Here are 5 empowering and useful things you can do to make the strike massive + effective:
- Sign up to picket! http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/campaigns/picket-duty-sign-up-form/
- Joint staff/student banner + placard making! Monday 19 Feb, 4-7pm, venue TBA (we’ll email on Monday – the students are organising this one! ❤)
- Action Group: placard making, postering + general useful pre-strike prep! Tuesday 1-2.30pm, Baines G03
- Talk to colleagues and students about why we’re striking + ask them to support us. Many resources are available via www.leedsucu.org.uk and www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss and check out our list on Facebook too: https://www.facebook.com/ucuatleeds/posts/1621709737916508
- March for USS! Thursday 22 February: After picketing on day 1 of the strike, we’re going on a big friendly march from outside Parkinson down to the Leeds Art Gallery for a rally. All supporters welcome! Colleagues from campus Unison + Unite will join us, along with our UCU siblings from local branches! Details [here] and FB event [here]
[Bonus points if you’ve already remembered to email the Vice Chancellor (copy us in!) and to email your MP about defending our livelihoods in retirement!]
Reactions to management communications
Many, many emails continue to land in our inbox from you, from members of other unions, and from students. They all have a common theme: how shocked people have been at the hard line and tone taken in the letters you have all received from senior management in the past days and weeks. In the words of one member, “it beggars belief that they would treat us with such contempt.” We reiterate our deep sadness that the senior management of the University of Leeds – one of the largest UK universities, and a recent “University of the Year” – continues to deny that their voices might hold some sway in getting their own representative body (UUK) back round the negotiating table. We note that the Vice Chancellor used to be Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from April 2009, having come to Leeds in 2013, and that he regularly talks about how he tries to influence policy via his contacts from that time.
Another member’s email points out, very shrewdly, that an email from 2015 [click here for text] to all staff contained “justifications” for the last round of pension “reforms”. This now makes for interesting reading in the current context. The previous alterations to the scheme were clearly billed as changes that would safeguard USS in the face of falling income from bonds, and yet we’re now being expected to move more of the fund into those same bonds. Remember when UCU warned of this before [click]? Us too.
The rest of this email will take a moment to offer all members some basic points of reassurance and information, and asks all members to focus on what we can all do together to make this strike absolutely massive!
The UCU USS Action FAQs are our friend – many questions are answered [here] – recently updated!
We are in a serious fight, and we are already making an impact. We now need to hold fast to our huge mandate for the industrial action that we voted for: strike, and action short of a strike (ASOS). Please read the FAQs, and remember:
- Don’t tell your employer in advance that you will be taking part in the action,
- Don’t do any work for your employer on strike days,
- Don’t reschedule any lectures or classes that are cancelled due to strikes, and if others reschedule them don’t attend,
- Don’t cover absent colleagues and don’t do any voluntary work.
We know that the idea behind the letters we have recently received is to worry staff and to undermine our action. The same is true of inducements offered to register strike action in advance – the intention here is to dilute the impact of our action and this is why we urge all members to observe all aspects of the action as mandated.
The Director of HR’s email contains phrases such “the withholding of pay is without prejudice to any other right or remedy of the University, including any claim for damages for breach of contract”. This sounds scary, but is actually a pretty standard HR line which has appeared in previous emails of the same kind. It is designed to intimidate members. However, be assured that it is perfectly normal to refer to taking industrial action as a potential “breach of contract” – it’s basically the point! When industrial action is properly called (as ours has been) we are protected in taking that industrial action. UCU has conducted very close legal scrutiny at every stage of this dispute: the action is properly called, based on a legal ballot. See [here] for more detail on your rights, and the USS Action FAQ:
22. Am I in breach of my contract if I go on strike?
Yes, all industrial action is a potential breach of contract. However, UCU has carried out a legal ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal whilst taking part in lawful industrial action or at any time within 12 weeks of the start of the action and, depending on the circumstances, dismissal may also be unfair if it takes place later. This kind of dismissal has never happened in higher education.
If the university was to sue for breach of contract it would have to prove its financial loss. As the only loss in these cases is usually the value of the work (for which the employers will be deducting wages), the loss equals nothing. In the incredibly rare case where loss was the result of something not done, if our employers sued they could look forward to no one ever wanting to apply for a job at Leeds ever again. Reputational damage is a significant risk to any employer considering this, and it is what means employers just don’t do it.
The action our union has called clearly includes working to contract, and not rescheduling classes of teaching activity (as above). For a moment, let’s put to one side the insulting suggestion that trade union members participating in properly called industrial action on the basis of a legal ballot are somehow at odds with concepts of professionalism for defending their professional sector and thereby the education it facilitates. There are some questions to explore around the actual practicalities of management’s assertion that teaching activity missed due to strike action ought to be rearranged.
Those of us who have even a passing familiarity with the timetabling and room bookings systems know that rescheduling would not be simple, even if we were to agree to do it (noting, again, that our mandate is that we do not reschedule). We have already heard of at least one department where the decision has been taken that rescheduling classes cancelled during the strike would be impractical, so it’s not happening. So there is a marked difference emerging between the official line in the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s email and the reality of what other managers have decided to do on the ground.
With some of the workloads members are reporting, rescheduling could indeed take almost the full working week with only passing capacity to walk between teaching venues / check emails. Of course, our action entails not rescheduling.
Our task now is to focus on defending our pensions.
We must prevent the USS scheme from becoming decimated further still for new and future entrants to USS. We need to stick together: all members are asked to observe the action to the fullest extent, particularly with respect to striking and refusing to reschedule. As the FAQ makes clear, this is part of the ASOS that applies at every level, including Heads of Department.
We have been completely *inundated* with students copying us into their letters to the Vice Chancellor. On Thursday night “Leeds Students Support UCU” created an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor regarding the upcoming strike action, which asks him to use his position and influence to call on UUK to return to negotiations. It’s gathering student signatures apace – if you want to take a peek, and especially if you want to share it on with students and/or on social media, it’s here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vnCsfv12Y-NNAMFGsfcLdm3n-epIdB3szvd90EQRZ38/edit
Our lovely students specifically wrote to the UCU committee yesterday to let us know they have done this “to show and confirm that you have a strong student backing, should you currently feel disheartened (particularly following the email you received from HR yesterday afternoon.)”
If you feel you will be hit disproportionately by the deductions, and especially if you are concerned about your ability to observe the strike, please be reassured that your personal situation will be taken into account. The National Fighting Fund was tasked by the HEC to prioritise members on hourly paid and other precarious contracts, and to support people who would be left financially vulnerable after deductions.
On 15 February, our branch agreed to set up a local branch Hardship fund to supplement provision from the National Fighting Fund. The local Hardship fund is designed to complement the provision from the National Fighting Fund, and where possible to fill in any potential “gaps”. Its remit includes consideration of the impact made by any ASOS deductions.
The full text of the motion is [here] and associated guidance from HQ can be found [here] and [here]. We are pleased to report that the relevant bank account now exists as “UCU Leeds LA29 Hardship Fund”. Please do read the motion text – it’s long, but it sets out the remit of both quite clearly. We’re working on a page of the website to take members through the process as clearly as possible, and to provide some worked examples.
Some members have written to ask where they can donate to the Fighting Fund and/or local Hardship Fund, as they feel able to weather the deductions and want to help others. This is the biggest action our union has ever taken, so if you (or people you know) are able to donate to either fund, please do – it will make a difference.
- To donate to the Leeds Local Hardship Fund: cheques payable to “UCU Leeds LA29 Hardship Funds” or email email@example.com with header “DONATE TO HARDSHIP FUND” for BACS details.
- To donate to the National Fighting Fund: https://www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund