UCU young member Rosie Hampton joins the First Minister to open the STUC Margaret Irwin centre – Scotland’s new trade union building

UCU young member Rosie Hampton – post-graduate researcher rep at UCU Glasgow branch – joined the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, STUC president Pauline Rourke and STUC general secretary Roz Foyer to officially open the new STUC Margaret Irwin Centre, in Glasgow on Tuesday 7 June 2022.

Named after the STUC’s first secretary, Margaret Irwin was instrumental in establishing the STUC in 1897 and held the position of Secretary to the General Council until 1900.

The new premises, located in the heart of Bridgeton, is part of the wider regeneration programme within the Clyde Gateway area. In its 125th year, the new centre provides the STUC and Scotland’s wider trade union movement with a national hub for trade union engagement and excellence, supporting workers throughout the country.  

Rosie was chosen from among young members nominated by STUC affiliates to join the First Minister at the opening event, where she spoke about her own experiences as a casualised worker, and the importance of connections to the broader trade union movement.

UCU Scotland organising award 2022

The award is presented annually at our Scotland Congress to the rep or group of reps who have undertaken significant organising work, or made a positive impact in organising in their branch or institution.  The award provides important recognition to organising work.

This year the UCU Scotland Officers have decided that it should be a collective award, to be made to all branches in recognition of the challenging organising work that all branches have undertaken throughout the pandemic.  In particular, we’re noting the important GTVO work done in the USS and Four Fights ballots and re-ballots, and the amazing organising work done around the industrial action and picket lines.    Branches throughout Scotland have worked tirelessly to organise in a pandemic.  Our newest UCU branch – UCU Edinburgh Napier received the award on behalf of all branches.

STUC congress 2022

STUC congress took place in Aberdeen between Monday 25 and Wednesday 27 April.  UCU’s delegation was Lena Wånggren, Jeanette Findlay, Ann Swinney, Vicky Blake, Douglas Chalmers, Vivek Santayana, Grant Buttars, Sarah Liu, Lesley McIntosh, Suzanne Hagan, Eurig Scandrett, Mary Senior, and Murdo Mathison.   

The congress was the first to be held in person after two years being held online.  We were pleased to be able to meet again in person, however the UCU delegation made important representations to the STUC on Covid safety during the event.  

UCU submitted three motions.  One on Afghanistan; one on Covid and health and safety which was amended by NASUWT and then included in a composite; and one on eradicating sexual violence.  The text of the motions copied below*.  We also submitted three amendments on ‘sustainability’ calling for greening of the curriculum, on ‘the right to disconnect’ about spiralling workloads in higher education, and on funding in ‘Covid and education recovery’.   

Both the Afghanistan and eradicating sexual violence motions were passed by congress, as was composite L (Health and safety and the pandemic) which included our text.  All the motions or composites that we had amended were also passed. 

Jeanette Findlay moved our Afghanistan motion.  Vivek Santayana moved composite L; and Sarah Liu moved our motion on eradicating sexual violence.   

Other speakers gave supporting speeches to motions or composites which we were involved in.  Douglas Chalmers spoke in the debate on the sustainability motion we had amended.  Grant Buttars spoke supporting the motion which included our amendment on increasing workloads; and Vivek Santayana spoke in support of the Covid and education recovery motion’ that we amended.   

Vivek Santayana also spoke in debates on other motions including on mental health at work and Indian farmers.  Lesley McIntosh spoke in the debate on a motion on the Scottish teachers’ pension scheme against additional costs for members of the scheme.  Ann Swinney spoke against a motion on safeguarding and single sex provision which was also opposed by the STUC general council.  The motion was defeated.  UCU also planned to oppose a motion calling for an increase in nuclear power production in Scotland.  In the end the motion was withdrawn by Prospect prior to the debate.  All other motions were agreed by the congress.   

Mary Senior seconded an emergency motion on Sheku Bayoh, which was submitted by the STUC Black Workers’ Conference delegation, it was carried. 

The wording of all motions is available at the link below: 

https://stuc.org.uk/stuc-congress/congress-documents

Mary Senior was re-elected onto the STUC general council and as STUC treasurer. 

*UCU motions: 

Afghanistan 

Congress expresses its deep concerns at the humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.   The people of Afghanistan are enduring extreme poverty, deprivation and oppression, as a result of the withdrawal of US and western forces, and the control of the Taliban.    

Afghan women and girls are at particular risk of persecution, abuse and violence along with LGBT+ people, certain ethnic minority groups, trade unionists and pro-democracy campaigners, and those who have assisted British operations within the country.  

Congress notes that the UK government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is failing to prioritise the most vulnerable, with reports indicating that some of the first people resettled were those already living in the UK.  

Congress believes that the UK government, as an architect of the 20-year conflict that has led to the current crisis, has specific responsibility to the Afghan people.    

Congress calls on the STUC to pressurise the Scottish and UK governments to:  

·         Work with international partners to open up safe, legal routes for refugees from Afghanistan to come to Scotland and the UK and ensure that the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme functions effectively and prioritises those in most need rather than the easiest to reach;      

·         Provide routes for family reunion and permanent settlement for Afghan nationals who are currently working and studying in the UK;  

·         And for the UK government to both reverse cuts to UK research and innovation official development assistance and restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of GNI, as these have a crucial role in supporting wider humanitarian work within Afghanistan and the region   

Congress is also concerned about the impact of Taliban rule on access to education and human rights generally. Congress believes that protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls to access education is a global priority and should be a central focus for the UK’s foreign policy and aid spending.     

Eradicating sexual violence 

Gender-based violence remains endemic in the UK, including in post-16 education. This is despite many years campaigning by sexual violence survivors, prevention groups, trade unions and student unions.  

As noted in the 2021 UCU sexual violence task group report, which surveyed nearly 4,000 university and college staff, in the past five years 1 in 10 university and college staff have directly experienced workplace sexual violence, and a quarter of staff know colleagues who have experienced this. 

Congress notes that in post-16 education: 

  • 12% of women and 5% of men had directly experienced workplace sexual violence 
  • 52% of those who directly experienced sexual violence did not disclose or report it to their employer 
  • 70% experienced sexual violence as an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident 
  • insecurely employed workers were 1.3 times as likely to experience direct sexual violence than those permanently employed  
  • workers on insecure contracts, disabled workers, LBGTQ workers, and racialised minority workers, are all at significantly greater risk of sexual violence. 

Congress asks STUC to: 

  • pressure Scottish government and employers to work together with trade unions and sexual violence prevention workers to address gender-based violence, including by creating and enforcing gender-based violence policies, integrating this into their health and safety processes, allocating resources to prevention and counselling, and replacing the use of non-disclosure agreements with more transparent procedures;  
  • pressure government and employers to provide decent, secure jobs, given that casualisation and structural inequalities exacerbate sexual violence and other workplace harms. 

Composite L (Health and Safety and the Pandemic)   

 That this Congress believes that workers have shown extraordinary adaptability in carrying out their work during the pandemic and associated lockdowns; their flexibility and dynamism in adapting their work to suit government regulations, pupil/patient/client needs, and employers’ requirements.  Workers have shown extraordinary adaptability in carrying out their work during the pandemic and associated lockdowns; their flexibility and dynamism in adapting their work to suit government regulations, pupil/patient/client needs, and employers’ requirements.     

Congress acknowledges that the pandemic and associated lockdowns have impacted significantly on workers, with a massive death toll and workplaces impacted, and communities divided and split by the chaos we have been placed within.   

Work changes, increased workloads, more dangerous conditions and the sacrifices made by workers are stressors that have had an adverse impact on their wellbeing. Many workers are simply exhausted; some show signs of post-traumatic stress.     

Congress is deeply concerned, therefore, about workers’ mental health and wellbeing.    

Congress notes that Covid-19, an airborne disease, has been able to spread through workplaces, homes, education and care settings, due, in part, to inadequate ventilation in indoor spaces.  Early in the pandemic it became apparent that outdoor activity was safer than that in confined spaces, yet we are still struggling to get adequate ventilation levels in workplaces, and in education settings.   Congress is clear that improving ventilation in workplaces, commercial settings, education establishments and in our homes, will bring additional benefits.     

Congress notes the weakness of Scottish Government guidance on Covid-19 for universities which simply asks employers to ‘consider’ implementing ventilation guidance; ‘consider’ the use of CO2 monitors; and ‘give consideration’ to how rooms are utilised to minimise the spread of Covid.     

Congress believes that the key to keeping workplaces safe is a strong network of trade union health and safety reps and employers who are prepared to go beyond consultation and instead look for agreement on health and safety measures with trade union reps.     

Post-pandemic workforce support programmes must be developed in conjunction with the recognised trade unions; should include a sharp equality focus; and should consider workers’ mental health and the need for the appointment of additional staff to reduce workload as Congress fundamentally believes that employers need to safeguard workers’ health and wellbeing by addressing workload.    

Congress further asserts that both the UK Government and the Scottish Government need to improve workers’ rights in the post-pandemic workplace and continues to call for employment law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.    

Congress calls on the STUC General Council to:     

  • campaign for improved flexible working, paid and unpaid leave, sabbaticals; winding down arrangements for older workers and meaningful retraining for the many workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic through no fault of their own.    
  • call on Scottish Government to ensure guidance is more prescriptive in calling for employers to introduce agreed ventilation standards.  Those standards should be agreed between employers and trade unions.  
  • call on the Scottish Government to require the introduction of monitoring equipment such as CO2 monitors, and provide the requisite funding; and where appropriate, equipment to improve air quality such as air filtration devices’’   
  • campaign for employers to go beyond legal minimums in consultation on health and safety measures.    
  • to challenge any attempts by the Scottish Government and Local Councils to allow workplaces to act in direct contradiction of workers safety.    
  • to support the unions directly affected by this problem, to give them the support to be able to defend their members.’’  

UCU Scotland strike rallies: Glasgow 14 February & Edinburgh 22 February

As part of the action around the 10 days of strike action in February and March over the USS pension, pay and working conditions, UCU Scotland are organising two strike rallies:

1 – USS Strike Rally – assemble 11.45am, rally 12noon Monday 14 February 2022 Buchanan Street steps, Glasgow.

Join UCU Scotland members at the Donald Dewar statue, Buchanan Street steps on Monday 14 February in our USS strike rally.   Assemble from 11.45am, rally starts 12noon.  Speakers include UCU General Secretary Jo Grady, speakers from striking branches, UCU Scotland president Lena Wanggren, NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly, Glasgow University VP Education Mia Clarke (speaking in a personal capacity), and Dave Moxham STUC deputy general secretary.

2 – Joint UCU/NUS “Rally for Education” Scottish Parliament – assemble 12.30pm, rally 1pm Tuesday 22 Feb 2022

UCU Scotland and NUS members will rally together for education at Holyrood on Tuesday 22 February.  Key messages are on ending student poverty, and valuing staff in the USS pension and four fights disputes.  Support the strikes, support the demo. Speakers invited include UCU president Vicky Blake, NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly, MSP education spokespeople, UCU Scotland president Lena Wanggren, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer, and student speakers.

You can follow the rally live on our livestream here.

UCU Scotland education committee

UCU Scotland’s Education Committee – appeal for members

UCU Scotland’s education committee meets throughout the year to consider higher education policy issues and other areas important to the union.  In the past year committee members produced the union’s ‘future of Scottish higher education’ paper setting out an alternative vision for the sector.  Members have also helped to produce the union’s submissions to government and parliamentary consultations and helped arrange the policy conferences held in recent years, including most recently in September 2021.  The current members have been on since 2019 and now, with a number of vacancies, branches are asked to nominate members to the committee.  Existing members of the committee are welcome to be re-nominated.  If you’re interested in being on the committee you should contact your branch and ask them to nominate you by emailing UCU Scotland on scotland(at)ucu.org.uk.  Please also email if you want to find out more information on the role first, or to arrange a conversation with the current chair of the committee, Jeanette Findlay.  The committee will meet once more before the summer on 13 April and then on dates to be confirmed during academic year 2022/23.

STUC women’s conference 2021

The 94th STUC women’s conference took place online on Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 October.

This year’s STUC women’s conference had a large UCU delegation, consisting of Lena Wanggren, Jeanette Findlay, Kate Sang, Liz Elliott, Ann Swinney, Helen Martin, Kendra Briken, and Maureen McBride.  

It was an overall sisterly and collegiate conference, with important motions on precarity and inequality, public sector pay, violence against women, intersectionality and other continuing issues voted through. UCU seconded motion 4 “Domestic Abuse” (Jeanette Findlay) and motion 9 “Women in precarious work” (Lena Wånggren), and proposed motion 17 “Recognising the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled women” (Kate Sang) as well as an emergency motion on Women and Afghanistan (Lena Wånggren).  

The delegation opposed motion 16 “Single sex provision in women’s frontline services”, noting the STUC Women’s Committee’s position that it is opposing the motion with a statement, and Lena Wanggren spoke in opposition to the motion, noting the lack of evidence in the motion text and its ‘condemnation’ of women’s services which we were not willing to do.  

The delegation voted for all other motions than this one, and indeed all motions except motion 16 were passed at the congress.  

UCU and COP26

UCU has a dedicated webpage with information on the union and COP26. You’ll find information on the work UCU has been doing as a member of the COP26 Coalition. The coalition is working to help organise and support mass mobilisations across the UK and the world, support activists to get to Glasgow, and crafting the hybrid People’s Summit as well as range of other actions and assemblies to ensure our voices are heard in Glasgow. UCU wants to help make these activities a success and play our part in mobilising our members into supporting the movement by organising, volunteering, or spreading the message over the coming weeks. The page contains details of how members can volunteer and play a part in delivering climate justice.

COP26 Climate Justice demonstration

Saturday 6 November 2021 has been designated a global day of action. A mass demonstration on COP26 and climate justice will be taking place in Glasgow that day with participants from trade unions, environmental organisations and civic Scotland. The STUC supported march assembles at Kelvingrove Park at 12noon and marches to Glasgow Green.  We’re planning to have the UCU Scotland banner at the demo for branches and and activists to join in with the trade union block.

Climate Learning Month teaching materials launched in run up to COP 26

UCU along with other teaching unions has launched a set of downloadable climate and sustainability teaching resources for schools, colleges and universities in support of the joint Climate Learning Month initiative taking place from October 2021 in the run-up to COP 26 in November.

The aim of Climate Learning Month is to support educators in all sectors to integrate activities and themes around the climate and ecological crisis into school, college and university campus activities. We hope the learning materials and CPD courses will inspire both educators and young people to bring about the changes needed for a more sustainable future and that the momentum from this initiative will continue beyond COP26 and encourage governments to do more. 

Speaking ahead of the launch UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Education can empower students to make a difference to the world, and that is no different in the context of climate change. However, up to now the UK Government has failed to invest in young people’s climate education. That’s why UCU, alongside other education unions and campaign groups, have created these teaching resources so educators working in our schools, colleges and universities can teach students about the urgency of this crisis and how best to tackle it. A more sustainable future requires investing in the young people who will help to build it.’

UCU Scotland conference – Beyond Covid: what next for Scottish higher education?

UCU Scotland is organising a major conference examining the future of higher education in Scotland.

The conference is taking place online over two afternoons:

1.30-4.00pm, Wednesday 15 September and 1.30-4.30pm, Friday 17 September 2021

The conference is open to any UCU member interested in the future of higher education or the other policy areas discussed.  We’ll examine the impact of the Covid pandemic on higher education in Scotland and what’s next for the sector.  The Scottish Funding Council’s recent review into post-16 education provides the backdrop along with UCU Scotland’s ‘Alternative vision for Scottish higher education’ paper.  Speakers over the two days include UCU general secretary Jo Grady, Scotland’s higher education minister Jamie Hepburn MSP, NUS UK president Larissa Kennedy on the Free Black University, fair access commissioner Peter Scott, and NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly.

On the Friday afternoon there will be a choice of workshops exploring policy areas in higher education including ‘Fair work and casualisation’, ‘Equality measures’, ‘Sustainability and a Just Transition’, and ‘Decolonisation’.

A final agenda and joining instructions will be sent to registered delegates. Attendance is free but spaces are limited – book now to ensure you have a place.  You can register here: 

Attendance is free but spaces are limited – book now to ensure you have a place.  You can register here: 

Beyond Covid: What now for Scottish higher education? Tickets | Eventbrite

UCU Scotland event on the IHRA definition of antisemitism

UCU Scotland recently organised an online event to inform members about the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has already been adopted by several universities without consultation, and the UCU response to it. The event, led by UCU members and featuring speakers from across Scotland, informed members about the definition, why it is problematic, and what adoption of the definition does to academic freedom and the work of our members and students.

As a trade union working to end all forms of racism, including antisemitism, we continue to look for tools in this work – the IHRA definition, however, is not one of these. UCU on both a Scottish and UK level have clear policy on opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism, since 2017. Also outside of UCU structures, groups of scholars (such as scholars of the Middle East, groups of Jewish scholars, Israeli Academics in the UK, Palestinian scholars and intellectuals) as well as individuals have vocally opposed the definition. Some other unions, however, and the Scottish Government, have adopted the definition.

 What, then, is the IHRA definition, and why is there so much opposition to it?

The definition and its problems

The Working Definition of Antisemitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) in 2016 has since been adopted by some universities, institutions, the Scottish Government, and even some other trade unions. Indeed, the Conservative Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson instructed English universities to adopt the definition, or else face consequences. Despite Scottish universities not being obligated to do so, many have gone ahead anyway, often without any consultation of Jewish staff, academic experts, or trade unions.

Out first speaker Itamar Kastner (University of Edinburgh) outlined the IHRA definition, and why it is necessary to oppose it and look for alternatives. He noted that the definition consists of a brief definition and a list of examples, with some of these examples referencing critiques of Israel as being anti-Semitic.

Laying out the critiques of the definition, highlighting his position as a Jewish and Israeli member of staff, Itamar pointed out that the definition is too vague: it actually does not provide useful guidance on what counts as antisemistism. It is also often performative: institutions adopt the definition, but do not engage in any actual work to combat antisemitism or adopt a uniform anti-racist agenda; it does not add anything to the already existing Equality Act 2010 or institutional policies on equalities. The definition itself, by branding criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic, constricts academic freedom and free speech, and we have already seen examples of it being used to silence pro-Palestinian academics and activists.

Lack of consultation and calls for action

Both Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, as Itamar and our next speaker Rhys Machold (University of Glasgow) outlined, adopted the definition without proper consultation with staff or trade unions, with uncertain input from EDI committees. In both institutions, UCU members have set up local working groups to lobby senior management and reach clarity on how and why decisions were made.

Following the framing of the issue by the above members, a Palestinian student from the University of Glasgow gave a harrowing account of how the IHRA definition had been used to constrict their research, hindering their academic career, with them being been told that their dissertation topic was ‘antisemitic’ due to its examination of Israeli violence against Palestinians, and additionally having their own life experience questioned and circumscribed. Listening to this student, members at the event expressed solidarity and regret at the treatment of the speaker in question, and we thanked them for their contribution.

Henry Maitles (University of the West of Scotland) and Samer Abdelnour (University of Edinburgh) both shared local and international experiences. Henry shared his experience of, being Jewish himself, being called anti-Semitic when calling Israel a racist state and ended by calling for a strengthening of pro-Palestinian work in the form of Boycott, Divest, Sanction. Samer noted the international adoption of the IHRA definition severely constricting solidarity with Palestinians, giving examples from Germany, and shared his criticisms also of the alternative Jerusalem Definition.

Taking a step back from local and international contexts, Mary Senior (UCU Scotland official) and Jenny Sherrard (UCU UK Head of Equality) came in to update participants on UCU’s UK and Scottish work. Mary, who has emailed all principals at Scottish universities enquiring about their position and laying out UCU policy on the issue, reported back on the number of universities that have adopted, rejected, or are consulting with staff.

The event ended with Carlo Morelli (University of Dundee) calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people, and giving a slightly more hopeful view from Dundee, where the university are now in fact consulting with staff and trade unions on whether or not to adopt the IHRA definition.

Where to now?

Throughout the event, discussion and expressions of solidarity were had in the event chat, with participants commenting on having learned and wanting to get more involved in UCU’s work on this. Whether we lobby for alternative definitions, or a more all-encompassing approach against all forms of racism, as Itamar noted at the start of the event ‘we want our institutions to adopt a uniform, comprehensive anti-racist approach’.

Two of the speakers have agreed to co-organise a Scotland-wide working group on the IHRA definition on antisemitism. If you want to get involved, please contact them: Itamar Kastner (itamar.kastner@ed.ac.uk) and Carlo Morelli (c.j.morelli@dundee.ac.uk).

Resources

(thanks to Itamar Kastner and Samer Abdelnour for these):

Overview of some problems with the definition (Gordon and LeVine)

Thorough FAQ by the UCL branch of UCU

Letter by the Israeli Academics in the UK

Stern-Weiner (2021). The politics of a definition: How the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is being misrepresented

Abdelnour (2021). The Jerusalem Declaration’s Fatal Flaw

Resolutions of UCU Scotland Congress 2021 – resolution 16 ‘Rejecting the IHRA definition

Equality resolutions of UCU UK Congress –  resolutions 12 – 14 on IHRA issues

UCU letter to Gavin Williamson – November 2020

UPDATED: UK Research & Innovation cuts to Official Development Assistance

UCU opposed the £120m proposed cuts to the Official Development Assistance budget when they were announced in March 2021. As part of our work on the issue UCU’s Scotland official, Mary Senior, wrote last week to the higher education minister in the Scottish Government, Jamie Hepburn MSP, asking the Scottish Government to oppose the cuts. She also wrote to Iain Stewart MP, the UK Government’s under secretary of state for Scotland asking the UK government to rethink its actions which will impact not only on Scottish universities but also internationally.

You can read the two letters below:

UPDATE AUGUST 2021: We’ve now received responses to the letters from the UK and Scottish governments. Letters can be read below: