Why conference delegates should vote for Motion 23

[UPDATE 4 May: Motion 23 carried by a vote of 85 in favour, 57 against.]

In Section I of this blog, I present a case in favour of Motion 23, on which delegates to UCU’s Special Higher Education Sector Conference on USS are now voting. In Section II, I respond to two arguments against the motion.

Motion 23 has been proposed by the Glasgow University branch of UCU, after it was approved by the overwhelming majority of members who attended a recent branch meeting. The motion reads as follows:

23 Negotiations before valuation — University of Glasgow

Conference notes that:

1. UUK delayed and misrepresented UCU proposals at consultation;

2. They have nevertheless claimed that if future valuations allow, benefits could be restored;

3. It should already cost significantly less that [sic] we are paying to fund the current reduced benefits, so this should be possible;

4. A new valuation will happen soon.

Conference believes that:

a. Vice-chancellors cannot be trusted to keep their word and stopping action will encourage further attacks;

b. We must fight now to fix in advance how the next contribution rates will be determined.

Conference resolves for negotiations to focus on:

i. a binding minimum contribution rate for after the next valuation irrespective of its outcome, with “excess” contributions used to restore benefits;

ii. UUK making a binding commitment to provide the same level of covenant support to any UCU proposal that meets some negotiated standard as any UUK proposal.

I. The Case for Motion 23

Ia. The joint statement between Glasgow’s UCU and management

This motion forms an integral element of a breakthrough agreement between Glasgow’s UCU and the university’s senior management. I say more about the significance of this agreement in a Twitter thread which begins here:

In tweets 2/7–5/7 of the thread, I explain why I regard the second of the four points of the joint statement — concerning higher employer contributions unaccompanied by a rise in member contributions — as the most significant and promising. My thread ends with two tweets, 6/7 and 7/7, in which I encourage conference delegates to vote for Motion 23 in order to facilitate UK-wide implementation of the joint agreement.

Ib. Why joint agreements between UCU branches and management provide a promising way forward

As an indication of the significance of the joint Glasgow agreement, it features in an article in Times Higher Education:

As the negotiating positions of UUK and UCU are at odds and entrenched at the national level, local agreements between branches and their senior management provide a necessary and promising means of trying to break the impasse of these central negotiating bodies. As Chris Havergal notes in his THE article, this particular local agreement is significant for the following further reason: “As well as being home to one of Scotland’s largest UCU branches, Glasgow’s principal, Sir Anton Muscatelli, is a leading economist who is a UUK-appointed member of the USS board.”

In addition to the second element regarding employer contributions, the fourth element of the joint statement regarding employer covenant is also significant:

4. Employers should continue to provide enhanced covenant support through the future valuation process and recognise that this should apply in a negotiated way to any benefit proposals formally presented through the JNC by either UUK or UCU.

This is of a piece with the joint statement between Imperial College’s UCU branch and their management from December, which I quote in this thread on that statement. As I note in the same thread, Loughborough University’s management also publicly called for parity of covenant support in November, as the result of discussion with their UCU branch.

A further positive example of joint statements are those that the Cambridge and Oxford branches reached with their managements, calling for an exploration of the feasibility and promise of conditional indexation. These paved the way for a strong endorsement of such exploration at a UCU special sector conference in September.

II. Responses to arguments against Motion 23

1a. A UCU Left argument against Motion 23

In explaining why they oppose Motion 23, UCU Left maintains, among other things, that “there are better prospects in campaigning over DRCs”, where “DRCs” is shorthand for “deficit recovery contributions.”

Here UCU Left is pointing to the fact that, even in the absence of a new valuation, we might be able to campaign for an elimination of deficit recovery contribution on the basis of USS’s monitoring update of the underlying assumptions of the 2020 valuation to 28 February 2022. I say more about this possibility in this blog post:

UCU Left’s argument is flawed for the following two reasons:

  1. Motion 23 is consistent with such a campaign to reduce DRCs now on the basis of the 28 February monitoring position. The negotiating focus that the motion calls for (see text at quoted at the top of this post) does not rule out such a campaign.
  2. However, for reasons which I list in the first paragraph of Section IV of the above linked blog post, the prospects of success of such a campaign are not in fact better than the measures listed in Motion 23.

1b. A KCL UCU argument against Motion 23

In their Twitter feed, KCL’s UCU branch objects to Motion 23 on grounds that the Congress Business Committee ruled that if that motion passes, then, as a consequence, the ‘no detriment’ clause of KCL’s Motion 26 would fall. This consequential is not, in fact, listed on delegate ballots for the simple reason that Motion 26 is not up for a vote, since there was not time to debate it at conference. Hence KCL’s ‘no detriment’ clause can neither carry nor fall. Rather, Motion 26 has been remitted to the Higher Education Committee. Click here and read upwards for my response in more detail to this objection:

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