A member’s view – USS strike action

UCU member Dr Kendra Briken wrote the article below about why members are striking to defend the USS pension, what it means to take strike action, and why the support of students is so important.  The article was first published on the STUC’s blog:  https://scottishtuc.blog/2018/02/21/what-is-our-strike/


On the eve of the industrial action by UCU members, Dr Kendra Briken describes why the strike has already started at Strathclyde University.

Strike action does not start on the picket lines. Strike action starts the moment the ballot paper is on your desk. It starts with the first discussions over coffee, in the corridors, or on the streets, and with your colleagues. The questions emerge, evolving through different iterations: What is your strike? What is our strike?

Going on strike means to collectively withdraw labour, to cause a disruption, and to become visible in our demands, but to exercise this leverage in the education sector is challenging. Going on strike in academia, if it is to be visible, necessarily includes to withdraw our labour from our workplace: from lecture theatres, libraries, IT, open plan and other offices.

Our becoming visible means to intervene into the space we most care about: education. In doing so, we will ultimately impact the ones we most care about: our students. We act against our own impulses, and we know that our demand has to be translatable to the ones we do impact in this strike action. So that is why. Our strike is an open invitation to education. Over recent weeks the call for strike action has opened up a new space, an opportunity to reconstitute collectivity, and to enhance general levels of sociability. Our strike is a social strike in that we started talking, organising, and even more importantly listening carefully to each other’s anxiety, fears, and exhaustions. Work intensification, competition, performance management, and casualisation is something experienced by both university staff and students. We realised and discussed how this has changed our social relations at work, how we barely talk to each other anymore outside of the lecture theatre. Our encounter is more and more transferred into the two dimensional spaces of standardised feedback forms, rankings, and ratings.

Going on strike will allow us to further discover collectivity and to gain a much better understanding of our experiences, what divides us now but can be shared in the future. We made visible the hidden potential of solidarity with staff – those on different contracts, from other faculties, in between professionals and academics – and most importantly, with our students.

In this, our strike is a demand, and at the same time it is the careful search for alternatives. Teach-ins, music sessions, fundraisers, going to a bookstore or having exchanges over coffee, these activities are far from disrupting education. If learning is based on making new experiences, the strike is an offer to our students to join us in a different form of education. We disrupt and withdraw our labour but we are still at work, and create while we disrupt; we too are learning as we go.

Our strike doesn’t start at the picket lines. Our strike has started already. The overwhelming and immediate support of the students’ unions is one obvious dimension.

On Thursday, we will meet at the pickets, and our strike has long begun. Our strike action is an open invitation to education. This is our strike.

The UCU strike starts on the 22nd February and will take place over the following weeks. For more information about the strike visit the UCU website. Strike demonstrations will take place in Glasgow and Dundee on 22nd February, and Edinburgh on 26th February.

UCU Scotland Congress 2018

Dear colleague,

UCU Scotland’s Annual Congress takes place at the Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel, Clydebank  on Friday 23 March 2017.  This is the annual conference where members in Scotland get the opportunity to debate current issues and shape the policies of our union.  Themes for this year’s Congress include tackling stress, workload and bullying, gender based violence, and,  of course, discussions will take place around the Union’s fight to protect the USS pension scheme given members voted overwhelming to defend your pension in the recent industrial action ballot.    As well as the important business of considering motions that will set UCU’s policy and objectives, Congress is also a great social occasion and a good opportunity to meet colleagues from around Scotland.

All of our branches based within Scottish higher education institutions  send delegates from amongst their members to Congress.   If you would like to participate, please get in touch with your local UCU branch (delegation costs are met by the Union).  You can find your branch contact at this link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/scotlandregion  Alternatively you can contact UCU Scotland directly –  scotland@ucu.org.uk  – for more information or if you’re unsure of who to contact locally.

We would like to ensure that all branches have full delegations and that we are representative of all of our members.

I hope to see you at Scotland Congress.



Mary Senior

Scotland Official

UCU Scotland Office

STUC Women’s Conference Oct 30-31st, 2017 Glenrothes, Fife : Summary by Ann Gow, UCU Scotland President

UCU Scotland were well-represented by four delegates, Ann Gow, Janice Aitken, Lena Wagg and Antje Brown at the 90th Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) Annual Women’s Conference in Glenrothes in October, with over 200 trade union members, campaign exhibitors, visitors and guests taking time to consider the priorities for campaigns in the year ahead.

STUC Women's Conference 2017 held at Rothes Halls, Glenrothes.

(Photograph: 2017 STUC Women’s Conference – Fraser Band)

Delegates from trade unions, trade union councils, workplaces and communities across Scotland contributed to debates on many different issues grouped into six main topics: Economy and Employment, Increasing Women’s Representation and Participation, Education and Lifelong Learning, Social Justice, Health and Combatting Violence Against Women.  UCU Scotland moved and seconded motions on the Gender Pay Gap and Making Women’s Voices Heard in Public Policy Debates on Science and Technology with delegates speaking to topics such as menopause matters at work and sexual harassment in the workplace. All our motions and amendments were passed by Conference, with strong support for tackling these issues.

We not only heard in-depth discussion from conference debates but also had the delight of hearing from a variety of guest speakers, such as Kathleen Walker Shaw, from GMB on Brexit and Beyond, Beth Davies, Chair, Wales TUC Equality Committee, Sofi Taylor, STUC Black Workers’ Committee and Jackie Ballie MSP, Scottish Labour Spokesperson for Economy, Business and Tourism. One highlight for myself included the Union into Schools project with contributions from school pupils on issues such as period poverty. It was inspiring listening to these young women’s powerful contributions and left us feeling more positive for future work. The open discussion about period poverty was also a particular highlight, raising awareness that poverty, health conditions and a lack of access to sanitary products all make managing menstruation difficult. It was really refreshing to hear this campaign supported so openly by all speakers, reflecting what the women’s’ movement can do so positively.

This annual conference is a really positive experience and one that I’d encourage any UCU Scotland woman member to attend.

UCU Scotland conference looks at the future of Scottish higher education.

On 26 October members of UCU from across Scotland gathered at Strathclyde University to attend a conference organised by the union’s education committee titled ‘What next for Scottish Higher Education?’  You can follow the links on the contributors’ names below to go to the video of their contribution.

The sold out conference chaired by UCU Scotland President, Ann Gow, and vice-president, Eurig Scandrett, heard a number of key note speeches with highlights including Professor John Holmwood of the campaign for the public university and author of the alternative white paper talking on the future of higher education and the impact of marketisation on the sector in a session called ‘What are universities for?’.  The conference also heard form NUS Scotland’s vice president education, Jodie Waite, who also sat on a panel discussion on widening access and funding along with UCU Scotland’s Mary Senior and Lucy Hunter Blackburn.  UCU UK president Joanna de Groot also spoke and delegates heard a pre-recorded interview with Scotland’s fair access commissioner (and, we learnt, former AUT and now UCU member) Peter Scott.  The afternoon session heard from Professor Terence Karran, the co-author of research on academic freedom in the UK, who talked through the research and its findings with a particular focus on the Scottish aspects.  Delegates also took part in workshops looking at HE and Brexit, governance, and workplace issues, before finally hearing from senior civil servant Roddy Macdonald on the Scottish government’s priorities for higher education and STUC assistant general secretary Helen Martin on the new code of good HE governance.

Unfortunately we were hit by technical gremlins with the sound desk blowing just before the conference began.  While the sound isn’t perfect on every video you should be able to hear the contributions clearly enough.

ed conf

STUC Black History Month Lecture

The STUC Black History Month Lecture is  due to take place on Friday 6th October at the STUC Centre.  Registration for the event is from 5.30pm, with the lecture beginning at 6pm.

As part of Show Racism the Red Card’s Wear Red Day #WRD17,  all attendees are encouraged to wear red to the lecture as a mark of solidarity.  There will be a collection to raise funds for Show Racism the Red Card’s campaign on the day.

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UCU Scotland President’s Reception

On Wednesday 17 May 2017 members of the UCU Scotland executive committee joined MSPs, and the higher education minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville, at a reception hosted for UCU Scotland by the Labour education spokesperson, Iain Gray MSP.  The reception recognised the time in office of the outgoing UCU Scotland president, Douglas Chalmers, and was also an opportunity for the union to highlight our 2017 general election manifesto and our work on Brexit.  Douglas’ speech to the reception is copied below.

‘Any credit that has been pointed in my direction, really ought to go to the movement as a whole, since the watchword of the union movement is that of building on our collective strength around shared values.

And this really is a time when it’s so important to fight for these shared values – to forge together a new conversation about Higher Education and how an open, truly educated society is the best, if not the only, guarantee of solving some of the global problems we face now, and will face in the coming period.

And we don’t need to look far for these problems even in Scotland, despite the measures taken to safeguard and secure our Higher Education system.

It’s roughly 3 weeks before the General Election – an election called by a Prime Minister after repeatedly denying she would do so – the type of cynical opportunism that gives politics a bad name.

And all this after a Brexit campaign where the opinions of experts, and expertise in general was rubbished by cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove.

The UCU itself did not take a view on the referendum during the campaign, recognising the variety of views held by our members. However, the union is clear that the decision has significant implications for higher education.

Article 50 was triggered in March, and in Westminster the white paper on the Great Repeal Bill was published.

If the Conservatives are re-elected then we expect 2 major bills in the Queen’s Speech – both of which will be key for the sector – the first a European Bill that will encompass details of the transfer of funding arrangements to domestic sources, and the second, an Immigration Bill.

Brexit is a key question for the UCU because Higher and Further Education are international and outward facing. In fact Scottish Higher education has one of the most international of labour forces. And this is also reflected in our range of students.

16 per cent of academic staff in Scotland’s higher education sector are from the EU. This rises to 23 per cent among research-only staff.

There are currently 24,000 students of EU nationality studying at undergraduate and postgraduate in Scotland.

Scotland’s universities receive approximately  £90million of research funding a year from EU sources. Most of this, 85 per cent, comes from European Commission programmes.

Scotland secured £636 million from the last EU research framework research programme before our current Horizon 2020 one – our membership of which may now be endangered by Brexit.

1,600 students from Scotland go to Europe on study and/or work exchange programmes every year through Erasmus

All this involves a lot of people, and potentially a lot of jobs.

Together with our colleagues the University Principals (Oops did I really say that, it must be a first…). With our colleagues the University Principals in Universities Scotland, and also our colleagues (or maybe comrades) in NUS, we launched this week what we’ve called a Manifesto for the Mobility of Talent which calls for a guarantee for the almost 5,000 staff from the EU who work in Scotland’s universities to continue to work and reside in the UK and access public services. Our union, wants EU staff and students to maintain freedom of movement.

We also need to safeguard the right of our students to study abroad, and to allow us to accept the thousands of EU students we currently get under the Erasmus+ programme.

And finally we call for the re-instatement of the Scottish post-study work visa, allowing international students the opportunity to stay and work in Scotland for a few years after they graduate. I know this truly does have cross party support in Scotland, and even our Conservatives here are in favour of this. (So I reckon they should be on the phone more often to down South. It is good to talk I believe).It’s even better to insist.

This is of crucial importance as education and research is an international issue, and we are strong in Scotland, because we are international.

So that’s why our union is trying to help build a coalition of support for the best outcome post-brexit around the Manifesto and also our own Manifesto for the General Election where we also call for removing students totally from the immigration figures. And we do need a continuing campaign against xenophobia and racism – surveys by Hobson International have suggested that an increase in racist and xenophobic attacks may be putting off potential new international students.

There is a role for universities and colleges to be up there in the front in a post Brexit world. In difficult times we must continue to make the case for what they stand for: a new conversation based on openness to new ideas, access to opportunity for all, and of course, collaboration with each other, wherever we come from._

And on the issue of collaboration I must sincerely thank both the SNP Government, and the Labour Party and of course the Greens for their collaboration on the rocky road to bringing us more democracy in how our universities are governed. This was not an issue we were able to bring with us, those I referred to as ‘my colleagues the university Principals’, but hope springs eternal and I’m a great believer in the redemptive effect of good experience, so I’m hoping this will indeed be a win-win situation for all of us who want to see a forward looking university sector.

Finally, rather than being disheartened by the Brexiteer’s call to Take Back Control, we should make it our own slogan, and take control of the debate, I think that’s the challenge for us all..

Lastly, then, I’d like to thank you all for coming along this evening. It’s so good to see colleagues both from the UCU and our sister unions, but also from the wider sector and of course from the Scottish government and the other parties at Holyrood here.

And of course, as is proper I need to express my thanks to some people who really have been the heart of the team I’ve played a part of, over the last 2 years, and without whose help it just wouldn’t have been possible to make any of the achievements we’ve been successful in.

Firstly of course, there is the core of the Union team here in Scotland who make the elected officials’ job possible, who I’m really pleased have made it tonight, together with my other union officers, and colleagues from the Scottish executive. David Anderson, our immediate past president was unable to make it as he was at a negotiators meeting in London, so he gives his apologies.

But I’d also like to make a few additional points of thanks. At my own University – Glasgow Caledonian University I’ve had the benefit of the support of some great colleagues – too many to mention, but I just want to put on record the fantastic help they’ve all been to me, and to others at GCU.

And of course like most people, I would never have been able to do half of this without the long suffering support of my partner of almost 30 years, Mhairi McGowan, who although she won’t admit it, has probably forgotten more about trade unions, than I’ve ever learned in my time as a union official. I need to thank her, and my three kids for putting up with all the stresses and strains that come with living with anyone active in the movement.

So the next two years I’m sure will be challenging for the union, but I’m so glad that it will now be in the hands of my good colleague Ann Gow the new President elect, and her deputy as Vice President Eurig Scandrett.

Ann I know will chair the meetings far better than I have – although you know she had the cheek to say to me, when I successfully, successfully, got through our last Congress, on time and with no piece of business falling off the end, “you know, she said, you have a very laid back attitude to standing orders” So that was me told, and I reckon that’s everybody warned.

I’ve no doubt Ann is going to make her mark even more in the union over this coming period and in the longer term future.  So to conclude, I’d like to thank you all very much for coming and I hope you’ve enjoyed the evening as much as I have.’