twitter facebook

Four Fights offer – where do we go from here?

Published: 14th July, 2020

Email sent to all Leicester UCU members, 14 July

As a UCU member working in higher education you will have received an email from Civica, inviting you to vote on whether to accept or reject UCEA’s offer in our Four Fights dispute. As the covering letter makes clear, UCU’s higher education committee, following the steer from the branch delegates’ meeting of 27 May, has recommended you vote to reject the offer.

Our position is more nuanced. Make no mistake, we think the employers are offering us almost nothing. But as important as the trivial task of evaluating that offer – it’s dreadful – are the much harder tasks of evaluating the situation we’re now in, how we got here and where we go from here.

As members of Leicester UCU, we’ve taken 22 days of strike action in the Four Fights dispute. (In total 60 UCU branches struck in November and December 2019; 74 in February and March 2020.) We are still paying the costs of that strike action. But the return on that action and that sacrifice has been disappointing – an understatement. 

What went wrong? Why were we not able to translate such sustained strike action into concrete gains? Some voices in UCU claim that we were on the verge of winning – if only COVID-19 hadn’t made such an ill-timed entrance. We’re not so sure. 

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has now changed a lot. Across the UK, the employers’ response has been brutal. The University of Leicester is no exception. Whilst our institution’s leadership is taking a cautious approach to a safe return to campus, we have also seen the sudden loss of precarious jobs, hugely expanded workloads, unnegotiated changes to our roles and working conditions. Coming at a time when our personal lives are also severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, this is incredibly damaging and upsetting to many of us. We think that if we had been winning on March 13 (the last strike day), we would not now be facing such rapidly enforced changes with so little choice.

Whether you vote to accept or to reject UCEA’s offer, it’s essential that we do some serious thinking. That’s ‘we’ as in UCU as a national union, that’s ‘we’ as in Leicester UCU, that’s you as a UCU member! As part of this thinking we have to recognise that the union’s time and resources – at national, regional and local levels – are finite. We cannot do everything, so we need to make strategic decisions on where we direct our energies. 

  • The offer we are deciding on is for the 2019/20 pay claim and other demands. Do we want to continue fighting on this at the end of 2020 or would it be better to focus on claims for 2020/21 and beyond?
  • Why did our unprecedented strike action yield such poor concrete results? How can we strike smarter next time?
  • Our casualised colleagues, our Black, South Asian, East Asian and other minority colleagues, and our female colleagues – too often intersectionally impacted – have been bearing the brunt of this present COVID-veiled assault. How can we mobilise most effectively to defend them? At University of Leicester we will soon be sharing an open letter in which casualised staff and allies reaffirm their commitment to an institution that secures the future of currently precarious employees.
  • How can we better challenge institutional inequality at a time when we increasingly see choices that inflict poverty, job loss, and ill health disproportionately on less powerful groups and individuals?
  • An increasing number of branches – Roehamption, Goldsmiths, Liverpool, Sheffield… – are facing local disputes over redundancies and restructuring. (It’s possible we in Leicester will be in such a situation too.) How can we as trade unionists best support these local struggles?

You have until 29 July to vote on the consultative ballot. It is important that you vote. When you decide whether you think we should prolong the dispute, please consider not only what we have – and have not – achieved, but also consider ‘what next’, as we move into the post-COVID realities of working in Higher Education. (Disputes must be clearly framed and their terms cannot be changed whilst they are still ‘live’. To open up new disputes, we must first settle the existing dispute around the 2019 claim.)