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Feedback from Special Higher Education Sector Conference (SHESC) on 9th September 

SHESC on the 9th September was organised to decide the next steps in UCU’s campaigns on USS and the Four Fights. The SHESC was contentious from the outset given the strong views represented in the union about the best strategy for industrial action. Additionally, the decision of HEC to delay acting on motions at June’s HESC, including motion HE12 which had proposed a summer ballot over USS was perceived by some as having lost us time. Since the last HESC, UUK has submitted their proposals to the USS JNC, which have been accepted and will cut the retirement benefits of members in USS. UCU had not been able to submit counter proposals because UUK refused to offer the same covenant support as they would for their own.  

Southampton UCU shared the motions with members prior to voting at conference and asked for feedback, and we also canvassed members through our survey conducted in May prior to HESC. We gathered important feedback on USS and the Four Fights, primarily focusing on whether members would support industrial action on pay, USS and/or Four Fights, the timing of any industrial action, whether IA should be aggregated or disaggregated, and whether Four Fights and USS should be fought for together or separately. The feedback we received from branch members was mixed but there was a steer for delegates to vote: 

  • Yes, to industrial action on USS 
  • To allow branches time to gain momentum for strike action – not to strike in the autumn 
  • To continue to campaign on the Four Fights and pay, but not to ballot on these for now
  • There was no clear steer on aggregation or disaggregation. 

In the lead up to SHESC on September 9th, there was a lot of information being shared by pensions negotiators and experts, including Sam Marsh and Michael Otsuka. The following blogs were also made available and clearly illustrate the differences between the views of UCU’s members: 

Our advice for HE Special Sector Conference 9th September | ucuagenda 

If we don’t fight, we lose – UCU Left 

At the conference itself, the discussion was detailed and informative despite the usual restrictions of the webinar format which has become the norm for large UCU meetings during the pandemic. Here are the motions which were debated: 

UCU2001 

Overall, delegates were convinced of the need to take action on USS sooner rather than later, although it was acknowledged that HEC would make the final decision. We believe that we need to ballot on USS now, notwithstanding all the difficulties that presents to branches in terms of launching a successful get the vote out campaign. We also voted against disaggregated strike action because we believe that may weaken our action. Branch delegates acknowledged that there were strong reasons to ballot for Four Fights, not least because another below inflation pay award has been imposed, but also to show solidarity with post-92s and to stand with precarious and junior colleagues. The arguments presented that Four Fights and USS are linked, that pensions are deferred pay, and that inequalities in pay continue through to retirement were compelling.  

Nevertheless, the two disputes will be resolved via different negotiating groups and it would be difficult to communicate what would constitute a win on both. Additionally, while we were convinced that there are strategic reasons to ballot for industrial action over USS now, coordinating the two disputes forces Four Fights onto the same timescales as USS which could be counterproductive to building a sector wide strike mandate timed to have the most disruptive impact. In the end, our steer from branch members was that we should separate Four Fights and USS so delegates voted in line with this. However, on motion 10 ‘what a win looks like’ there were clear instructions for branches to continue to campaign in the issues of the Four Fights ‘with vigour, determination and all means possible, bar strike action for now’. Your delegates voted in favour of this motion. Equalities, anti-casualisation and workload are issues that we will (continue) to fight hard for locally and we need members to help shape specific, measurable aims for making improvements for all staff at Southampton.  

One of the more controversial motions of the conference was B4, which committed UCU to ‘initiate exploration of the feasibility and promise of Conditional Benefits (or Conditional Indexation)’. While it was understood that investigating was never off the table, delegates voted in favour to show our willingness to explore all avenues available to protect pension benefits. 

You can read the results of votes online here: 

HESC_09.09.21_voting_results.pdf (ucu.org.uk) 

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