Communist Party members who were delegates at the 2018 UCU Congress consider that developments at the Congress place the future of the union at risk.
We recognise that legitimate concerns have been raised about the conduct of the leadership in the current USS dispute and wider issues of union democracy. Congress is the forum to debate these issues, including holding elected officials to account.
However, Congress decided to proceed to debate motions containing unsubstantiated allegations about the general secretary, an employee of the union, and calling for her resignation and censure, which was in contradiction with procedures for dealing with such allegations agreed between UCU and the staff union Unite. This decision not unsurprisingly provoked a walk-out by members of staff, which meant that Congress ended early, with the motions in question and many others not being taken.
The situation is complicated by the dual position of the general secretary being both a nationally elected official and an employee of the National Executive Committee. As regards the former, she is accountable to those who elected her; but on the other hand she has agreed terms and conditions, including for dealing with allegations of misconduct, and the NEC has a duty of care to ensure due process and implementation of the contract. The already established commission on union democracy is the correct opportunity for discussing these issues.
As well as the procedural problem, the tactical wisdom of debating the conduct of the general secretary at a time when the union is still in dispute with the USS employers has to be questioned. As we said in our previous statement, this looked like opportunism and part of a political power grab.
UCU staff, who are members of Unite, will act in line with what they believe to be their collective interest, and as fellow trade unionists we need to respect that. It seems that their reaction is fuelled by feelings that they are frequently scapegoated, characterised as right-wing bureaucrats, and attacked by some activists, something that has only been fuelled by social media comment. It is not our place to tell members of another union what they should do, but the paralysis of Congress is highly unfortunate and has resulted in unnecessary division between all of those wanting to work for UCU members’ best interests.
Communist delegates recognise that feeling has run high during the Congress. The intimidating behaviour of a small number of delegates, after Congress had closed, needs to be condemned. The dispute could have been resolved, and Congress enabled to conduct its full business, if the movers of the two motions in question had been magnanimous enough to withdraw them. Their refusal was an avoidable error and tragedy at a time when the union should be celebrating its growing power, and recognising the importance of the unity built during the recent pensions dispute.
Instead, it looks as though the actions of a number of delegates following the closure of Congress have set in train events which could lead to the break-up of the union. This must be avoided at all costs. The essential need is to build unity between all elements of the union and move them all in a progressive, left direction together rather than pitching the union into fights with itself.