UCU industrial action paused pending ballot of members

By Odhran Gallagher and Samuel Rafanell-Williams

Industrial action by the Glasgow UCU has temporarily been suspended after the mandate from their members expired.

The beginning of the term so far has seen widespread disruption following a strike by three different unions on campus: Unite, Unison and, most impactfully, the University and College Union. These strikes have all been in response to an ongoing dispute with the University over pay and working conditions. In the coming weeks, members of the UCU are set to make a decision on whether or not to continue striking in response to the University’s refusal to negotiate. 

The previous year has also seen the Marking and Assessment Boycott, which was begun on 20 April 2023 and eventually saw 684 students graduating without classified degrees, which amounted to 15% of summer graduates. However, the Marking and Assessment Boycott was withdrawn on 6 September 2023 following consultation with the University and College Union membership in which 60% of members voted to discontinue the industrial action. 

Strikes were last held at the University of Glasgow between 25 and 29 September, which the UCU has dubbed one of “the worst employers”. These strikes followed the UCU’s rejection of a pay offer proposed by the University and Colleges Employers’ Association, which ranged from between 5% to 8% for the lowest paid university staff. 56% of participating UCU members voted to reject the offer, which amounts to a real terms pay-cut for most staff when considering recent rates of inflation. The UCU’s demands include a pay offer linked to the RPI rate of inflation plus 2%, as well as action from employers to stop widespread casualization of labour in the higher education sector.

However, with their current mandate for strike action running out, the UCU have halted strike action in order to, as they put it, “concentrate on winning the reballot” which will renew their mandate. A ballot is currently running for UCU members until 3 November which, if successful, will renew the union’s mandate to call strike action for the rest of the academic year. However, after the suspension of the Marking and Assessment Boycott it remains uncertain whether or not the ballot will be successful. Despite this, the last ballot of members in April of this year saw a resounding 86% of members declare that they were prepared to undertake strike action.

Moreover, speaking to striking workers on the picket line outside the University, every single UCU member who spoke to The Glasgow Guardian was confident that the mandate for strike action would be renewed.

Some UCU disputes have been resolved at a local level, such as at the University of Manchester where strike action was called off after a deal was reached with the University which saw up to three quarters of pay deducted throughout the Marking and Assessment Boycott returned. 

The University of Glasgow branch of the UCU told The Glasgow Guardian: “The UCU mandate for the last period of industrial action ran out on 30 September 2023. Now, UCU is re-balloting its members, to obtain a new mandate. The ballot closes on 3 November 2023. Until then, UCU members in Higher Education cannot take any industrial action. After the ballot closes and results are announced, it is up to the UCU’s national Higher Education Committee to meet and decide on next steps. At this stage, we don’t have any information yet about what next steps may be, and it won’t be until (I assume) the middle of November we might know more. It could be that the [marking and assessment boycott] might be on the table again, but at this stage that would all be speculation and we really have to see what happens with the ballot results (after 3 November), and then what actions are proposed/discussed by members, and then implemented by the Higher Education Committee.”

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “We have seen many employers do the right thing and agree to stop punitive pay deductions and some have also agreed to return what has been taken. We are now urging other vice-chancellors to follow their lead and are calling off strike action at dozens of universities. This will also allow our members to concentrate on winning the reballot and getting the pay and conditions they deserve. 

“Renewing our mandate and keeping the pressure on is the way we will win this dispute, but the strike action due to go ahead next week stands as a reminder to all employers that if you behave egregiously, you will face further disruption.”

The strikes have seen some student groups pledging support for workers on the picket line and, speaking on the issue, former UofG Rector Aamer Anwar told The Glasgow Guardian: “The UCU has 100% of my support, it is outrageous that they are once more be having to fight for better conditions whilst senior management on 6 figure salaries expect staff to suffer the cost of living crisis – when I was Rector I said it’s not billion pound buildings that are the heart and soul of our Universities, but our staff, without whom they simply couldn’t function.”


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