term. Some of us are also parents of students who are at university, or who will soon be, and we are acutely aware that the strike has an impact well beyond the campus.

We are striking because of changes that are threatened to our pensions, which are held by USS (the Universities Superannuation Scheme), one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK.

No employee wants to go on strike, and in particular members of UCU (the trades union for academic and related staff) do not want to go on strike, because we know that our actions affect our students. Whilst not all members of UCU are lecturing staff, it’s clear that our actions do have an impact – whether we are helping your students in the library, providing them with technical support, or providing the services that support their lives at university.

We know that students who are at the University of Southampton are capable, intelligent and socially aware adults. We have seen that from the support from the Student Union, from individual students on the picket line, and especially from the spontaneous and welcome gifts of hot drinks and food given to members standing on picket lines.

However, we know that parents, as their children return home for the Easter break, will be keen to understand how our actions may impact on their future. We would all feel the same for our own children (and do).

The reasons for our action are clear: the promises made by Universities UK (the employers’ representatives) in previous changes to our pensions have not been kept. The changes can be summed up simply: the USS and UUK position is that extra risk for the employer is intolerable, even when shared by 350 institutions, but that high risk is fine when borne by us as individuals.

UUK now say they are appointing an independent group to examine the valuation of the scheme, which sets out a hypothetical deficit they have insisted needs to be addressed, but it’s not clear how the independent nature of the panel will be assured if UUK alone is involved in its appointment.

Finally, we as a union are not alone in questioning how UUK have brought us all to this state of affairs. Even the vice-chancellors of some of our most eminent universities – including Warwick and Cambridge – are joining in with challenging UUK’s methodology and actions.

We ask you please, to support us in our action. UUK can end this industrial dispute at any time. We know our withdrawal of labour has a cost – not just to us, but also to the students. Please, if you feel you can, write to the President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden (vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk) and make your views heard; as an influential VC he can act to help end this dispute.

Southampton UCU

Vice-Chancellor’s Response to letter of 16 March 2018

We have received a response to the letter sent on behalf of members to Sir Christopher on 16 March 2018.

“Dear Professor Pope and UCU Branch members,

“Thank you for  your letter of 16th March 2018.

“As you know, I have listened very carefully to the views expressed to me during the recent period of industrial action. I have talked to and been in dialogue with dozens of members of staff, in person, in groups, by email, and on the picket line, and I have had similar contacts with hundreds of students.

“I fundamentally understand the importance of pensions and the need to have the best possible and affordable schemes for all our colleagues at the University . My belief that as a sector we need to responsibly address the current situation and also ensure the long-term financial sustainability for future generations of the USS pension scheme has not changed. This needs to be balanced with the recognition of the acute financial challenges currently faced by all universities.

“I have, of course, heard and understood the strength of feeling of many members of staff on the issue of pension reform and that is why I directly and repeatedly urged Universities UK, and the Board of the Russell Group to return urgently to negotiations to try to find a more acceptable and still affordable,  proposal.

“Like many, I had hoped the alternative proposal which had been agreed between national UCU and UUK negotiators at ACAS, and which retained a substantial defined benefits component, could provide the pragmatic resolution required to end this dispute. Like many,  I was disappointed that this agreement was so quickly rejected nationally by UCU branches, although I appreciate the more considered reaction at Southampton.

“I can assure you that every day since that decision I have continued to try to use my influence within UUK, and within the Russell Group, to ensure that the momentum of those good-faith talks is not lost. I have strongly urged that talks resume at the earliest opportunity to find a workable and reasonable way forward as soon as possible. I will continue to press for that this week.

“I accept that the issue of the 2017 pension valuation is a source of considerable dispute, and will be key to any resolution. That is why I support the suggestion of setting up a panel of independent expert s to review the process and methodology of the most recent valuation, which was a part of the ACAS-mediated agreement.

“I also accept that universities as well as employees may need to contribute more into USS as part of an acceptable resolution, which is why, after much reflection, I did support the negotiated proposal developed at ACAS. But we do all need to understand the potential implications of what could be substantial additional contributions by universities – it would inevitably mean very significant additional savings have to be found elsewhere in order to fund any such additional contributions. In respect of deductions of strike pay, in common with most other universities, deductions for strike action to date will be spread across the March and April payrolls.

“Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to those UCU members who took industrial action for the collegial way in which they did so, and I am particularly grateful to all those members of staff who have clearly taken steps to minimise the impact of the industrial action on our students. They have been caught up in a dispute through no fault of their own, and that is why we need to find an acceptable way forward, and as soon as possible.

“Yours sincerely,

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden

President and Vice -Chancellor

cc: Dr Rider, Chair of Council”

 

 

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

Members’ open letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor, 16 March 2018

Dear Sir Christopher

USS dispute

We are writing to you, at the end of our fourth week of dispute, to ask you to take specific actions to help bring the dispute to an end, and to ameliorate the effects of the dispute on your staff.

On 13 March, the proposal mediated by ACAS was comprehensively rejected by the UCU HEC for the following reasons:

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme members.

There was also considerable concern over the CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit.

Members rejected a solution to ‘the current valuation of the pension scheme’ in light of their continuing concerns about lack of the transparency surrounding this valuation, concerns which are currently the subject of unanswered public letters to Alastair Jarvis from UUK employers, including one by the Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, Prof Athene Donald.

Members were also concerned about teaching staff across universities being encouraged to reschedule teaching missed due to strike action, while also losing pay for the days they were striking, when it was by no means clear that the facility, time, or space necessary to do so would be available.

In addition, there is now mounting concern that the process by which the current valuation was achieved may conflict with The Pension Regulator’s Code of Practice, which states that ‘Trustees and employers should work together in an open and transparent manner to reach funding solutions that strike the right balance between the needs of the scheme and those of the employer’.

However, on 14 March, the Pensions Regulator stated that it would welcome any new ‘joint plan’ put to it which is ‘supported by evidence to demonstrate that it is sustainable’. UUK has now said that it is “planning more talks with UCU to end pensions dispute”, and the consultation on the proposals decided at the 23 January JNC has been suspended. We hope and believe that this opens a new opportunity for UUK to work with UCU to reach an agreed solution.

In light of these developments, we ask you to follow the example of the Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University in publicly stating your support for recommencing ‘negotiations without preconditions’.

We also ask you to follow the example of the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge and use your position to lobby UUK to negotiate on members’ concerns on matters such as inflation protection, accrual rate, DB cap, and the reference to the rescheduling of teaching.

We believe this is now the only way to proceed, with the pragmatism and realism that you have previously called for, in order to obtain an offer that addresses the concerns of UCU members and that achieves our shared aim of putting the scheme on a sustainable footing for the future.

Finally, we recognise that, in response to members’ protestations about this University’s initial stance on punitive deductions for working to contract (ASOS) — a policy that would have disproportionately harmed teaching-only and hourly paid staff — the University changed its position on this issue. This change of position makes a real difference to our members. We ask you now, in continued recognition of the difficult financial situation faced by our lowest paid, part-time and hourly-paid members in particular, to consider following the lead of universities such as Leicester and Loughborough in agreeing to spread strike deductions over four months or more.

We look forward to your response

Yours sincerely

Southampton UCU branch executive, on behalf of our members

Cc:      Dr Gill Rider, Chair of Council

 

How digital communication transformed activism

This blog was written following a teach-out facilitated by the author.

For the ongoing USS-Strike to defend our pensions, digital communication on e-mail and social media have played a tremendous role. In fact, in contemporary society it seems almost unthinkable that social movements were able to mobilise protest events without access to the internet. It seems useful to appraise how activism has changed since the advent of social media.

I begin by reviewing some of the main tasks of social movements. First, social movements are engaged in framing processes: they need to convince people that there is a problem and what the problem is, who is responsible for the problem and what should be done about it. In the case of the the current dispute, the problems are the proposed changes to pensions and the way the pensions are regulated.  UUK and The Pension Regulator are responsible. One tactic is strike action.

Second, social movements need to mobilise resources including people (supporters, activists, and leaders), access to meeting spaces, media and money and enlist support from the wider public, decision makers such as politicians, and experts. In the context of the USS strike, this requires mobilizing members to come to the picket lines.

Finally, social movements need to make decisions about tactics and strategies as well as about their organisational structures and decision making. For the strike for USS that includes decisions to continue or to suspend the strike, and the pursuit of alternative and/or additional tactics.

Digital communication and social media have made some of these tasks much easier, but have made others more complicated. It is possible to distinguish internet-supported and internet-based repertoires of action. Internet-supported actions are a continuity of previous forms of mobilisation – instead of handing out leaflets or contacting people via a telephone-tree cascade system, meetings or protest events are announced via websites, on e-mail or via social media. There is no offline equivalent for a hashtag-campaign on social media – this is an example of new internet-based activism.

So how are online- and offline activism related? Some are concerned that online activism decreases the involvement in offline activism and leads to slacktivism or clicktivism. However, others believe that digital prefigurative participation or engaging with an issue online through social media leads to participation in offline protest events. Collective action is based on collective identity (for example, as trade unionists) and organisational structures (for example, the UCU branch), but digitally-enabled activism can  produce connective action which is networked and may not be tied to collective identities, organisational structures and leaders. In the current dispute we can see that hybrid forms of action exist.

In her book, Twitter and Teargas Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly analyses the ‘power and fragility of networked protest’. The power might be quite obvious. When social movements are ignored by the mass media (see for example the lack of mainstream press coverage of the USS-strike) or are censored, digital communication allows the spread of information and can enable citizen journalism.

In 1999, Indymedia was created by independent journalists and activists in the context of the WTO protests in Seattle. Although the website still exists nearly twenty years later, including regional sites in many languages, today Indymedia is hardly known. It has been replaced by the behemoths Twitter and Facebook on which citizen journalism as well as fake news are disseminated. We also see that mass media and social media are not mutually exclusive;  articles and broadcast news media are frequently posted on social media. In addition, not everyone’s tweet or post gets shared, some have far more influence in the digital public sphere than others. Communication on social media raises important questions of verification, and representativeness.

Tufekci also discusses the impact of digital communication on the leadership, logistics and infrastructure of social movements. New communication technologies allow the kinds of quick dissemination which made the occupation of Gezi Park, Tahir Square and the Occupy camps possible. In contrast, the American civil rights movement required meticulous and lengthy organising over long time-periods. Slow dissemination allowed for capacity building over a longer time-period which created space for extensive discussions outside the public eye – for example concerning tactical shifts, and social movement organisations had a central role in providing an infrastructure for the decision making processes and dealing with dissent and conflict arising from these debates.

In contrast, Tufekci demonstrates how digitally mobilised movements can experience a ‘tactical freeze’ due to the lack of decision-making structures. Connective action is less well placed to deal with disagreement and building trust. Debates are played out publically, and while open debate might be welcome, it can be dominated by a few, prominent, but not necessarily representative voices. Moreover, discussing tactics openly  can signal to opponents where the breaking points in the movement are.

The USS strike has undoubtedly benefited from the existence of social media. While we stood in cold, snow and rain, it was inspiring to know that the picket lines were strong at Universities across the country. Moreover, social media enabled activists to crowd-source information about management practices at the institutions involved in the dispute, and to share information to support the protest. Petitions were circulated and signed, universities were named and shamed. Activists skilfully employed not just open digital spaces but also closed spaces which allowed for strategizing outside the public attention.

One important feature of social media use was the mobilisation of humour to support the strike.  Our own #DinosaurOfSolidarity (@of_dinosaur) has quickly gained 1950 followers (and counting) for example. But social media has also carried serious messages. The outcome of UCU/UUK consultations immediately resulted in the hashtag #NoCapitulation which perhaps influenced the swift rejection of this offer.

The question is – what next? How can we prevent a ‘tactical freeze’? It is clear that offline and online activism are intertwined and that the affordances of digital communication are invaluable. We need to consider whether the velocity of digital communication undermines careful strategic decision-making. And how online and offline resources can be used to ensure democratic and inclusive debate. Some things might not be best discussed online, and we may need to learn a ‘digital hygiene’ i.e. knowing when and what to tweet. However we move forward it is clear that movement building in digital times requires solidarity and respect.

Silke Roth is a sociologist @SilkeRoth

It’s still on, and we’re still out.

Members will know from email and social media, UCU Higher Education Committee voted to reject the proposals put forward on Monday.

As we said in our last blog announcement, our branch recognises and has shared members’ issues and concerns with the proposals. UCU President Sally Hunt has made clear in recent messages that the decision to reject the proposals was made following detailed discussion of the proposals by branch reps, following UCU’s commitment at the start of the dispute to ensure branches take a full role in decision-making.

We fully respect the outcome of UCU’s democratic processes and we ask all branch members to continue with strike action and Action Short of a Strike. We want to see a really good showing on the picket lines, at rallies, at events and teach outs for the rest of this week.

Please join us on the picket line. If you cannot join us on the picket line, we ask you not to do any university work, and to ensure that your auto-reply is on.  From next week, we ask you to engage in Action Short of a Strike (working only your contracted hours) when not on strike.

We have a full schedule of events and teach outs planned for the rest of the week, starting Wednesday morning with pickets at 8.00 AM; a rally and briefing at 11.00 at Jubilee Plaza, and continuing with Silke Roth’s fantastic teach out on Digital and physical activism, 2pm Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre (just past Brewed Awakening).

Details of the rest of the week’s teach-outs are here:

Weds 14 March

2-4pm

Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening How have digital technologies and social media changed activism? 
Silke RothIn this teach-out we look at the relationship between online and offline activism. We look at online media as a game changer and have a look at the affordances of social media, at repertoires of digital activism and the fragility of networked action. We will consider slacktivism and how ‘digital prefigurative action’ can lead to the participation in offline protest events.
Thurs 15 March2-4pm Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening Music Workshop 

WA Mozart, Casual Employee?
Tom Irvine

The Arts, the War on the Welfare State and the end of Keynsian Economics
Andrew Pinnock

How to Improvise a Protest Song (with audience participation)
Andy Fisher

 

Fri 16 March 2-4pm Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre, Broadlands Rd, nr Brewed Awakening Workshop: The ethics of taking strike action: principles, consequences and care
Taking strike action entails struggling with competing duties and responsibilities, thinking through and articulating why one principle trumps another, calculating the short and long terms costs and benefits, and taking practical actions with other people. This interactive workshop will offer an opportunity to explore these ideas and introduce concepts to build on over the coming weeks and months, as we reflect on what a university is and what being an academic and professional in higher education means to each of us.

Members are asking what happens next and you can find a broad outline in Sally Hunt’s message to members, which you will have received by email – though we do not yet know what UUK’s response will be, and their response will naturally shape our next steps. Indications are that it is likely that the consultation on full DC (mentioned in today’s meeting) will begin on 19 March. UCU will provide members with materials on this as soon as possible. Members who are also external examiners at USS institutions will be asked to consider their positions in respect of those contracts. Your branch will also be in contact with Head Office to set the next 14 days of strike action after the Spring Vacation.

We look forward to showing our strength and solidarity on the picket lines tomorrow! See you there…

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)