Jo Grady gets five more years

A win for the incumbent, but a close-run thing and hardly a popular success.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Jo Grady will have a second term as General Secretary of the University and College Union, after voting closed at noon on Friday 1 March.

Some 17,131 votes were counted, with Grady netting 5,990 first preferences (compared to Sara Weiner on 2,580, Vicky Blake on 3,837, and Ewan McGaughey on 4,724). At the conclusion of the transferable vote exercise Grady had 7,758 votes to McGaughey’s 7,576. There were 114,310 eligible voters – so this was a 15.1 per cent turn out, with the eventual winner netting just 6.8 per cent of the total possible vote.

It is notable how low these numbers are – 38,088 (of 65,996 entitled to vote on an HE specific issue relating to a sub-group of providers) participated in the industrial action ballot in October 2022.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “I want to thank every member who has voted to endorse my strategy for our union’s future”. She could probably ring them all up to do so over the next week or so.

The returning general secretary will have an overflowing higher education in-tray. To give just a few recent examples, a ballot opens tomorrow at Goldsmiths over the potential loss of 130 jobs, a strike is underway at the University of Aberdeen, and an indicative ballot is happening at SOAS University of London – where 34 English-language support roles are at risk. The next months will see 2024-25 New JNCHES salary negotiations open (with a previously agreed independent examination of university finances, designed to underpin negotiations by giving unions and employers a common understanding, yet to start).

There’s problems closer to home too – the Unite branch at UCU is in dispute over allegations of workplace racism, and the delayed conclusion to salary negotiations ended with a knife edge poll – just a single vote saw UCU’s proposed uplift accepted, with many members holding out for a pay rise that focused on lower paid staff.

Jo Grady can’t claim to have seen a ringing endorsement of her leadership, or a great deal of active members to support her work. She will have her work cut out in other words – and for the good of the sector as a whole we can only wish her all the best in the weeks and months ahead.

UCEA apparently feels the same way. Raj Jethwa said:

I look forward to working with Jo to build a constructive relationship for the good of our sector. “We all have a responsibility to set aside recent disagreements and disputes and employers are eager to overcome the annual cycle of disputes and explore with UCU and other trade unions how best to achieve this.



10 responses to “Jo Grady gets five more years

  1. Probably the least worst outcome in the sense of who won (in terms of the union not being almost instantly bankrupted by the indefinite strikes that Blake and Weiner would have called – the other candidate never really seemed v clear in his stance); but an *awful* outcome in terms of turnout and endorsement of any of the candidates.

    It looks very much as if ucu left standing a candidate (and one quite so unelectable), in the knowledge that the ucu-left-adjacent Vicky Blake was standing, was a big error. But also the fairly bad performance of both those candidates suggests that the oft-repeated mantra that UCU members are desperate for a more radical approach and really want to be on strike all the time and if only the GS shared this zeal then everything would be won has been comprehensively shown up as a load of nonsense. I actually feel a bit sorry for Blake in this – I think she was quite sincere in the belief that the membership were reflected in the noisy strikehappy not-quite-ucu-left types on twitter, and if you get them on board the rest will follow; where this has now been shown to obviously not the case.

    What seems truly the case is that members took a look at these candidates and (really, correctly) decided “none of the above”. And that does not bode well for a coherent union over the next 5 years.

  2. UCU Left portraying coming dead last as some sort of victory is genuinely funny. They’ve loudly banged on about Grady ignoring ‘democratic structures and decisions’ – and maybe she has – but the members have either rejected that argument or demonstrated that they don’t care about it. I won’t hold my breath for some UCUL self-awareness or self-reflection.

  3. Sadly I don’t think ucu left especially care who is gen sec – their whole schtick is that the gs is just a front person for the “democratic” decisions made at Congress and nec/hec which they are quite effective at dominating, either by volunteering in the case of the former or winning on miniscule turnout in the latter.

  4. I’m not UCUL, but it’s wild that most of the criticism in the comments is about them. The last comment saying UCUL thinks the GS is a figurehead – that is the most a GS should be! Bosses are bosses, including union bosses, and Grady is an excellent example of how being “the boss” is inherently destructive. We should abolish the role altogether (and we should stop using UCUL as the bogeyman).

  5. As my local UCU Branch Secretary once said ~20 years ago, “in most localities UCU branch meetings more resemble school-boy debating societies, except where the ‘hard-left’ Trotsky like factions have taken control” some things have changed, but it would seem the continuing lack of engagement of/by/with the membership is rendering the UCU irrelevant in the eye’s of the employers ass.

  6. 15% turnout is not great, but it’s similar to most UCU rep elections.

    The 2019 election saw only 20.5% and there was a much greater sense that a leadership change in UCU was required at that point.

  7. From what I can tell (via well informed tweets by others), ucu left and their deniable allies have a majority on HEC now, so I guess it’s back to them calling indefinite strikes about everything and Grady trying to split the difference again, good work one and all

    1. That said, given how far we were under the 50% turnout threshold in the last ballot any more strikes seem a long way off.

      1. I think things will revert to disaggregated action by individual branches, with the same levels of success on non-USS issues as in 2019-22

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