At 89 higher education providers, UCU strike action on pay scheduled to start next week will now not go ahead.
At a further 10 providers, disruption will last only a one or two days, rather than the promised week.
The union is justifying this change in focus by signalling an intention to focus only at “the very worst employers.” General secretary Jo Grady also notes that “this will also allow our members to concentrate on winning the reballot,” which will run through to early November 2023.
This comes after an earlier decision to allow individual branches to determine whether or not to take the scheduled industrial action (a quirk in trade union law means that action at a single provider can only be called of at a national level). While it is possible that some of these decisions have been made at branch level on the basis of employer actions, it is also possible that in many cases members have made the decision out of frustration with the strategy of UCU leadership.
At a preballot meeting on Tuesday evening, Grady and UCU President Justine Mercer faced hostile questions about the decision to delay the ballot for the continue with industrial action in such a way as to leave a gap between mandates, and the rationale for next weeks action. Grady described the break in the mandate this autumn as “regrettable”, and she also suggested that calling all-out action (as some in the union had called for) earlier this year would have been a “gift” to employers.
Taking the decision of so many branches not to take action and the comments of members into account, it does feel like UCU leadership has a mountain to climb in re-establishing support for their industrial relations strategy.
UCEA’s Raj Jethwa said:
Students and staff will welcome the announcement that UCU has stood down next week’s strike days at the majority of institutions. It is still disappointing that a number of UCU branches will see attempts to carry out strike action.
and noted the employer representative body’s desire to continue the planned work on the joint review of sector finances, pay gaps, contractual terms, workload, and the pay spine review.
In a bizarre coda to all of this, UCU staff at Newcastle University had their action withdrawn due to a national UCU “administrative error“. The branch had not indicated that it wished to withdraw the planned action, but somehow a notice was sent to their employer anyway – making any action no longer legal. Jo Grady has launched a review to investigate what has happened, and will visit the branch in person to apologise.