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Farewell to our Chair

Published: 19th April, 2021

Four photos of Sarah Seaton

The Leicester UCU expresses deep appreciation for the compassionate and powerful work Dr Sarah Seaton has done as branch Chair in the last three years. Here is her final Chair’s report from the 2021 Annual General Meeting, which offers inspirational and supportive words for all our members during these challenging times at the University of Leicester. 

This Chair’s report is a poignant and hard one to write. After three exhausting, exhilarating and turbulent years, I have made the difficult decision to stand down as Chair of Leicester UCU. I hope this will surprise no one, as I was always honest in my belief that I felt this was a role no one person can, or indeed should, hold for a long time. It has been my honour and privilege to steer this branch since 2018.

When I took on the role, I never anticipated the difficulties we, the university (and we are the university after all), would face over the following three years. During my time there were huge changes in the University senior management. I supervised something like 22 strike days (I even read the picket line supervisor pack). I supported the branch through three local disputes (some still ongoing) and a similar number of national disputes. I have no idea how many hours I spent chairing meetings, but it was a lot and they were never dull. I particularly loved chairing our general meetings, with 100–200 members attending. It was hard, exhausting but wonderful work.

Let me be clear that whilst I disagreed with the University management a lot over the years, there were also times when we agreed with each other, or we found ways to put those differences aside and do good work. I am proud of some of the positive changes we brought about for members. And, let me tell you a secret… Some Trade Unionists enjoy strikes and disputes, but I really, really don’t. I never wanted to declare disputes, I wanted us to find ways to work together with the University, but that isn’t always possible. 

Last year, when we were on strike, alongside the branch committee I took the decision to scale back our final days of strike action when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I wasn’t aware how bad things were going to get globally – but our committee reacted amazingly – moving immediately to online meetings and continuing vital work. Little did I know that in the 12 months to follow, we’d have two disputes, one over H&S and one over local redundancies – and I still wouldn’t have seen most of my committee friends in person since that final strike day.

Many people think the role of Chair is somehow sitting above the rest of the branch in an ivory tower and giving orders to everyone and anyone about what to do. It most definitely is not that – we have never been a hierarchical organisation and every member has an equal voice. I hope over the years I have listened, empowered and encouraged the experts in our union to advise and lead at the right times.

I know that sometimes, some of you have not agreed with me, or perhaps you have not agreed with the decisions of the committee. That is fine, I respect you all immensely. Wouldn’t life be boring if we all agreed? But, when the branch membership told me what they wanted, I hope I put my personal opinions aside and listened and acted in the way you wanted me to.

There are so many people over the years who I need to thank. But, I will forget people – so I won’t try and name them all in this report – although I will try to thank you privately at the right time. For now, let me say a huge thanks to everyone who has served on the committee, past and present. You were always more than a committee to me, you were my family and when I needed you all, you never let me down. I will specifically name two people: Julie Cooper and Sue Davis – our regional officers. They rarely get mentioned by us and I suspect much of the membership don’t even know they exist. But we could not work or function as a union without them. At times of dispute, I would often speak to them every day and I always appreciated their sound counsel – they always knew how to make me smile with a sarcastic comment or a comforting word. Sue and Julie, you’ve always had my back, and I always had yours. I couldn’t have done this without you.

So, what will I do next? Well, I’ll be in the side-wings for a while. I’ll support the committee quietly for a while to ensure continuity. But, they won’t need me. And that’s fine – that’s what I want, because unions are about community, they aren’t about the individual, they are about the collective. After that? Well maybe you’ll see me when you need union representation – I always wish I’d had more time to do casework. 

For now, my unwavering support, love and solidarity to the incoming committee. 

In solidarity,
Sarah, Outgoing Chair, Leicester UCU