Protesters gathered outside the main gate holding a banner saying "students support the strikes"
Credit: Athina Bohner

UCU strikes suspended despite majority in favour

By Odhran Gallagher

Following a ballot of members, further strikes by the University and College Union are unable to go ahead because of an insufficient turnout for their ballot.

A ballot of members of the University and College Union (UCU) has failed to return a mandate for further strike action. The result of the ballot was made public on 3 November and showed a majority in favour of renewing the mandate for strike action. However, due to UK law, the ballot failed to reach the mandatory 50% turnout which would have made a new mandate legitimate. 

The University and College Union represents over 120,000 staff across 152 institutions including the University of Glasgow – which the UCU has dubbed “one of the worst employers”. The UCU has been involved in a series of strikes over pay and working conditions since at least 2018. The previous year has also seen the Marking and Assessment Boycott which began on 20 April 2023, and eventually resulted in 684 students graduating without classified degrees, amounting to 15% of summer graduates. 

Before the failed reballot, General Secretary of the UCU Jo Grady said: “We are balloting universities yet again because pay is too low, workloads are too high, and tens of thousands of university staff are stuck on insecure contracts. 

“The action we have taken so far has forced employers to make huge concessions on pensions and to begin negotiating over the gig-economy employment practices that plague higher education. But vice-chancellors still refuse to use the sector’s wealth to pay staff fairly, and have failed to seriously tackle sky-high workloads and precarious contracts.”

The ballot asked members: “Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?” to which 68.32% responded “Yes” and 31.68% responded “No”. However, the ballot had a turnout of 42.59% which was short of the 50% required by UK law for a union to legitimately call a strike. This turnout represented a decline on previous years, with turnout standing at 56% in April 2023 and 57% in November 2022. The ballot also shows a decline in the number of workers prepared to take strike action, which declined dramatically from 86% declaring themselves to be in favour in April 2023. 

In response to the ballot, the UCU put out a statement on Twitter claiming that “anti-union laws” had prevented strikes going ahead: “Our ballot results show UCU members want to strike for better pay & conditions. But anti-democratic laws that single unions out for special treatment have blocked us from taking action.”

Jo Grady also said: “The national ballot results show university staff support taking action over pay and conditions. However, anti-democratic restrictions, which single out trade unions for special treatment, mean no action can take place. 

“After a year in which we have run four successful national ballots, we have achieved a momentous victory by forcing employers to revoke their vicious pension cuts. But it is clear from this ballot that staff are still angry with vice-chancellors who have failed to deliver on pay, job security and workloads.

“We look forward to a Labour government rolling back the anti-union laws that prevent working people from democratically organising and block our members from fighting for what they deserve. In the meantime, we will carefully consider how we best turn our members’ rightful anger into practical action to achieve change.”

UCU members also publicly reacted to the news of the failed reballot. Michael Carley, senior lecturer at the University of Bath in mechanical engineering said: “To some degree people are tired, but also it really wasn’t clear to a lot of people what would have been done with a new mandate”. 

Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and specialist in industrial relations Duncan Adam added: “There was a lot of criticism for how the mandate had been used previously…Members will make a cost-benefit analysis of whether the action is going to be worth the pain, and some probably came to the conclusion that UCU has not demonstrated enough tangible success that people felt they could go again.”


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments